Meoto Iwa: The Story Behind Japan’s Wedded Rocks

The wedded rocks (meoto iwa) joined by shimenawa rope in Ise, Japan

Two rugged rocks rise from the waves in Ise Bay just a short distance from the shore. The larger, at around 9 metres high, is the male and is marked with a small torii gate on top. The adjacent female rock is much smaller.  A long braided rope wraps around the peaks binding the two rocks together. These Meoto Iwa, or Wedded Rocks, are an iconic symbol of marriage throughout Japan.

What Exactly do the Meoto Iwa Represent?

In Japanese folklore, the god Izanagi and his wife, Izanami, gave birth to the islands of Japan. They also birthed the kami, gods of the Shinto religion that is practised in Japan.  The two gods were devoted to each other until Izanami died during childbirth.  Even then, Izanagi followed her to the underworld in an attempt to bring her back to the land of the living.

The male rock at Meoto Iwa represents Izanagi, and the female rock Izanami.  The rocks are a symbol of the union between the deities.  Inspired by this legendary marriage, Japanese couples come here to pray for a long and happy life together.

What is the Shimenawa?

The rice straw rope wrapped around the wedded rocks is known as shimenawa. Anything surrounded by one of these ropes is considered sacred and the ropes ward off evil spirits. The rope at Meoto Iwa is around 35 metres long and weighs over a ton. Being exposed to the wind and waves, it tends to degrade quickly and has to be replaced frequently. A team of men, dressed all in white and equipped with ladders, clamber over the rocks to replace the rope in a ceremony held three times a year.

Frogs around water purification pool at Futami Okitama Shrine in Ise, Japan

Frogs at Futami Okitama Shrine

Futami Okitama Shrine

Next to the wedded rocks, there is a shrine dedicated to Sarutahiko Okami.  He is one of only two of the earthly gods to be given the title of Okami, or Great God (the other is Inari).  At Futami Okitama Shrine, frogs are considered to be the messengers to Sarutahiko and there are statues of frogs, in varying shapes and sizes, placed all around the temple.

The Japanese word for frog is kaeru.  The word for coming back, or coming home, is also kaeru so these frogs have become associated with loved ones or objects returning home.  Japanese come to pray at the shrine for the safe return of loved ones and you may see them rubbing the frog statues for extra effect.  They may also buy a frog amulet at the shrine to ensure a safe return.

Meoto Iwa Travel Tips

The wedded rocks are only surrounded by water when the tide is high. They are more photogenic when rising out of the sea so time your trip accordingly.

From May to August, if you get there early, you can see the sun rise between the rocks.

The shimenawa ropes are replaced at the Oshimenawa Harikae ceremony that occurs every May, September and December.

How to Get to the Wedded Rocks

Take a train to Iseshi station in Ise.

From Iseshi, take a train on the JR Sangu Line to Futamino-Ura.

Futami Okitama Shrine and the Meoto Iwa are around a 2km walk from Futamino-Ura station.

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