Right next to busy Harajuku in Tokyo is Meiji shrine.  Also known as Meiji Jingu, it is dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.  The entire complex is enormous, covering 175 acres that can be both extremely busy and crowded in one area while being extremely peaceful and serene at the same time in another.  Even just walking into it can be an experience because outside, due to the traffic and local area it can be quite noisy, but once go under that first torii( shrine gate) you enter a forest that blocks everything out.  The shrine is a very beautiful place, especially with its iconic Japanese roofs.  Any visit to Tokyo needs to have this shrine on its itinerary.

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The main hall of the shrine with the NTT Docomo building in the background

The shrine can be very busy, especially on weekends – worshippers making their way inside pray, wedding processions, priests and other staff going about their daily business.  And of course you’ll find people visiting just to see what the place is about.  To be honest, one every day of the week is quite busy, but on Sundays, holidays, New Years and certain other occasions it can be overflowing with people.

If you are thinking of visiting Tokyo in the future, Meiji Jingu, or Meiji shrine as it is also known, should be on your list of places 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.

1)  When you enter the grounds of the shrine, there are some very impressive “torii”, the traditional gate to a Shinto shrine, that you will you pass under.  They are enormous and majestic, completely impossible to miss.  There are actually three torii in total between the Harajuku entrance and the main building;

2)  There is an iris garden which the Empress Shoken used to visit.  It 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;

3)  While walking along the path to the shrine you will pass huge barrels of sake on the right side of the path and wine barrels on the other.  The sake barrels are donated every year by Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association; while the wine barrels have come all the way from the Bourgogne region of France;

4)  At the rear of the complex are two more important buildings.  One is the Shiseikan (martial arts training center), and the other is the Homotsuden, a museum devoted to the life of Emperor Meiji.  In front of these buildings is a big open grassy area from where you can get some great shots of the skyscrapers in Shinjuku poking up over the treeline.

1)  Meiji Jingu is one of the best places to see a Shinto wedding procession.  They are very colourful and take place in front of the main building, usually on weekends.  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 who 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.  The excitement level can be pretty high as the processions are very colourful.  That shot of the bride, groom and bride’s mother walking under the huge umbrella carried by the priests is one the highlights of any visit to Meiji shrine for many visitors;

2)  The shrine can also be a great place to take part in/observe many different events it holds.  Some of them are hanami (cherry blossoms), New Years prayers and other events including sumo ceremonies, Japanese horse archery and of course many events on the Shinto religious calendar, and;

3)  As it is just a one minute walk from busy Harajuku station, it is of course very close to Harajuku.  Harajuku is one of the most fashionable and trendy areas in Tokyo.   There is also Takeshita street just over the road from Harajuku station, it is one of Tokyo’s focus points for the young.  And right next door to the shrine is Yoyogi park, one of the most popular parks in Tokyo.  So much to see in one is Yoyogi park.  So in quite a small area there is a lot to see there.  Even with a whole day you probably wouldn`t be able to see it all.

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One of the torii (gate found at a Shinto shrine) found near the entrance

1)  On occasion, it can be very difficult to get a good shot of a wedding procession as everyone there also wants a nice shot.  Please keep aware and don’t accidentally intrude into the wedding party’s path;

2)  At the Homotsuden (i.e. the museum), most of the material is written in Japanese and it isn’t open on weekdays;

3)  The park at the back of the shrine could be a great place for a picnic, but unfortunately eating there isn’t allowed.  I wish it were because it would be a great place for a picnic, and;

4)  If you go there for New Years prayers in December be prepared to enter the most crowded place in your life.  Usually the walk to the main building from the entrance takes about five to 10 minutes depending on pace.  On New Year’s Eve that 10 minute walk will probably take an hour or more.

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.

Here is a Google map to help:

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.

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The park at the back of the shrine has some great views of nearby Shinjuku

Meiji Shrine is open daily from sunrise to sunset.  However the Homotsuden is open only on Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays.

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With all the nearby trees, it is a great place to visit

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.

The best way to see a Japanese wedding procession at Meiji shrine

To the best way is to use a search engine and lookup, “Taian”, which means good luck day.  If find a taian that falls on a Sunday, there is a very good chance you will see a Japanese wedding procession at Meiji shrine, especially during spring and autumn.  Winter is usually too cold and summer too hot, so those months have fewer weddings.

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A bridge and groom on their wedding day with an attendant

You can see the shrine’s homepage here.


Rohan Gillett

Rohan Gillett

I’ve been living in Tokyo for close to 20 years.  Originally, I`m from Australia and made the move here in 1991 on a working holiday visa, when I was about 25.  At that time I worked for NOVA (the defunct English school).  In 1993 I returned to Australia to finish my university degree.

Returning to Tokyo in 1996, I have been living here ever since.  I really love the city and am constantly exploring it to find out new things.  When not out walking or exploring, I’ll be in front of my computer looking for some new place to … have my next walk in the city.

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