Postcard From: Meiji Shrine

The huge torii gate at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Torii mark the entrance to sacred spaces.

The huge torii gate at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Torii mark the entrance to sacred spaces. The gold chrysanthemums are the emblem of the Japanese royal family.

One of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo on my first visit to Japan as a college student was the Meiji Shrine (Meiji-jingu). Located in the heart of noisy, bustling and busy Tokyo, Meiji-jingu was an oasis of quiet and calm. It seemed almost incredulous to me at the time that such a beautiful, peaceful place could exist inside of Tokyo.

There’s an almost instantaneous hush when you enter the shrine grounds. After passing under the giant torii gate at the entrance, you follow a long, wide, shaded path to reach the main shrine complex, passing a large display of sake casks. Sake is closely associated with the Shinto religion and used in rituals and festivals, and the (empty) casks on display indicate the breweries from around Japan who have made donations of sake to the Meiji Shrine.

Sake breweries from around Japan send a cask to Meiji Shrine each year for blessings and good luck in the coming year.

Casks from the breweries who donated sake for the shrine’s rituals and festivals. The casks are made of aromatic wood with hand-painted rice straw covers showing the breweries’ logos.

Purification fountain. Water is poured into your left hand; the water is sipped and swished around in the mouth and then spit out. Then both hands are splashed with water.

Most visitors stop at Meiji-jingu’s purification fountain before entering the shrine complex. Water is poured from the dipper over your left hand, then your right; some water is then poured into your left hand and sipped, swished around in the mouth and then spit out on the ground. Any remaining water in the dipper is poured on the ground.

Entrance to the main shrine complex

A second, smaller torii marks the entrance to the main shrine complex.

Inside the main shrine complex

The main shrine contains several buildings

One of the inner shrine buildings contains a museum with artifacts from Emperor Meiji and the Empress.

One of the inner shrine buildings contains a museum with artifacts from Emperor Meiji and the Empress.

The shrine is located on 170 acres in the Shibuya District of Tokyo, just a short walk from Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line. The location for the shrine was a site of an iris garden that Emperor Meiji (1867-1912) and his wife often visited. Emperor Meiji died in 1912, and building of the shrine began in 1915 as a national project, with completion and dedication in 1920 (the Emperor’s and Empress’s graves are not at the shrine; they are buried south of Kyoto). The shrine was completely destroyed during the fire bombings of World War II, but was rebuilt in 1958, again using Japanese cypress and copper.

Meiji-jingu is a popular site for traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies. The day the girls and I visited Meiji-jingu last year just happened to be a national holiday, and we were able to observe six ceremonies in different stages, from the bride being dressed to the wedding procession to the formal photographs at the end.

Finishing touches are applied to a bride's formal kimono for her wedding ceremony. We visited on a Saturday and several weddings were being held at the Shrine.

Finishing touches are applied to a bride’s formal kimono (uchikake) for her wedding ceremony. The white hood (wataboshi) is worn to represent humility and modesty, and hide the “horns of jealousy.”

A wedding procession through the shrine

A Shinto priest and two shrine maidens (mika) lead a wedding procession through the shrine. The bride’s left hand is held by her mother in the procession; her father follows behind the groom. The groom is wearing a formal wedding hakama.

Family and guests follow behind the bride and groom.

Family and guests, many in formal attire,  follow behind the bride and groom. A second priest carries the large red umbrella (wagasa) over the bride and groom.

After visiting Meiji-jingu, we headed back to Harajuku Station and crossed over to Takeshita Dori, the main shopping street in Harajuku. Harajuku has been called the “most fashion conscious place on the planet.” The area around Harajuku station is the place to be on Sunday afternoons if you want to check out the latest looks and fantastic cosplay outfits. Takeshita Dori is also the place to try crepes – there are several shops along the street, and they offer a huge variety of flavors and fillings. The girls and I saw a few fashion plates while we were there, but since it was a holiday the crowd was mostly families and teens out for a day of shopping.

Harajuku Station, with its distinctive cupola and European style

Looking down on Harajuku Station from the Meiji Shrine overpass. A N’EX express train from Narita Airport speeds through the station on its way to its next stop. Harajuku Station is known for its distinctive cupola and European style.

Takeshita Street is always crowded, but it's safe and loads of fun to visit.

Takeshita Street is always busy (the day of this picture it was more crowded than usual because it was a holiday), but it’s safe and loads of fun to visit. At McDonalds you can try a Teriyaki McBurger and a yogurt shake, both unique to Japan (and tasty).

Daiso is Japan's Dollar Store - everything there is just 100 yen, or about 90 cents when we visited. It is "kawaii" (cute) central in Japan.

Daiso is Japan’s ‘dollar store’ – everything there costs just 100 yen. That meant everything was 90 cents the day we visited due to the exchange rate.

Harajuku is famous for its crepes. Pancakes are also very popular, and there is a cat cafe, where you can pet and look at cats while you drink your coffee.

Harajuku is famous for its filled crepes – the photo shows just a few of the choices Angel Heart Crepes offers, from sweet to savory. Pancakes are also very popular, and there is also a cat cafe, where you can enjoy the company of cats while you drink your coffee.

Meiji-jingu still remains the quiet, unhurried place it was when I first visited 45 years ago. It provides a beautiful, peaceful contrast to Tokyo’s (and Harajuku’s) busy pace, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Tokyo.

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4 thoughts on “Postcard From: Meiji Shrine

  1. Vivian Gibson says:

    I’m afraid all those people would make me claustrophobic. Not crazy about big crowds, part of the reason I avoid big cities. The shrine is pretty but I liked the fox shrine much better.

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    • Laura says:

      The crowd on Takeshita Dori that day was about as much of a crowd as I can tolerate, but crowds in Japan are not like crowds elsewhere. Everyone is very polite and aware of who is around them. You don’t have to worry about being jostled, or having your pocket picked or purse stolen. Being in a crowd in Japan is very safe, but I still don’t like them all that much.

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  2. JJ says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. I was in Japan exactly one year ago, and although I did not visit this particular shrine, I did visit some others. I also went to a section of Tokyo where they close the street so people can shop without dealing with traffic, but I can’t remember exactly where that was. I agree everyone in Japan is so polite and you don’t have to worry about crime. It was an amazing trip and I hope I get to go back someday.

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    • Laura says:

      I’m sorry for the late reply – your comment went to the spam folder this time for some reason, and I just found it and rescued it.

      I really, really don’t like crowds, but I’ve never felt frightened by them in Japan. You just don’t have to worry there about being ripped off, or having your purse stolen or your pocket picked or whatever. They are so honest – it’s considered insulting to count your change because then you are insinuating they are not being honest (I never once, in all the thousands of transactions I’ve done there, not gotten the right change back).

      I’m glad you had such a good time and hope you get to go back! You may have been shopping in the Ginza – they close it every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

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