Finding Peace at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine

Torii gate at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
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A few white robed monks were silently raking the gravel, and there was no sound but birdsong. We were in the Outer Precinct of the Meiji Shrine, a massive forest with trees of every species. The morning was bitterly cold, and there was hardly anyone about. A far cry from the crowded streets of Tokyo just beyond the gate.
Torii gate at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
A torii gate at the entrance to the Outer Precinct

Meiji Shrine: an Emperor’s Resting Place

This is a Shinto shrine, built for the deified spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shöken after the Emperor’s death in 1912. The shrine itself, the burial place of the emperor, is in the heart of the forest.

We watched as a man approached the purification trough, filled a large ladle with water, and rinsed both of his hands. We did the same and followed him towards the main hall, where he entered to make his prayers and offerings. We did not go in: this is a place of worship, and we were the only tourists there.

Hundreds of emas were hanging on a stand outside the shrine: these are the wooden plaques on which worshippers write their wishes once they have completed their devotions.

 

Wooden emas, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
Worshippers write their wishes on wooden emas

Inner Garden (Meiji Jingu)

The shrine complex was built around the Meiji Jingu, a garden dating from the Edo Period (1603-1867). This was a place where the Emperor and Empress sought quiet and solitude during their lifetimes. The lake, full of large golden carp, was a favourite fishing spot for the Emperor, and he had a teahouse built among the irises and azaleas for Empress Shöken (the teahouse burnt down during the war but has since been rebuilt).

We stood by the lake where some boys were putting food on their hands and waiting for small birds to swoop down and claim it. Then we walked down to the Kiyo-masa Well, built by a 17th century warlord. According to the guidebooks, the well is a magnet for visitors who believe they can draw positive energy from it, but we had it to ourselves. It was peaceful, if not energising.

 

Well at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
Many people believe they can draw positive energy from the Kiyo-masa Well

The Outer Precinct

Back in the Outer Precinct we stopped to look at a collection of murals depicting the lives and works of the Emperor and Empress.
Mural at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
The Empress visits patients at the hospital for which she was a patron
Further along was a display of barrels, wrapped in straw and brightly painted. These were empty sake barrels, representing the donations of sake that are made to the shrine for ritual purposes. And next to this, barrels of red wine, gifts from the wineries of Bourgogne in France.
Barrels at the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
Gifts of wine from French wineries
But by now the rain had started to fall and it was time to make our way back to the city streets. We left the shrine just as the first coachload of unbrella-yielding tourists poured through the gate.
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13 thoughts on “Finding Peace at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine”

  1. Angela, if you consult a guidebook or the website before you go you will find out some of the things you should or shouldn't do. Lots of temples have instructions for tourists outside as well. Apart from that it's just a matter of watching what other people do and making sure you respect people who are there for worship. As you say, it's great for observing different cultures.

  2. So serene. I feel at peace reading this, as it reminds me of one of my favorite places to sit and just be. The Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge NH, US, is a multi-denominational outdoor shrine, of sorts, and memorial to fallen soldiers with a stunning view of Mount Monadnock and nature trails that wind through various themed gardens and burial plots. I was also married there. I've been meaning to do a post on it and you have inspired me to get serious about it so I can evoke the same feelings you have here.

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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