Meiji Shrine

HarajukuMeiji Shrine (????) is Tokyo's largest shrine, and one of Japan's three "Jingu"(Imperial shrine). This shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. In Shinto, it is not uncommon to enshrine the deified spirits of important personalities.

This perfect example of Shinto architecture--muted colors and spare lines—was completed then opened in 1920 to commemorate the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912. It was built by over 100,000 volunteers. It is located in a wooded park area next to Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, Tokyo. Various events and festivals are celebrated at the shrine throughout the year. Meiji Shrine located in Tokyo, Japan near Harajuku Station.

Meiji Shrine is adjacent to Yoyogi Park, smack in the heart of ultra-fashionable Tokyo. Aoyama, Omotesando, and Harajuku are a short walk away; Shibuya and Shinjuku are a couple of stops on the Yamanote Line. The shrine is is a short walk from Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line. The park contains the site of the 1964 Olympics. Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi National Stadium was built for those Games and is still a Tokyo landmark. Perhaps the most beautiful area is the Inner Garden (Jingu Nai-en), which in late June is filled with irises in full bloom. Farther in is the Treasure House, where the royal couple's clothes and personal things are kept.

It was designed by outstanding scholars such as Dr. Seiroku Honda, the father of afforestation in Japan. He and others had a 100- to 200-year vision that the forest would pass to future generations. The woodland must regenerate itself without human intervention. It was created as the first "eternal forest" in Japan, based on the most advanced practices of afforestation that Honda learned while studying in Germany. In spite of the common belief at the time that a shrine forest should consist of trees such as cedar and cypress, Honda chose broad-leafed evergreens like shii (chinquapin), kashi (evergreen oak) and kusu (camphor) for the primary trees.

The ultimate ideal of forest creation is natural regeneration using the conditions inherent in Tokyo. During the 80-some years since the launch of the original plan, the forest has grown more rapidly than Honda expected and has already begun to attain the appearance of a natural forest. It has been steadily growing into a state of perfection.

The shrine staff says in unison, "Rather than meddling with the forest, all we do is keep watch over the trees as they grow naturally on their own." That the forest, left to natural regeneration, has grown to this scale in just 80 years clearly shows that Japan is blessed with a rich natural environment and mild climate. However, it is certain that the biggest reason why this forest has remained and flourished is that the area is protected by the revered shrine, with every one of its trees considered sacred and venerable.

The main entrance to the shrine is close to Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line) or Meiji Jingumae Station (Chiyoda subway line). You enter through an enormous wooden torii and proceed along a wide gravel walkway. After several minutes walk turn to the left and go through another torii - the largest wooden torii in Japan. To the left is a small park - admittance charged and not really worth it. (A surcharge is added while the irises are blooming in June / July whether in full bloom or nearing expiration!). Itnear the Asakusa district. It is a very serene place (that is when the tourists and school trips are not around: which means morning on weekdays), good for admiring nature, old architecture and peace of mind.

The shrine itself follows a type of Shinto shrine architecture dating back to the eight century of dignified simplicity with decorations limited to the absolute minimum. This is in stark contrast to the splendor and excessive decoration at the mausoleum of the first Tokugawa Shogun in Nikko. At Meiji Jingu most of the wood are unpainted, with a limited use of white paint and copper naturally turned green the only contrasting colors. The chrysanthemum crest of the imperial family is visible in several places including the square lanterns hanging from the eaves.

If you cut your shrine viewing teeth in Nikko or Kamakura, Meiji Jingu will come as a pleasant surprise - there are practically no stairs here. That said the walk from the entrance to the shrine itself takes a good 20 minutes or so. It is mostly gravel and can get a bit dusty on a busy day. It is also not suitable for narrow wheel strollers and wheelchairs although ones with thicker wheels seem to be OK.

The Original Meiji Shrine was burnt down in air raids then destroyed during WWII. The present shrine buildings was rebuilt from November 1958 with funds raised in a nationwide public subscription. In contrast to many other postwar reconstructions in Japan, the original plans were followed and the correct building materials, in this case mainly Japanese cypress, were used. It houses the "Yasakani no mgatama" (jewels), which is one of the three Imperial Regalia. On your visit do not miss the beautiful imperial carriage. Portraits of the Emperor and Empress done by the Italian, Edoardo Chiossone in the 1890s complement the collection. Surrounded by 72 hectares of shady trees and various Japanese flora of the Meiji Jingu Park, it is one of Japan's most sacred and picturesque shrines.

The shrine was built in a garden area where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken sometimes visited. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1868 at the peak of the Meiji Restauration when the power was switched from the feudal Tokugawa government to the emperor. During the Meiji Period, Japan modernized and westernized herself to join the world's major powers by the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914. After their demise, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever, and so this shrine was constructed, and their souls were enshrined on November 1, 1920. The Imperial Treasury House annex exhibits mementos, including the coronation carriage, of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

The reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912) saw Japan transformed from a medieval to a modern state. He devoted himself to increasing the prosperity and peace of the nation. As a result, Emperor Meiji was regarded as a truly great Emperor. He is credited with modernizing Japan to a level able to compete with the best in the world after almost three centuries of self-imposed isolation. Both the Emperor and his wife are enshrined here. He and Empress Shoken are not buried here, but near Kyoto. Meiji Shrine was established by a resolution of the Imperial Diet the year after the emperor's death to commemorate his role in ending the long isolation of Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate and setting the country on the road to modernization.

The shrine grounds consist of three areas:

Naien, or the inner precinct/garden, centered on the shrine buildings, which include a treasure museum that houses articles of the Emperor and Empress enshrined here. The treasure museum is built in the Azekurazukuri style and is made up primarily of Japanese cypress from Kiso, which is considered the best lumber produced in Japan, together with Noritoden (where the words of praise the Emperor and Empress are recited)

Once scrubbed to the main courtyard which was surrounded on all sides by shrine buildings. If you wish to part with more money then this is the place to do it - all for the good of your spirituality of course! You can buy wooden plaques (good luck amulets) which have inscriptions on one side. The other side is left blank for you to write your hopes and wishes on. Once you have done this, the plaques are hung on a tree in the courtyard. Few of the plaques that had been written in English and French. Hopes ranged from passing exams, being cured of an illness, wanting a long and happy marriage, through to football fans wanted their team to win the premiership.

Visitors can also purchase their fortunes. To do this, you pick up a box of sticks and shake it until one falls out. The stick has a specific number written on it which you hand to the cashier. She then hands you the "omikuji" (fortune written on a roll of paper) which corresponds to your number. If the fortune is bad or you just don't like it, you should tie the "omikuji" on to the branch of a tree in the Meiju Jingu. This ensures the bad fortune stays within the shrine and doesn't follow you out.

Gaien, or the outer precinct/garden, which includes the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery that houses a collection of 80 large murals illustrative of the events in the lives of the Emperor and his consort. It also includes a variety of sports facilities, including the National Stadium, and is seen as the center of Japanese sports.

The inner gardens used to be part of the suburbs of Harajuku but during the Meiju period it came under the control of the Imperial household and was renamed the Yoyogi Imperial Gardens. It was often visited by Empress Shoken. There is a token entrance fee of 300 Yen but for this you get a useful map of the gardens and pathways. Within the Gyeon, there is a small Japanese teahouse, a lotus pond filled with Carp and an iris garden - all connected by winding paths that make you feel like you've stumbled into a secret garden. As a gift to the Empress, Emperor Meiju built the Iris Gardens. This is truly beautiful but I was a month early. They don't come into full bloom until June.

Meiji Memorial Hall, which was originally used for governmental meetings, including discussions surrounding the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in the late 19th century. Today it is used for Shinto weddings. In Shinto Weddings, usually all of the brides were in traditional dress, but we were told that some wear Western bridal dresses. It is located in the corner of the Outer Garden

Besides them there are also Shinko (the Treasure House), Shinsenjo (the Consecrated Kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and some office buildings. The materials are mainly plain Japanese cypress with copper plates for the roofs

These areas are covered by an evergreen forest of 120,000 trees of 365 different species (you quickly forget you are in the world's largest city in there) which were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established. This 700,000 square-meter (about 175 acres) forest is visited by many people both as a spiritual home of the people and as a recreation and relaxation area centre of Tokyo. The gardens offer a cool retreat for visitors. The gardens are a must for photographers and artists.

The shrine is very busy on Sundays and Thursdays when couples come to present their babies in a ceremony known as miya mairi.
The peaceful Inner Garden (Jingu Nai-en), where the irises are in full bloom in the latter half of June, is on the left as you walk in from the main gates, before you reach the shrine. Beyond the shrine is the Treasure House, a repository for the personal effects and clothes of Emperor and Empress Meiji -- perhaps of less interest to foreign visitors than to the Japanese.

The Meiji Shrine and its surrounding woodlands is a place for everyone to enjoy. On Saturday many parents dressed formally bringing their cute as a button young babies (also dressed formally) to be blessed. There was also a coach bringing a newly wed couple and their guests from out of town to snap some photos and to seek blessings at the shrine. Various events and festivals are celebrated at the Meiji shrine throughout the year. You’ll be lucky to be there when cultural troupes from the various shopping malls in Tokyo were in competition. The shrine courtyard became a swirl of riotous colours as the various troupes danced and sang in unison after months of practice.

An annual festival at the shrine takes place on November 3rd, Emperor Meiji's birthday, which is a national holiday, unless you like crowds, do not go to the shrine on November 3rd. As many as a million people will jam the shrine and park on these two days. On the festival day and at New Year's, as many as a million people come to offer prayers and pay their respects. Several other festivals and ceremonial events are held here throughout the year. Even on a normal weekend the shrine draws thousands of visitors, but this seldom disturbs its mood of quiet gravitas: the faster and more unpredictable the pace of modern life, the more respectable the Japanese seem to find the certainties of the Meiji era.

The huge torii (gates) are built from 1,700 year-old cypress trees from Taiwan. They are shaped like the Pi symbol and words can't convey the grandeur of them when you're standing beside them. It is on the way from the parking lot to the shrine, you enter through the tall gate, made out of Taiwanese cypress trees. The simple design: two pillars and two cross bars (the top one curved up) make up the traditional Shinto gate. Before entering a Shinto shrine (jinja) worshippers pass under the torii gate.

The torii symbolizes the perch made for the mythical cock that announced the dawn and brought the sun goddess Amaterasu from her cave. The two torii at the entrance to the grounds of the shrine rise 40 feet high the crosspieces are 56 feet long. Torii are meant to symbolize the separation of the everyday secular world from the spiritual world of the Shinto shrine. The buildings in the shrine complex, with their curving green copper roofs, are also made of cypress wood. Passing under the torii purifies the worshippers' hearts and minds before praying to the kami (gods or spirits). When you pass through (under), you are symbolically entering a sacred place and leaving behind the everyday.

As you enter the shrine area, you will notice to your left a hand washing station. This is where visitors stop and wash their hands in cold water using wooden ladles. This is done for purification purposes, although it seems to entertain a lot of the visitors. The shrine itself has a rustic feeling to it. You can go up to the altar, throw some coins into the slots in front of the altar, clap your hands twice and bow. Clapping is appropriate in Shinto shrines as it awakes the gods (though in Buddist temple it will most likely get you kicked out). You can purchase a variety of lucky charms here as well. Anything from "Luck in travel" to "Luck on an entrance examination" can be obtained for a little bit of yen.

After you've walked under the huge but utterly simple cedar torii at the entrance to Emperor Meiji's shrine, then down the gravel path as wide as a four-lane highway toward an even larger torii and the Inner Garden, you may begin to feel you've entered some sort of Shinto heaven. It's quiet except for the birdsong and the murmur of the streams. The air is so pure it could be bottled. Unlike adjacent Yoyogi Park, which has signs prohibiting this and that, there is no need to admonish visitors here. Everyone is aware they are in a special place, immaculately cared for. Visibly stunned, visitors walk more slowly than usual and converse in a low voice. Many come alone, just to be here by themselves. This isn't Tokyo.

Further up the path way, there’s a large display of what seem to be a white lanterns. There were over 150 of them, all brightly painted in greens, reds and black writing. These turned out to be barrels of Sake. As a mark of respect to the Emperor Meiju, ever Sake manufacturer in Japan donated a barrel to honour his memory. I was astonished to also find out these Sake barrels were all full. I'm not known for my cynicism but, you'd need a 24 hour guard on them if they were in a London park

Japan is bursting at the seams with shrines and temples. For the first-time visitor, deciding which one to visit is like trying to choose a chocolate from the box without having the content card to hand. Tokyo is known around the world as a supreme concrete jungle, but this magnificent Shinto Shrine is an oasis within the urban sprawl. Once you get to the shrine itself, be sure to clap your hands a couple times to invoke the attention of the gods.

The grounds are thickly wooded from more than 100,000 seedlings (flowering shrubs and trees) that had been sent from all over Japan, many of which were donated by private citizens. This "Way" sign guides visitors through the woods and to the shrine and famous gardens. The iris garden is considered the most beautiful in Tokyo. The Emperor frequently visited it.

The shrine itself is like no other in Japan. There is space and it is surrounded by abundant greenery. It is the repository of Emperor Meiji, who sent bright young men abroad to learn how to build railroads and universities and banks and a government. It is a holy place.No wonder, then, that Meiji Jingu is the sole location for a special ring-entering ceremony performed by a sumo wrestler after he has been promoted to the exalted rank of Grand Champion..

Many come to worship. The way that worshipers pray in different sects of Shinto vary, but the common etiquette to be observed when praying at a shrine is to bow twice, clap your hands twice, pray and then bow once more. Bowing is a way of showing trust to the gods. Shinto worship have three elements in common. It begins with the act of purification, which usually involves the use of water. There are fountains at the shrines where worshippers cleanse themselves by rinsing their hands and mouths. An offering is presented to the kami, today usually money, but often food; and in a prayer or petition is made.

Etiquette to be Observed When Praying at a Shrine.

1. See to it that you are dressed appropriately for the occasion. Pass under the torii and walk through the "sando" or approach to the shrine.

2. Go to the hand-washing stone basin and cleanse your hands thoroughly. With a dipper, pour water into your cupped hand and then bring the water to your mouth and gargle. Do not bring the dipper directly to your mouth.)

3. Advance before the god enshrined. Then throw some money (either paper currency or coins into the offertory box.)

4. Bow deeply two times.

5. After that, clap your hands twice.

6. Then make a deep bow once more.

COST: Shrine free, Inner Garden ¥500, Treasure House ¥500.
OPEN: Shrine daily sunrise-sunset; Inner Garden Mar.-Nov., daily 9-4; Treasure House daily 10-4; Closed 3rd Fri. of month.

Subway: Chiyoda subway line, Meiji-jingu-mae Station; JR Yamanote Line, Harajuku Station (Exit 2).

Few facts about Meiji Shrine:

* Located in Yoyogi, central west Tokyo.
* Present temple dates from 1920s.
* Next to 1964 Olympic complex.
* Beautiful, peaceful swath of green in the middle of the concrete jungle.
* The place to be on New Year's Day in Tokyo.
* Good place to stroll day or night.

Best Information about Harajuku.

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