MEIJI SHRINE, TOKYO — A HIDDEN GEM IN JAPAN’S MEGACITY
Meiji Shrine Tokyo is one of Japan’s most famous Shinto shrines and is an incredible architecture with vast scenic grounds that make a timeless and rejuvenating destination for visitors. The shrine offers opportunities for visitors to take part in typical Shinto activities including making offerings, buying charms or just walk around the grounds and take in the serenity of its beautiful gardens. You may even witness a Shinto wedding if you visit on certain days.
IS MEIJI SHRINE WORTH VISITING?
Absolutely! Visiting Meiji Shrine Tokyo is one of the best ways to experience the sacred atmosphere of Japanese Shinto shrines in Tokyo. While there are many Shinto shrines dotted around this grand city, Meiji Jingu offers a different experience altogether. Unlike the many shrines in Japan which are located on hills or higher ground, the Meiji Shrine is on level ground. Not having to climb a hill would be rather appealing to some.
Located within the densely built-up area of Shibuya, the shrine welcomes its visitors through its two majestic torii gates and offer the opportunity to walk from a busy part of the city into a large park of 200 acres of absolute bliss and serenity. The grounds are beautifully laid out with dedicated walking paths which are great for a relaxing stroll in the peaceful forest. The charming Inner Garden, and the exquisite museum with priceless exhibitions are also reasons to visit this extraordinary Shinto shrine.
I visited the Meiji Shrine on my last day in Tokyo and incidentally it was on a Sunday in early June. In this article, I share the highlights of this famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo and what makes a Sunday visit special.
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ABOUT THE MEIJI SHRINE, TOKYO
Meiji Shrine Tokyo was built in 1920 to honour Japan’s first modern ruler, Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The original shrine buildings were destroyed in an air raid during the Second World War and the current buildings were built in 1958 to replace the shrine. The reconstruction represents the impressive structure and colours typical of Shinto architecture.
There are reminders of Emperor Meiji and his work to introduce Western knowledge to exist alongside Japanese tradition sprinkled across the grounds. One unmissable example is the display of wine casks that sit along the sake barrels at one of the entrances to the shrine.
Hidden within a thick ancient forest of towering cedar trees and winding pathways, next to Yoyogi Park, and only minutes away from the bustling streets of Harajuku, Meiji Shrine is a peaceful haven of tranquility and a place for reflection. The shrine attracts up to a million visitors during grand festivals, especially for Hatsumode, the first Shinto shrine visit of the New Year. Hatsumode takes place during the first three days of the New Year and is an occasion for Shinto practitioners to worship and wish for good fortune.
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WHAT TO DO AT MEIJI SHRINE TOKYO
Here are some of the main highlights at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo.
1 | Admire the majestic Torii Gate
The entry to the Meiji Shrine’s ground is marked by a 12-metres high (40 feet) Torii gate. This Torii gate is one of the two entrances to the Shrine, the other is situated closer to the shrine itself. It is made of 1500-year-old Japanese cypress wood.
The Torii gate is a symbol to keep the outside world from the holy ground of the gods. When you are at the torii gate, you must first bow before entering the grounds. Then, proceed to walk on the dedicated paths either on the left or on the right. One should not walk in the middle as this is where the gods walk. Many tourists or visitors (me included!) who are unfamiliar with this etiquette do not observe this.
2 | The cleansing station at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
The cleansing station is basically a communal water tank where you cleanse your hands and mouth before making offerings of prayer at the main hall.
Recommended read: Etiquette to observe at a Shinto Shrine
3 | Barrels of Sake and Burgundy
The barrels of Sake and Burgundy are so neatly and beautifully displayed that taking a photo was unavoidable. These were donated to the Meiji Shrine. The barrels of Burgundy were donated by France.
4 | Visit The Gaein
The Gaein holds a picture gallery depicting the events in the lives of the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken.
5 | Exhibition of Japanese Suiseki Masterpieces
Suiseki is the art of appreciating natural landscapes which takes the form of uniquely shaped stones. They are displayed on a wooden base called a daiza. The stones are chosen because they resemble mountains or waterfalls and is then placed on a tray or a ceramic bowl (either a suiban or a doban).
6 | Collection of Bonsai plants
A collection of Bonsai plants were also on display alongside the Suiseki. Bonsai basically refers to “planting in a tray” and the tradition of planting in a tray dates back thousands of years. A good bonsai reflects a full version of a tree, small leaves, tapered trunk and balanced branches.
*Both Suiseki and Bonsai are hobbies that ultimately reflect the expression of Japanese aesthetic.
7 | Japanese Old Style Tea
Natural Tea of the Mountains that comes from the bark of a tree that is hundreds of years old. It was recommended for slimming.
8 | Roasted soya bean
During the Meiji period, roasted soya beans were used to cook rice with. This was one of the ways of cooking rice eaten by nobles and people of high status.
9 | The Inner Garden
The Inner Garden covers a large section, approximately 83,000 square metres of the Shrine’s grounds. It is situated in the southern section, between the main shrine buildings and Yoyogi Park. There is an entrance fee of 500 Yen.
It is worth paying the fee as it is a beautiful, scenic forest that is paved with stone pathways. There is a traditional tea house to take a break from your walk and the South Pond, where it is filled with turtles and colourful koi. If your trip takes you here in June, you will be amazed with the beautiful irises which are in full bloom here.
10 | Visit the Kiyomasa Well
The main feature of the Inner Garden is the Kiyomasa’s Well. Named after a feudal warlord, Kato Kiyomasa, who dug it over 400 years ago. The Well is a small well which sits at the mouth of the stream that runs to the South Pond.
Legend has it that this part of the Garden was a popular spot for both the Emperor Meiji and the Empress — a place they visited frequently to spend their time together. The water temperature is said to be constant throughout the four seasons and pure water bubbles out in a steady flow all year round. At one point it was a wellness feature but now you are not allowed to drink the water. The Well is regarded as one of Tokyo’s premier power spots. It has attracted lots of visitors who want to experience this positive energy alongside the tranquility of the forest.
11 | Observe a Shinto Wedding
Sundays are special days as it is a popular day for Shinto weddings at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo.
The tradition of holding a Shinto wedding at the Meiji Shrine became a common practice soon after Emperor Taisho’s wedding was held here. In breaking with previous tradition of having a wedding in a room, Emperor Meiji instructed his son to have his wedding in front of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Oomikami, enshrined here. Following this, wedding ceremonies that takes place here are performed in the same way.
A traditional Shinto wedding involves couples pledging their love for each other at shrines in front of gods, wearing formal outfits and following the steps to pledge their love for each other, typically involving a wedding procession through the courtyard. The ceremony is usually a small-scale affair involving the bride and groom, the Shinto priests and important family members.
The bride is dressed in a white kimono and a hood, symbolising purity and the groom in his formal black robe and they walk together under a big red parasol across the courtyard. The ceremony itself begins with a ritual of purification, followed by prayers for the couple to have good luck, happiness and the protection of the kami. The couple then will partake in the drinking of sake – taking three sips each from three cups poured by the miko (shrine maiden). Then the groom reads words of commitment.
The ceremony was very calm and gentle. The bride looking beautiful and in a constant smile. The groom seemed knowledgeable of the steps in the ceremony.
USEFUL INFORMATION TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR VISIT TO THE MEIJI SHRINE
The following information might help guide your visit:
1 | Visiting hours
Admission to the main shrine and the grounds is free. To experience the shrine at its most tranquil state, visit at dawn before the crowds arrive. The Meiji Jingu opening hours are from dawn to dusk throughout the year.
The Inner Garden is open from 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Last admission is at 4:00 P.M. The admission fee is 500 Yen.
2 | Ema
Wishes and prayers can be made all year round using tablets or ‘Ema’. Write your own prayers and hang it on the dedicated areas around the shrine along with a donation.
Learn more about Ema in the article on 5 Etiquette to Observe at a Shinto Shrine.
3 | How to get to the Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine is conveniently located within the hustle and bustle of the megacity in Japan.
Within a 5-minute walk from the Meiji-jingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Line;
Within a 5-minute walk from the Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Have a wonderful time exploring the Meiji Shrine, the hidden jewel in Tokyo Japan.
Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan was first published at timelesstravelsteps.com