I’ve had the pleasure of visiting tons of shrines and temples in different parts of Asia, and if I had to list the most memorable ones I’ve been to so far, Japan would have quite a lot of entries. I don’t know how to explain it in detail, but each time I’ve visited a Japanese shrine or temple, I seem to enter this undeniable state of serenity. Oddly enough, I only get the tiniest scrap of this feeling when I visit similar places in other countries. When I’m in Japan however, the moment I step through the torii gates, it’s as if I’ve been warped to an alternate world where only tranquility exists.
The entire time my feet are touching shrine grounds, whatever restlessness I feel inside my heart and mind is nonexistent. And perhaps this is why my senses start to take things in a little differently. Inside shrine grounds, the foliage always seem more vibrant, and even the sunlight filtering through the trees looks warmer in color. I am always so desperately trying to catch all of that in photos, but there are things that the camera cannot capture as well, like the quiet rustling of leaves that sounds almost musical alongside the gentle singing of birds. Even when I visited the Hokkaido Shrine in the winter, I was struck dumb by the way the environment seemed to glitter. Even as I stood there ankle deep in snow, I could not stop myself from staring as the birds pushed the fine white ice crystals off tree branches and made them fall like sparkling diamonds.
Now I am not saying all this to sound extra poetic in my writing— I simply love the way this tranquility in my spirit brings the world into sharper focus. And so I say: What’s a visit to Japan without a visit to a shrine or two or three?
Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine, is one of the most iconic Shinto shrines of Japan. I think this is more so because of its origin story rather than its architecture, because there are plenty other more visually spectacular shrines in other parts of Japan. (My favorite so far is Fukuoka’s Dazaifu Tenman-gu.) As you might have guessed from the name, this shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji, or Meiji the Great as he is known, as well as his consort Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji is widely credited for transforming feudal Japan to a modern world power through the Meiji Restoration. (I’m not going to enter into a debate about the historical consequences of Japan’s industrialization at that time, but I think we cannot deny it is an integral part of why Japan is the way it is now.)
Before you can get to the main shrine building, you have to walk about 10 minutes down wide roads surrounded by trees. There are over 100,000 trees that make up the forest within the shrine grounds, so you can probably imagine how vast Meiji Jingu actually is. There’s even a museum here that displays different interesting things that once belonged to the emperor and empress enshrined here.
At the southern part of the grounds is an Inner Garden known for its June-blooming irises. There is a well there that is said to have been a favorite spot of the former emperor and empress, called Kiyomisa’s Well. Apparently it’s known in the modern era as a “power spot” to absorb positive energy, but to get to the garden you’ll have to shell out 500 yen. We decided to just stick to the main buildings.
Though many of the structures within these grounds were destroyed during World War II, they were rebuilt in 1958 and maintained to look as pristine as ever. I’ve always admired the special talent of the Japanese in safeguarding their heritage sites. Meiji Shrine actually just celebrated its centennial last year, though unfortunately they could not time the celebration with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics thanks to the virus that must not be named. I imagine 100 years down the road the shrine will still look like it was built just recently.
Meiji Shrine normally hosts millions of people during various festivals every year. Since we came here during an off season for the Japanese, we didn’t have to battle our way through crowds. After paying respect, my mother decided to write a wish on an ema—something she had never done before. I personally find shrine activities both fascinating and novel, but I never feel like partaking. I always feel like I never have a wish good enough to borrow the ear of a god or deity, and I’m terrified of having my fortune read, so I often just spectate. What about you?
Considering the busy location of the Meiji Shrine, the change of scenery once you enter the shrine grounds is so abrupt you start to wonder if you’ve stepped into another dimension. It’s a difference of steps and seconds, and yet the bustling sounds and hectic energies of the city just disappear completely once you’re within the shrine grounds. It’s as if a force field is erected around the shrine, trapping enough zen inside for everyone to find their inner peace. It’s truly amazing.
And if you want to step out of the bubble and back into the city, feel free to cross over to Yoyogi Park right beside the shrine! The vibe will be immediately different.
How to get to Meiji Shrine:
- On the JR Yamanote Line, alight at Harajuku Station
- On the Tokyo Metro, take the Chiyoda Line (C) or the Fukutoshin Line (F), then alight at the Meiji-jingu-mae Station
Other posts in this series:
- A stroll through Ueno Park
- A brief visit and lunch at Ameyayoko Market
- An excursion to Yanaka-Ginza & Takeshita Street
- A view of Shibuya from Hoshino Coffee
- Touring around Yamanashi’s Fuji Five Lakes & Oshino Hakkai
- The crowded but glorious Nezu Shrine
- My Favorite Tokyo Snapshots, Sample Itinerary, & Travel Video
- Some memorable Tokyo Eats from Spring of 2019
- Japanese Food Souvenir Haul from Tokyo Spring 2019 [Vol. 6]