Meiji Jingu is one of the two major religious attractions in Tokyo that are free. The other is Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa.
Meiji is easily accessible by subway and it’s a great place to visit in combination with another Tokyo landmark: Harajuku. The two are in the same area. My only word of advice is to avoid spending all your time in Harajuku because Meiji closes relatively early (around sunset, however make sure to check their website before visiting since hours will vary).
What is Meiji Jingu like?
The first thing you see when you visit Meiji is a huge wooden Tori (entrance gate) and a towering forest path lit by lanterns. Soon, you run into gardens, wine barrels and old sake containers. It almost makes you forget that right next door, Harajuku is blistering with teenagers in a shopping frenzy.
There are several more Toris that guide you towards the shrine and the purification well outside the main gate. Here visitors follow proper cleansing etiquette.
Once inside the main gates, the courtyard is surrounded by beautiful wood buildings and retains the serenity of the vast wooded area that surrounds it.
Why visit Meiji Jingu?
Besides being free, when it comes to shinto shrines, Meiji stands out for its history and significance. It was built to enshrine the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken (his consort), two visionaries of Japan who changed history and brought the country out of feudalism and into the industrial area.
Emperor Meiji centralized the government and consolidated it away from the feudal lords back under the empire. His efforts modernized the country’s military and society. The aftermath of his “Restoration” was a more democratic and technologically advanced Japan that later became a financial powerhouse. For all the damage a more militarized Japan caused after Meiji’s death, the advances the emperor implemented allowed the Japanese to protect against colonization and to live outside the confucian system that existed in Japanese society, allowing people the freedom to choose their own path. The Meiji Restoration also eliminated civil wars between feudal lords and the need for private armies (the samurai). Meiji was also incredibly liberal for his time. He believed in education and requested that his consort and main concubines attend the same classes he attended on world affairs and politics.
Empress Shoken was a visionary on her own right. A virtuoso child, the Empress is said to have worn and encouraged other women to wear western clothes. She hosted heads of state for her husband and was a lifelong promoter of women’s education and public welfare. In fact a fund created by the Empress is still used today for these causes.
A legacy worth leaving behind
Their legacy however is not measured in percentages of growth or heroic feats, but by the admiration the Japanese and world leaders had for them. Upon their deaths, 100K trees were donated and voluntarily planted around the park they used to visit, bringing Meiji Jingu to life.[tweetthis display_mode=”box” remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]”A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” S. Alder[/tweetthis]
That is a pretty great legacy to have, don’t you think?