When life gets stressful, mundane, or boring, it is only natural for a person to want a change of scene in order to refresh both the mind and the body. The best way to do this is to travel to another country as this option offers not just a change of scenery but also an introduction to another culture. Standing on foreign land and being immersed in another culture not only opens the mind to new ideas but also introduces new aspects in life that one may not have been aware of beforehand. If rich culture is what one is looking for, Asia definitely is home to several countries that is brimming with a rich culture and heritage. Among the top countries to visit in Asia would be Japan.
There are many places in Japan that one can opt to visit depending specifically on what kind of experience one is looking for. If one would like to get to visit different kinds of places while still staying in an urbanized area, Tokyo should be on top of the list. The metropolis has so much to offer to tourists in terms of experience in general. Activities that one can do while in Tokyo include shopping and going to shrines. If one is interested in visiting shrines, going to Meiji Shrine is a must.
Facts About Meiji Shrine in Tokyo: History, Religion, Maps, and Accessibility in Harajuku
There is a rich history behind the Meiji Shrine situated in Tokyo. Also known as Meiji Jingu, Meiji Shrine was built and dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It was the Japanese Diet that passed the resolution to memorialize the role of the emperor in the Meiji Restoration. After the passing of the Emperor in the year 1912, it was decided that the building was to be built in an iris garden in Tokyo where both the emperor and the empress were known to visit quite often.
For those who may not be aware, it was Emperor Meiji who was considered as the first emperor when the country of Japan was modernized. Born in the year 1852, he ascended the throne in the year 1867. It was during this time that the Meiji Restoration was at its peak and the feudal era of Japan finally ended. This led to the restoration of the emperor to the throne. Furthermore, it was also during the Meiji Period that the country became modernized and westernized. The country proceeded on to joining the major powers of the world under the reign of Emperor Meiji until he passed away in the year 1912.
After 3 years since the passing of the Emperor, construction of the building began under the supervision of Ito Chuta in the year 1915. The shrine was constructed using Japanese cypress and copper as the primary elements, which was known as the traditional nagare-zukuri style in Japan. Considered as a national project, various organizations in Japan made their own respective contributions to help finish the construction. These organizations include youth groups and some civic associations that helped in terms of either labor or funding.
Come the year 1920, the formal dedication of the shrine was made, eight years after the death of Emperor Meiji and six years after the death of Empress Shoken. Just a year after, the shrine was completed in the year 1921. It took another five years for the grounds of the shrine to be officially finished in the year 1926. An Imperial Shrine, Meiji Shrine was also officially appointed as one of the Kanpei-taisha, which meant that it was among the first ranks of shrines that were supported by the government, up until the year 1946.
Sadly, destruction came upon the original building due to the Tokyo air raids during the Second World War. Remaining resilient, an iteration of the shrine was done and completed in the month of October in the year 1958 thanks to a public fundraising effort. This just goes to show how important this shrine is to the masses of Japan. Due to its immense popularity and to it being considered a tourist spot, several foreign officials have visited Meiji Shrine including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and United States President George W. Bush.
Situated beside Harajuku Station, just between Shinjuku and Shibuya, under the JR Yamanote Line, Meiji Shrine is easily accessible to the public. Along Yoyogi Park located just beside Meiji Shrine, they compose a huge forested area within the city. There are walking paths in the shrine grounds that are spacious enough for visitors to enjoy a relaxing stroll when visiting Meiji Shrine. The main complex itself of the shrine buildings is only a 10-minute walk from two entrances. These two entrances are the northern entrance near Yoyogi Station and the southern entrance situated near Harajuku Station.
The entrance to the shrine grounds is marked by a huge tori gate. Upon entering, one would be greeted by a tranquil forest, which is a great welcome from the busy streets of the city. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 trees in the forest of Meiji Shrine that were planted while the shrine was still under construction. These trees were donations from various regions all over the country. Situated in the middle of the forest are the building of Meiji Shrine with a serene atmosphere, much different from the bustling city. Typical activities done in Meiji Shrine include making offerings, purchasing amulets and charms, and writing out wishes on an ema.
Considered as one of the most popular shrines not just in Tokyo but in all of Japan, Meiji Shrine is always packed with people who would like to make prayers and wishes. Not less than three million people visit the shrine during the first few days of the New Year to offer their first prayers called hatsumode in Japanese. Followers of the Shinto religion come by Meiji Shrine often to partake in the various events that are held in the shrine.
The Different Areas Inside the Shrine: Inner Garden, Honden, and Outer Garden
Two large tori or shrine gates standing at 40 feet high and made of cypress wood more than 1,700 years old are erected at the entrance to Meiji Shrine. There is symbolism behind these torii gates. It is said that passing through or under the gates signifies the entering of a sacred place and the leaving of the everyday. Huge cedar tress line up the long path that leads to the shrine buildings. The shrine is composed of two huge areas, namely, the Inner Garden and the Outer Garden.
Probably the most common and the best way to go to the Inner Garden when on foot is going over the bridge near Harajuku Station. A wide path made of gravel would lead through the forest within Meiji Shrine that would then lead to the biggest tori in all of Japan with a height of 12 meters, known as the great Ō-torii. Organized bus tours would drop off visitors just before the torii gates in a place called the Treasure House Annex.
On the left side of the tori is the entrance to the Inner Garden. Also known as Jingū Naien in Japanese, the Inner Garden is open every day from 8:30 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Admission fee of 500 yen is required before visitors can enter the garden. It is said that the garden was designed by Emperor Meiji himself in dedication to his empress. The best time to visit the Inner Garden is in the month of June. During this time, more than 100 types of the empress’ favorite flowers, irises, are in full bloom, which makes the garden a very beautiful scenery.
Once back on the path made of gravel, another torri called the Kita-mon or the north gate would be passed through as well. This gate serves as the entrance to the Main Hall of the shrine, also known as honden in Japanese. This hall was also constructed using Japanese cypress wood while the roof is made of copper. Surrounding the Main Hall are other structures such as the Noritoden wherein people recite their prayers for the late emperor and empress, the Inner Shrine or Naihaiden in Japanese, the Outer Shrine or Gehaiden in Japanese, the Treasure House or Shinko in Japanese, the Consecrated Kitchen or Shinsenjo in Japanese wherein food offering are prepared, and other office buildings. Beside these buildings stands the Hall of Shinto Music and Dance or the Kaguraden in Japanese, which was constructed in from the year 1990 to the year 1993.
On the other hand, the Outer Garden also has its own attractions to offer. These attractions include the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery and the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The gallery was built in European style and houses about 40 paintings based on the life of Emperor Meiji. In addition, the gymnasium depicts a work of modern architecture as it was built in the shape of a Samurai helmet.
Meiji Jingu welcomes guests every day of the week. Opening hours is from sunrise to sunset. Hence, for people who would like to know exactly what time the shrine would be open for the day, it would be best to research the approximate time of sunrise and sunset for that day. Admission to the shrine grounds is free of charge. Similar to the shrine itself, the Inner Garden also welcomes guests every day of the week. However, it is only open from 9 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. From the month of November to the month of February, the Inner Garden would only be open until 4 in the afternoon. It is important to note though that admission to the garden ends 30 minutes prior to closing time. On the other hand, extended hours can be expected during the middle of the month of June. Admission fee for the garden is only 500 yen.
As for the Treasure House, the Annex has no closing days while the Main Building welcomes guests only on weekdays except on national or public holidays. Admission fee for the Treasure House is similar to that of the Inner Garden, which is only 500 yen. The Treasure House is open from 9 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon, but closes 30 minutes earlier from the month of November to the month of February. Just like in the Inner Garden, admission to the Treasure House also ends 30 minutes prior to closing time.
Paying Respect with the Proper Bow and Rinsing of Water
Because Meiji Shrine is considered a sacred place by most Japanese people, it is only customary to pay respect when entering the shrine. There is actually a procedure on how to properly pay one’s respect when in the shrine. When reaching the torii gate, it is a must to bow once when entering and then another when leaving. At the Temizuya, there is a ritual on how to pay one’s respect with the use of water.
When reaching the Temizuya, one should rinse the left hand and then the right hand. After which, pour water into the left hand. Then, rinse the mouth followed by the rinsing of the left hand again. Lastly, rinse the dipper itself by letting the remaining water run down the handle. It is important to note that the dipper should directly be in contact with the lips and that coins should not be thrown into the water. As for reaching the main shrine buildings, it is customary to bow twice and clap the hands twice before making a wish. After which, one should bow again for the last time.
Various Events Held in the Shrine: Spring Festivals and Weddings
There are several events that are held in Meiji Shrine. The Spring Festival of the shrine is held every 2nd and 3rd of May while the Fall Festival occurs from the 1st to the 3rd of November. Traditional Shinto weddings are also held in Meiji Shrine though this may cost a lot. These grand wedding ceremonies are typically held at the Memorial Hall or the Meiji Kinenkan. Traditional dances and rituals are also often held within the shrine.
Meiji Shrine definitely is a must-see for visitors of Japan. Not only is it rich in terms of culture and history, but it also holds great significance and value to the people of Japan. A beautiful scenery and a great experience are guaranteed when visiting the most popular shrine in Tokyo, Japan.