The Meiji Shrine was built to commemorate the life of Emperor Meiji, who led the Meiji Restoration, in which the emperor's power was restored and the Japanese nation was modernized. The shrine was originally constructed from 1915 to 1921 in a 175 acre forest. The original shrine was destroyed in World War II, and the present structures were built completed in 1958.
The walk from the subway stations on along a long, 50-foot wide gravel path. When you approach any of the inner sanctuary's three gates, you will pass an area with a spring where guests wash their hands before prayer. Once inside the inner walls, you will see the main shrine, and just off to the right side, a huge tree ringed with thousands of small wooden, hand-written prayer cards. In front of the shrine itself, people chuck coins into a box, then clap twice, then briefly pray.
On a recent Sunday I went to the Meiji Shrine, which is the most touristy thing I've done in Tokyo . Even though this is a traditional area of prayer for Japanese, Westerners flock here, and I'm really not sure why. It was just a modern version of a Buddhist Temple. If it wasn't for the spiritual aspects, it would be rather boring. The best part was that they let people write prayers on small panels of wood that they hang outside of the shrine. Most are Japanese, but some are in English, French, and a number of other languages. My favorite was one written in bad English that said something like, “I hope I have good grades, good health, and good lover. I hope my lover have good grades, too.”
The Meiji Shrine was built in 1920 to honor the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who died in 1912 and 1914 respectively. The shrine that stands today was built in 1958 after the original was destroyed in WWII. Although it feels like a primeval forest, all of the trees and plants surrounding the shrine and in the garden were donated by people from throughout the nation, so you can find native plants from most (if not all) of the prefectures in Japan.
The walk to the shrine is very peaceful and when I visited there were very few other people, so it definitely felt like being taken out of the city and into a secluded space; good one's spiritual senses.
The shrine has a large garden as well as two treasure houses. Visiting the shrine itself is free but each of the museum's costs 500 yen to enter and the garden is also 500 yen.
This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I love the Meiji Shrine. From the impressive wooden arch at the entrance to the peacefulness of the shrine itself, this is the place to go to really experience Japan at its best and most traditional.
From the moment you get there it is a lesson in Japan. The trees that line the area (which were donated by Japanese citizens and others from all over the world) to the wooden bridge and the rituals of purifying yourself before entering the temple, it is something that must be experienced.
You could easily spend a day here going through the shrine, the gardens and the museum. If you are lucky you will get to see a martial arts demonstration at Shiseikan, the traditional home for Japanese Martial Arts, or see a Shinto Monk romaing the grounds.
On the day of our visit, Meiji-Jingu was bustling with numerous weddings (one at the processional stage, others posing for photographs). Mishu told me that the obviously heavy wedding headdresses worn by the brides were designed to hide their horns; apparently the belief is that all women have fox spirits, and during the wedding ceremony could reveal this side of their nature unless it were suppressed by the heavy headgear. We had encountered many people on the walk up to the shrine who were clearly heading for weddings, to judge from their dress and demeanor; the men all wear white ties, and the women's hairstyles and footwear indicated that they were preparing for nuptials. We also noticed the "shrine maidens" who have much in common with vestal virgins; they are young girls in service to the shrine. Some of them, who couldn't have been much older than twelve, were accompanying the bridal processions, wearing bright orange hakama (the wide-legged trousers typically worn by tradesmen).
There were also parents preparing to dedicate their infants. The mothers wear traditional kimono and tabe and the babies are also dressed formally, but the fathers we saw were in business suits.
From the liquor storage point, it wasn't far to the main shrine. The tradition is to cleanse one's hands and mouth by ceremonially pouring water with a ritual dipper. Then you step to the threshold of the shrine, facing the honden or main building, and bow. The Meiji Shrine is immense, with a huge forecourt.
After you've made your way up the long winding path, eventually you arrive (after another immense torii) at the ranks of Burgundy wine and sake which are dedicated to use at the shrine. The Meiji emperor was apparently the first to introduce red wine drinking in Japan, and many of the vineyards in Bourgogne continue to send tributes.
The entrance to the Meiji Shrine is really impressive. It is located in an immense park. You enter via a huge torii, and then stroll through a lovely, long walk which winds gradually up towards the shrine itself.
A visit to the Shrine is interesting, more so, if you are there on a Japanese lucky day [Taian]
It is believed, a marriage consumated on this lucky day, is insured of success, happiness and prosperity.
We saw three weddings and a christening.
At the Shrine, the Shinto priest first holds the purification service of all present. We noticed that it was attended by a small amount of people [members of both families and close relatives & perhaps some elderly friends]
The "San-San-Kudo" or ceremony of the Three-Times-Three Exchange of nuptial cups is performed by the bridegroom and bride, and these days, often an exchange of wedding rings.
The bridegroom and bride proceed to the sanctuary to offer twigs of "Sakaki" sacred tree in worship to gods to end the main part of the wedding ceremony.
"Sake" is drank to signify their union through the wedding, traditional music is played, and the wedding is attended by "Miko" maidens.
We found it to be very solemn, there weren't smiles on the faces of any of the wedding party, so different to our Western style weddings.
Meiji Jingu Shrine is actually a huge greenery place and is a refreshing place. Particularly, Inner Garden of this shrine, using the former samurai lord garden, is a great stroll garden and is a good place to see the wildbirds.
The Meiji Shrine is probably the best example of a Shinto Shrine in Tokyo. Like most things in Tokyo, it had to be reconstructed after the World War II bombings, but it still retains that old Japan feel. That's probably because everything, including the huge torii gate, is constructed out of cypress in a city where almost everything else is concrete or metal.
...The shrine was constructed in 1920 to honor the Emperor Meiji, under whom power was centralized for the first time in centuries. Before Emperor Meiji, the emperor reigned in Kyoto while the real power was held by warlords or Samaurai in Kamakura or Edo (present day Tokyo). After the shock of Commadore Perry's Black Ships, the isolated Japanese ruling class decided they had to do something dramatic to avoid the fate of China so power was restored to the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration) and centralized in Tokyo. Then an amazing westernization and modernization effort to become Asia's pre-eminient power. The construction of this shrine was likely both an effort to commemorate and perpetuate that political revolution.
...The shrine is still important to the spiritual life of Tokyo's people, even if he Emperor no longer has divine power. People still come here to pray, marry, pass their 7th birthday, etc.
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