Travel Spotlight

Ise-Shima Snapshots: Summer in Japan

Through her beautiful snapshots, Indagare member and travel photographer Julie Helfrich captures the subtle details that make Japan’s coastal city of Ise-Shima so special. From unparalleled pearl diving to a blissful Aman property, Ise-Shima is a top destination for a unique summer escape.Contact Indagare for assistance planning a trip to Japan. Our specialists can book you at the hotel that is right for you and plan great meals and activities.

"I am inspired by the light, color and texture found in quotidian scenes, and my hope is to convey a sense of place. What moves me is when I find vestiges of former lives having been lived,” explains Julie Helfrich, a San Francisco–based photographer and Indagare member since 2008. “I’m driven to get off the beaten path and discover the treasures that you won’t see unless you really look—or get lucky.”

By capturing subtle, intimate scenes—laundry hanging out to dry, sailboats docking, a young girl digging for crabs—Julie’s photographs allow viewers to feel the spirit of each place that she visits. Nowhere is this more evident than in her collection from a recent family vacation to Ise-Shima, Japan.

A serene coastal region renowned for its cultivation of fine pearls and boasting a stunning Aman property, Amanemu, Ise-Shima is a little-known but worthwhile destination that travelers should be incorporating into their Japan itineraries. Many visitors will delight in the exceptional seafood of the region, which is Japan’s lobster country and the imperial family’s sushi supplier. Others will be drawn to Ise Jingu, a holy Shinto complex that contains more than 100 shrines and meditation courtyards. It also houses the mysterious and revered Sacred Mirror, one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, which were presented to ancient emperors ascending the throne.

“I discovered this region and Amanemu thanks to Indagare’s recommendation,” says Julie, who counts Mexico’s Oaxaca and Ireland among her favorite destinations. “To be based at such an incredible hotel in such a culturally rich, beautiful, remote place was the ultimate getaway.”

No trip to Ise-Shima would be complete without a visit to Ago Bay, where world-famous female divers scour the blue waters that are home to Japan’s first pearl farm, founded by Kokichi Mikimoto in 1888. Ise-Shima has since become the “pearl capital” of the world, the seat of a multibillion-dollar industry—as well as the area’s primary attraction. “Of course, we wanted to buy some pearls,” recounts Julie, “but the Mikimoto tour sounded too commercial. Instead, we decided to check out a tiny, family-owned harvester we’d heard about.”

When the Helfriches arrived at the small house of the harvester, a woman emerged and invited them to enter. Julie took in every detail with her camera. “All around the place, there were so many interesting things to discover. I love the photo of the stove. Tea is such an important ritual in Japan that it seemed fitting to find a teakettle anchoring the room.”

They joined the woman at a table covered with trays of freshly gathered oysters and began cracking open the briny shells to examine the soft gray pearls hiding inside. As her daughter searched for a matching pair, Julie continued exploring the house. “I found a tiny lunch room, where I took those shots of the portable grill, with the scallop shells from that afternoon’s meal still hanging out.” It is this simple, rustic elegance that makes Ise-Shima—even next to Tokyo, with its lights, and Kyoto, with its temples—a place that lingers in the traveler’s memory.

Through her photographs, Julie attempts to capture destinations as they truly are. “I try not to touch anything. I don’t adjust the scene unless it is absolutely essential.” In Ise-Shima, she recalls, no styling was needed. “The lighting was so pretty, and all the colors seemed to coordinate naturally. It was so quiet. I hope the pictures reflect that—that all you heard were a few gulls and maybe the sounds of some people working, but barely. I just sat there on the dock and captured life as it was around me all afternoon.”

Amanemu: Japan's Newest "It" Hotel

Opened in March 2016, Amanemu is a secluded resort nestled in the rolling hills of Ise-Shima National Park and overlooking the cerulean waters of Ago Bay. In addition to its proximity to the pearl capital of the world, the property offers premier access to the UNESCO World Heritage–designated Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and the holy Ise Jingu shrine complex. The serenity of the resort’s sprawling grounds also imbues the 24 minimalist ryokan-style suites and villas, with their partial glass walls affording glorious views of the surroundings. The Amanemu’s true treasure, however, is its vast award-winning spa, which features traditional onsen baths fed by the nutrient-rich waters of nearby thermal hot springs. Around the baths and tucked into intimate alcoves are luxe daybeds where guests can lounge and relax. There are also four treatment suites and a fitness area with views of the forest. This coastal sanctuary, surrounded by verdant forests and with constantly changing sea views, is a must-visit for spa-loving, discerning travelers who want an off-the-beaten path retreat with cultural immersion in an otherwise bustling country.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a trip to Japan. Our specialists can book you at the hotel that is right for you and plan great meals and activities.

Published onMay 17, 2018

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