Located right in the middle of one of Tokyo`s most popular areas is an amazing urban oasis, “Meiji Jingu” (or Meiji Shrine if you prefer). Meiji Jingu is a shinto shrine that is dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. After the Emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration and the construction of a shrine where his soul would be enshrined was undertaken. The area around an iris garden in Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken had been known to visit was chosen as the building’s location. With the passing of the resolution, construction began in 1915, formally dedicated in 1920 and completely finished in 1926.
Today Meiji Jingu is one of the most serene and peaceful places you can find in the busy city of Tokyo. The serenity comes from the location. The complex is located in middle of a 175 acre forest, with some of the trees being 35 meters high – they thoroughly block out external sounds.
The iris garden which the Empress used to visit is very popular in June (when the flowers bloom). In the garden is a small well, named, “Kiyomasa`s spring”, after the military figure that had it dug around 400 years ago. The well has become known as a, “power spot”.
Meiji Jingu is just a one minute walk from busy Harajuku station, which is very close to Harajuku. Harajuku being one of the most fashionable and trendy areas in Tokyo. It is also about a twenty minute walk from Shibuya station another trendy area in the city. Between Meiji Jingu and Shibuya is the stadium that was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. And right next door to the shrine is Yoyogi park, one of the most popular parks in Tokyo. So much to see in one small area, even with a whole day you wouldn`t be able to see it all.
When you enter the grounds of the shrine, probably the first thing that will get your attention is the, “torii” (the traditional gate to a Shinto shrine) you pass under. It is enormous and majestic, completely impossible to miss. Actually there are three torii in total between the Harajuku entrance and the main building. But once you pass under the first one, you enter the forest which blocks out the sights and sounds of the city.
While walking along the path to the shrine you will pass huge barrels of sake. These barrels are donated every year by Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association to the enshrined deities at the shrine, and they make for a great photo opportunity for the visitor.
About five minutes past the sake barrels you`ll come to the entrance of the main shrine area, from where you can see the Mode Gakuen building far behind in the distance. The two buildings really contrast each other. Mode Gakuen, an icon of the modern age – and Meiji Jingu an icon of ages past, but still relevant in the modern era as it one of the main places for News Years prayers and is still very culturally important.
As you enter the main courtyard, you`ll notice how busy it is – visitors taking photos, worshippers making their way to the main shrine to pray, priests and other staff going about their daily business. And there are also stalls where you can buy a wide array of amulets and charms to ward off variety of evils, or to help overcome various obstacles in life (such as school exams). These shrine, courtyard and stalls will be busy most days, but will be literally overflowing with visitors on Sundays, holidays, New Years and certain other occasions.
The main building or, “honden”, is the focus of most visits. It is a very graceful building as it was constructed in the traditional Shinto shrine style which gives it the distinctive roof. It can be extremely crowded at times (especially over the New Year vacation), with people climbing up the steps, placing a small monetary offering into the offertory box, then praying. (Just a tip about basic shrine etiquette – taking photos here isn`t permitted. Pictures from, and in, the courtyard are allowed – just not on or above the steps leading up to the main building).
During your visit, if you are lucky (especially on weekends), you might be able to see a Shinto wedding procession in front of the main building. These are very colourful. You won’t be able to see an actual wedding ceremony itself, but the processions are very impressive. They are quite solemn, led by the priests and miko (women or girls who assist in the ceremonies), and the bride and groom walk under a large red parasol. When the processions appear, there is a usually a rush as visitors try to get a good position to take pictures of brides in kimono and bridegrooms in hakama, followed by parents and guests.
Also in the courtyard are racks filled with, “ema”, small wooden plaques on which are written wishes or prayers. And it isn`t only the Japanese worshippers writing these ema, many of the foreign visitors do as well. So if you have a look at the racks, you will find so many different languages, not only Japanese.
But your visit doesn’t have to end here at the main building. Behind it, about a five minute walk, you will find an absolutely brilliant park. From the park, looking out over the tall trees, you can see the skyscrapers of Nishi-Shinjuku that make for a very pleasant scene. A great place for a walk during the hanami (the cherry blossom) season.
Near the park are two more important buildings. One is the Shiseikan (martial arts training center), and the other is the Homotsuden (the treasure museum). The Homostuden is a great museum. Unfortunately, most of the material is written in Japanese but what is on display is still interesting and will give you some insights into Imperial family life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
On your way out, if you need some refreshment, near the Harajuku gate you will find shops, a restaurant and a bridal planner. The souvenir shop is a great place to pick up a memento of your visit.
If you are thinking of visiting Tokyo in the future, Meiji Jingu should be on your list of things to see. It has a great mix of the traditional and the new, plus events that everyone can join (New Years Prayers which is a major event itself) and it is so close to the major fashion and shopping centers, Harajuku and Shibuya with a major train station next to it.
And Meiji Jingu does have one special little secret. The shrine never closes (so it is open 365 days a year) but it opens with the sunrise and closes with the sunset which makes it a great place for early risers or people who want to make the most of their Tokyo visit. So for those willing to come early in the morning it can be possible to see priests, accolytes and miko go through some of their daily rituals which can make for a very special memory to take home with you.
Cost of admission
Entrance is free, but the there is a 500 yen entrance fee for the Homotsuden and Iris garden to help cover the costs of maintenance.
How to get to Meiji Shrine
You can get to Harajuku station by using the JR Yamanote line or Tokyo Metro Chiyoda line using Meiji Jingu-mae station. The entrance to the shrine is just a one minute walk from the station.
You can see the shrine’s homepage here.