One of the most famous tourist destinations in Tokyo is Meiji Shrine, located across the road from the bustling Harajuku Station. It is also where we visited next, after our trip to the Ghibli Museum and the Open Air Architectural Museum.
To enter the Meiji Shrine grounds, we had to pass under a large Torii. Torii are gates used in Shinto shrines, either at the entrance or inside, and are used as a symbolic transition from the profane to the sacred.
It was a Sunday, so in addition to the throngs of tourists and foreigners, the grounds of the shrine was packed with all sorts of locals. Students, elderly people paying their respects to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, interns praying for good luck, and families just out for a good time in the wooded areas.
After a little bit of walking on a crowded gravel path, we came upon two large walls of sake barrels. Each barrel was decorated in a rice paper sheath, intricately painted with characters with paintings. Apparently these are donations made in the honor and memory of Emperor Meiji.
In addition to the barrels of sake, there were barrels of wine. Emperor Meiji, most famous for having brought Western civilization to Japan during the eponymous Meiji Era, enjoyed drinking wine with his meals. Similarly to the barrels of sake being offered up to him, these are barrels of wine offered up from various wineries in the Bourgogne region, famous for their Burgundy wines.
We had to pass through another Torii, this one larger than the last. According to the plaque, the Otorii (Grand Shrine-Gate) is the biggest in Japan. It was built in 1975, modeled after the original built in 1920 (it didn’t say what happened to it, but it was presumably destroyed in some way or another). The wood that the gate was made from was a 1500 year old Japanese Cypress, brought here to be used from Mt. Tandai-San Taiwan.
Nestled within the Meiji Shrine grounds is the quieter Meiji Jingu Garden. Originally part of a feudal lord’s mansion, it became part of the Imperial Estate from the beginning of the Meiji Era. It’s 83,000 square meters of gardens was one of Empress Shoken’s favorite places, and it features a kakuuntei (tea house), otsuridai (fishing platform), azumaya (resting house), minamiike (pond), and others. Apparently the irises in June are beautiful to look at, but we were a bit too late for that. However, it was still a lovely walk through the gardens…
After a brief stroll around the gardens, we finally reached the actual shrine. We had to pass through yet another torii…
There was a ritual washing area, where we had to wash our hands and rinse out our mouths with cold water, using a wooden ladle…
And then we finally got to the shrine itself!
Much of the shrine was off-limits to tourists, but we could look at the main shrine building at the least.
We were fortunate enough that there was a traditional wedding going on at the shrine when we got there. Everybody was dressed in traditional Shinto clothing, and we all got to take pictures of the wedding procession, which was fascinating.
There was also two large trees, decorated with heavy rope and paper. I later found out that these are called yorishiro, and they are basically areas set up to attract kami (or spirits). Trees are commonly used as yorishiro, but they can also be rocks, manekineko (the little cat statues you see in souvenir stores with one paw raised), and even people! They are basically used to attract good luck.
There were also walls of Ema, which are essentially wooden tablets used for personal prayers, or for good luck. It was interesting to see how many different languages were used in these Emas; it was just a testimony to how many people from all over the world come through here every year.
Next, we’ll be exploring the rest of the area around Harjuku Station, including Takeshita Road! 🙂