If Senso-ji was the Buddhist temple to visit in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu is the Shinto shrine you shouldn’t miss.
I guess we should take a moment to talk about religion in Japan. In my post about Ueno Park, I shared that you’d often see Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples side by side, and that some Japanese follow both religions at once. Even more interesting is that few Japanese actually consider themselves as being religious, per se–that is, belonging to an organized group. Instead, many Japanese follow the rituals and teachings of either or both religions, but privately, as part of their own spirituality.
Shinto is Japan’s ancient religion. It is based on the worship of kami, who are sacred spirits embodying things that are important to human life: the sun, wind, trees, even our ancestors.
Meiji Shrine, in particular, was built to honor the kami of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken.
They appear to have been well-loved, because the shrine and its 70 hectares of forest were built by the efforts of their people. The trees in the shrine complex were all donated by the Japanese–over 100,000 trees of over 350 species. The main shrine was destroyed during World War 2, but public fundraising efforts allowed the construction of the current building.
So besides worship at the main shrine, people come to visit Meiji Jingu to walk the trails and experience harmony with nature.
There are instructions at the main shrine for how to pray, if you’d like to try. You can also write a wish on an ema, a wooden placard, and hang it on the massive board to the east of the shrine. Finally, if you are fortunate, you can head just to the east of the main shrine to the Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance) where you can watch the shrine maidens sing and dance a prayer for a petitioner. There are various kinds of ceremonies that could be requested, such as a wish for safe journey or a prayer for a newborn.
We were lucky enough to witness such a ceremony (though I had no idea what that particular one was for). The performance was unlike anything I had ever seen. Like many ritual performances, it was very involved and fascinating to watch. Please be respectful and watch in silence, and refrain from taking photos or videos if requested.
There are plenty of benches surrounding the main courtyard, so you can sit and reflect for a while or just rest your feet after strolling through the grounds. If you came straight to the shrine, consider walking the grounds for a while. It’s an excellent opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and appreciate the peace of this idyllic piece of nature within the metropolis.