Located in the coast of Mie Prefecture in the town of Ise, Ise Shrine (ise jingu in Japanese) is the most sacred Shinto shrine in all of Japan. The reason the shrine is so sacred is that it is the shrine dedicated to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, who according to legend was the great grandmother of the first Japanese emperor, Jimmu.
The Shrine is also the repository of one of the three imperial regalia handed down through the imperial family since time immemorial - the Sacred Mirror - although only the Emperor and a handful of high-ranking Shinto priests are allowed to see it, and even then only as part of the enthronement ceremony of a new emperor, in which the emperor to be travels to Ise and takes part in a secret ceremony, communing alone in the shrine with the Sun Goddess overnight, asking her for guidance.
Another fascinating aspect of Ise Shrine is the tradition demanding that it be totally torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. When the shrine is rebuilt, it is rebuilt by hand using ancient techniques in an exact copy of all previous incarnations of the shrine using the same ancient architecture from when the shrine was allegedly founded in 4 BC. The reason for this tradition is said to be to insure that the shrine is "forever new, but also forever ancient."
Although there used to be several other prominent Shinto shrines with a tradition of being torn down and rebuilt every so often (the time period varied from shrine to shrine), nowadays Ise Shrine is the last shrine where this practice is still observed, due to the tremendous expense involved. The last time Ise Shrine was torn down and rebuilt, in 1993, the total cost exceeded 5 billion Japanese yen (or about 500 million US dollars).
Increasingly, each time the shrine is rebuilt, debate arises about whether the Japanese government (and thus ultimately ordinary taxpayers), should continue funding such a lavish and perhaps unnecessary tradition at public expense. The shrine is next scheduled to be rebuilt in 2013, which will be the 62nd rebuilding of the shrine since the practice was inaugurated in the year 690, but many people feel it should be the last time.