A city that was built from the Saio system
Saiku, which is located in the northwestern sector of Ise Grand Shrine, consisted of the palace and offices for the Saio who served at the shrine. The Saio, who served the enshrined deity of Amaterasu instead of the Emperor, was represented by generations of unmarried Imperial princesses who may have numbered as many as 60 women. She offered daily prayers for the nation’s peace and prosperity. According to surveys, Saiku had a grid pattern criss-crossed by roads and was basically a well-ordered city with more than 100 buildings in which it was understood that new buildings were constructed with a change in generations. Over 500 people lived in Saiku including public servants who ran the offices and court ladies who served the Saio. The town of Meiwa in Mie Prefecture has a singular status in the country as the location for Saiku.
An elegant lifestyle which developed in Saiku
The Saio system which continued for 660 years enjoyed its most halcyon days during the Heian Era. It was the age which gave rise to the culture of the nobility in Japan, and Saiku developed a refined way of living that was even on par with the lifestyle in Heian-kyo, the capital at that time. The Saio proceeded to Ise Grand Shrine three times a year. Performing the religious ritual of offering a large branch of a sacred tree to Amaterasu, the three most important festivals at the shrine were held during June, October for the new rice harvest of the year, and December for the Tsukinami for which 3 nights and 4 days were set aside for each. Currently, the Saio Festival is celebrated at Saiku in which the biggest highlight is the recreated Saio Procession where a chosen Saio makes her way from the capital to Saiku.
A National Historic Site which has also been recognized for the first time as a Japan Heritage Site
The remains of Saiku cover a large area of 140ha. Within these grounds, there are facilities such as the Saiku Heian-no-Mori with its restored Heian Era buildings, the Saiku Historical Museum which has exhibits of items unearthed from excavation, Itsukinomiya Hall for Historical Experience where you can experience the Heian era, the Saio Forest and the Saiku Historical Romance Plaza. In 1979, the Saiku ruins were recognized as a National Historic Site and in 2015, the story “Saio: The Praying Imperial Princess Miyako – Saiku” which related about the Saio and Saiku was recognized as the first Japan Heritage property.
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