Meiwa (明和町 : Meiwa-chō) is a town on the cusp of central Mie and eastern Mie. It is situated on the coast of Ise Bay between Matsusaka and Ise. It is the largest town in central Mie and has a growing population (about 23,000).
One of the first things you'll notice about Meiwa is that it's very, very flat which is great for growing rice - the town's chief industry. Though it lacks the industry of neighboring towns like Taki and Tamaki, the town has modern services including an excellent gymnasium, and it's people are friendly and very proud of their town identity and unique history.
It is widely known as the home of the Meiwa Jusco (aka, ÆON Meiwa), which provides a centrally-located shopping paradise and movie theater for Matsusaka, Ise, and surrounding areas.
"Meiwa" literally could be translated as "Bright Tranquility" or some other similar phrase, a name that is rather close to the translation given to Shōwa (昭和), the period referring to mid-20th century Japan.
However, the true meaning of the name "Meiwa" can be found by looking at the town's merger history. In 1958, what is now northern and southern Meiwa were two separate bodies: The southern portion was "Saimei" (斎明村), and the nothern portion was Sanwa (三和町). Taking one kanji from each of the two former municipalities, the name "Meiwa" (明和) was born.
Japanese legends say that 2,000 years ago, the divine Yamatohime-no-Mikoto set out from Mt. Miwa, in Nara Prefecture, in search of the place where the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami was enshrined. After more than twenty years of travel, she finally found what she was looking for and established Ise Grand Shrine. Meiwa's history is entwined with that of Ise, and it's ancient name was Ise-Saikū.
On her journey, Yamatohime-no-Mikoto traveled down the Kushida River and stopped at Sasafue where she erected a shrine. That shrine remainss in Meiwa today as the Sasafue-Angu Ruins. She then set out upon the ocean, which at the time was so calm she named the area Oyodo (translating roughly to "great stillness"), and founded the Oyodo Shrine. Oyodo, or Oizu to the locals, is a small fishing village, fishing port and bathing beach in the north-east of Meiwa. After leaving Oyodo, she came ashore at Misono, then inland to Ise to establish the shrine.
During the Nara period of Japanese History (according to the Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves), Emperor Temmu sent his daughter, princess Okunohime-miko, to Ise to serve as the High Priestess/Princess, or "Saiō", of Ise Shrine. Princess Okunohime-miko established a small town to be her place of dwelling some 10 kilometers north of Ise, at a place called "Saikū". From there, she and subsequent Saiō would live a peaceful, if isolated, existance and travel 3 times a year to Ise Shrine to perform the required ceremonies. The Saikū, and the role of the Saiō, lasted for roughly 660 years until the disturbances of the Nanbokuchō period in the 14th century.
This history was lost to Saikū, in Meiwa, until excavations for new housing in 1970 uncovered ancient pottery and other artifacts that helped re-establish the Saikū's history in Meiwa. Today, a large and modern museum stands on the grounds where the first arifacts were discovered, and nearby, next to Saikū Station, stands a reconstruction of a Heian Period imperial Saiō residence.
There is one ALT in Meiwa servicing its JHS and 6 elementary schools.
There are two train stations in Meiwa, both on the Kintetsu Yamada Line. Neither are express stops. For getting to an express, Matsusaka is 12 minutes away (towards Nagoya and Osaka), and Ise is 12 minutes away (towards Shima). Trains run every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day.
- Saikū (斎宮) Station - Near the Saiku site and museum
- Myōjō (明星) Station - Has a huge train yard where trains are tested, maintained, and parked at night. "Myōjō" is Japanese for the planet Venus. The current BOE provided apartment for the town's ALT is a 10 minute walk from Myōjō station.
Places to See
- Saikū Historical Museum (斎宮歴史博物館 saikū rekishi hakubutsukan)
- Just a short walk from Saiku Station, this museum prides itself as being a "hands on" experience. There are regular short films shown (with English translation ear pieces available), the pick of which is the "Saio Procession", shown daily at 1pm. The museum is closed Mondays.
- Itsukinomiya Historical Experience
- Right next to Saiku Station, Itskinomiya is a reconstruction of the Heian Period Saio's residence. The building was built using traditional methods using interlocking wooden panels, rather than nails. There is also a 1/10th scale model of the ancient Saiku Town. Itsukinomiya is interesting to see, but there's not really a lot to do there. The highlight is the ancient 12 layered, 10kg imperial kimono made of pure silk. If you want to wear the kimono (which is indeed impressive), you must book several weeks ahead for one of the two daily fittings.
- Ōyodo Beach (大淀海水浴場 ōyodo kaisui yokujō)
- Overlooking Ise Bay, the Oyodo beach is not really that impressive compared to the beaches of Shima, but it's okay for that summer dip when you can't be bothered driving further south. It's great for fishing or collecting shells, though.
Events and Festivals
- Saiō Festival (斎王祭 saiō matsuri)
- The highlight of the year in Meiwa. Always the first weekend of June. Two days of festivites culminate in the Saio Procession, where over 100 participants dressed in 1,000 year old style kinomons march through the streets of Saiku toward Saiku museum. This is a pretty cool sight if you're into Japanese history. The past few years have seen several local ALT's and CIR's participate.
- Ōyodo Gion Festival
- Following close behind the Saio Festival in terms of popularity, held on the last weekend of July. A large cart hung with lit lanterns is pulled through the streets of Oyodo, then loaded onto a small boat and set adrift on Oyodo port. Fireworks and stalls set the background to this festival in a village that sometimes feels like something from a hundred years ago.
- Meiwa Cultural Festival
- Late October features the town's cultural festival which is held in the centrally located town gymnasium. Local crafts and artwork such as pottery, bonsai, photographs, paintings and more are on display for the weekend.
There are several smaller festivals throughout the year, including the Shimmomitto Sumo festival held in mid July at Shimmomitto elementary school, where local students take part in a sumo tournament traditional to the area.
- Post Office
- The main post office is near the town office.
- 105 Bank
- Near Saikū Station.
- JA Bank
- Several around, one of which is right next the the BOE.
- Plenty in the Meiwa Jusco. Otherwise, money can withdrawn at most convenience stores such as the centrally located Ministop.
- Cultural Center
- Meiwa has a small cultural center between the post office and the town office.
- Part of the cultural center.
- Very large and modern facility. Located behind the junior high school in central Meiwa. Court space for indoor sports (e.g. basketball, volleyball, badminton, etc) can be rented and the use of a modest weight room is also available for just 100 yen.
- ÆON Meiwa
- Above the history, the festivals and the rice, Meiwa is famous for just one thing...being king of shopping in eastern and central Mie. Meiwa Jusco also features the areas only major cinema. Many stand-alone shops that have sprung up outside the mall as well.
- There are also a few shops along Route 37.
Food and Drink
- Nicest in town, located on the 1F of the mall.
- On route 37 on the Matsusaka side of town. The old MaxValu was closed in 2009 and moved to a brand new development called DC Mall which lies just east of the old location. MaxValu's selection is very similar to that of Jusco as they are owned by the same parent company.
- Newer supermarket on the corner of Route 37 and Sunny Road.
The mall is full of both food-court type chains like McDonald's and Mister Donuts, as well as sit-down chains. There are some stand-alone places outside the mall as well, including a conveyor-belt sushi.
- Ill Drammatico
- An excellent Italian restaurant in "Central Meiwa" (the desolate, empty bit in the middle of town). Across the road from the Ministop near the Town Office. Just follow the signs to "Meiwa Town Office" from either the 23 or the 37 and look out for the Ministop. Closed Wednesdays.
- An upscale restaurant with French influences on the 37 near Max Value. Set lunches and dinners (3 or 4 courses). A little pricy for dinner but lunch is reasonable.
- It's a little difficult to find and perhaps a little expensive, but this is a very nice restaurant. Situated on the main linking road between route 23 and 37, the building is like an old european ski chalet and the place is very friendly and welcoming and the food is good. Mainly pastas and such.
- Across the road from the shuttered Max-Valu on Route 37, this Indian restaurant is a sister store to this well-known shop in Ise. The curry is quite good and the Nepalese owner is friendly and speaks English.
Recreation and Entertainment
These isn't a wealth of things to do in Meiwa itself, especially in terms of nightlife, however nearby Matsusaka and Ise have a number of clubs and good bars. Osaka and Nagoya are only two hours away by train as well.
The two main things to do in town our movies and karaoke.
- 109 Cinemas Meiwa
- Major movie theater in the mall
- A huge building that looks like an indoor baseball stadium on Route 37, opposite a Family Mart, has some of the best and cheapest karaoke around. If you get in before 9pm, it's ¥1000 for 2 hours, regardless of the number of people, and the rate stays the same no matter how late into the night you stay!
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