There are many incredibly pretty temples and shrines in Tokyo, but one that should absolutely make your list of places to see (alongside the Buddhist Senso-ji Complex in Asakusa) is a magnificent Meiji Shrine. Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine, a religion which has been deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. The complex was built to honor the divine souls of Emperor Meiji, who made significant contribution in the modernization of Japan, and Empress Shoken and to commemorate their virtues and venerate them forever.
But what makes this place really special? While the shrine itself is beautiful, it is the path leading to it that leaves me speechless every time I go there. A massive wooden torii gate made of 1,700-year-old cypress greets you at the start of the wide passage into what feels like a massive green forest. 100,000 trees from all over Japan and overseas were donated and hundreds of volunteers worked together to create this beautiful grove by hand-planting each tree which was planned as an eternal forest that recreates itself. Torii are meant to symbolize the separation of the everyday secular world from the spiritual world of the Shinto shrine. Indeed, the minute you step on the other side of the gate a calm silence replaces the relentless bruit of crowded Harajuku and you seem to be immersed into a bit magical world where an atmosphere of tranquility and austerity takes over. You are in the heart of the huge metropolis, yet detached from the rest of the world and all its worries. As you follow the gravel footpath you will see colorful barrels of sake lined up on one side and wine barrels on the other. Emperor Meiji was a big supporter of industrial growth and modernization of Japan by encouraging various industries and supporting their technological development. Sake brewing industry has been expressing its gratitude by donating barrels of sake every year while the wine barrels have come all the way from the Bourgogne region of France. Each sake barrel is painted with a different design, bringing the solitary wall to life against the verdant background of the forest that surrounds it. As you continue your way to the shrine you will go through another torii gate, identical to the first one before arriving to the main complex. Before entering the holy territory and offering a prayer it is customary to purify yourself by the water fountain by rinsing your hands and mouth. It is up to you how long you’d take to marvel the serene grounds of the shrine, but personally I love to linger a little to admire the centuries-old woodwork and people-watch. During the weekend you might be able to witness a traditional wedding procession through the courtyard — the bride in a white kimono and hood and the groom in his formal black robe, walking together under a big red parasol, with Shinto priests leading the way and the rest of the wedding party trailing behind. You can write your wishes on ema, wooden plaques, and hang them for the deities to hear. After you are done gawking at the shrine visit the peaceful Inner Garden, where the irises are in full bloom in the later half of June. Its beautiful landscape was created by the Emperor for his Empress so that she would have a space to recharge and regain energy. How romantic is that? A wooden tea house is perched on the hill overlooking a pond. I can only imagine how her majesty would sit by the window sipping matcha tea and admiring the nature… And don’t miss Kiyomasa-Ido, a wishing well which has been a site of pilgrimage for locals and tourists alike.At the end of your tour you can shop at the souvenir store located behind those colorful barrels I showed you in the beginning. I really like the items they have on sale here, a good quality unique memorabilia. In case you feel quite famished and are not heading to some specific café in Omotesando (I will make sure to recommend places to eat there in my upcoming posts), you can have a meal at the Restaurant Yoyogi located in front of the souvenir shop. Honestly, all I expected was a mediocre cafeteria food, but my fixed combo Japanese meal was actually very flavorful and quite delicious. After soaking up the serene atmosphere of Meiji Gingu I am completely relieved and refilled with positive energy. Every time I exit that grand torii gate I feel like I am strong enough to face any obstacles waiting for me out there. Braving through the crowded Takeshita-dori is usually one of them. More on that coming up soon! 🙂
Details: 1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizonocho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Metro Station: Harajuku