A short walk from Harajuku Station, one passes through a magnificent Torii gate (pics 1 and 2) marking the entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine – Tokyo’s most significant Shinto shrine. Flanked by impressive Cypress Pines, one then enjoys a pleasant walk crossing a small stream via an arched pedestrian bridge (pic 3) and passing through two more large torii on the way to the main shrine complex (pic 4) cocooned within a forested area of 175 acres.
By this time the concrete, steel and glass environs of the Tokyo metropolis is out of mind and mostly out of sight. One’s attention is drawn to the classic form and the elemental materials used in the construction of the main shrine building (pic 5), arguably enhanced by the appearance through the misty rain of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in nearby Shinjuku. This is a leviathan of a building, yet the old and new form symmetry so often found in Japan.
Meiji Jingu was established in 1920 to deify the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. During the Meiji era of 1868 to 1912, the modern Japan was born, with a focus on building international relationships and improving the prosperity and peace of the nation. Whilst it is somewhat natural to think of this period in terms of modernization and westernization, it is worth remembering that Empress Shoken is recognised as the model of the modern Japanese woman.
Sadly the original shrine building was destroyed by allied bombings in 1945, with rebuilding completed in 1958, largely through public donations, with such support demonstrating the importance of Meiji Jingu to the Japanese people.
For non-Japanese it can be difficult to gain an appreciation of shrines, especially compared to Japanese temples where the buildings and grounds are often more inviting, though it must be said that shrines are often found within temple complexes. In my experience, shrines are best appreciated during ceremonies or periods such as in early January when people flock to Meiji Jingu to worship and buy good-luck charms for the year ahead. As in all cultures, ceremony and the associated emotions speak their own language.
The accompanying photographs were taken around the main shrine building at different times on dry and rainy days. Those who have visited Japan will be familiar with the Ema Plaques (pic 10); small wooden tablets that can be purchased at most shrines and left hanging with one’s prayers or wishes. I have also taken the opportunity to share a few more shots of a Shinto Wedding party (pics 12 to 14) taken on an unfortunately wet day. However, the weather did not detract from their spirits and as can be seen from pics 15 and 16, all one needs is a good umbrella.
In conclusion, there is a question I cannot resist posing. Meiji Jingu is one of several large forested parks one finds around Tokyo that provide welcome respite and serve as green lungs within the metropolis. One wonders if today’s city planners around the world would be generous enough and brave enough to deny developers’ pressures to create similar green lungs.
(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)