Do you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Tokyo? Go to the Meiji Shrine in the Harajuku district, east of Shibuya district. In my opion this shrine (officially Meiji Jingu) might be the best sight of Tokyo. It is located in a forest area, so it doesn’t feel like you’re in a busy city.
The Meiji Shrine is no ordinary sight. It was built in 1920 in honour of two special people: Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. But who was this emperor and why was a shrine built for them?
Reading tip: For a short history on the city of Tokyo read the article Edo-Tokyo Museum first | 400 years of history in a special museum.
Emperor Meiji inherits the throne
His real name was Mutsuhito. In 1867 he became successor at the age of 15 when his father died of smallpox. That same year he also married Ichijō Masako (1849-1914). After her death in 1914 she was called Empress Shoken.
Mutsuhito called his reign Meiji what means Enlightened rule. It was not difficult to determine the new name of the emperor anymore. They moved into the former Edo Castle and Tokyo became the new capital of Japan. From that moment, Japan would significantly change…
Fact: Meiji Jingu is a Shinto sanctuary. It is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
Shintoism? What is he talking about? Well, officially, in 1868, Buddhism was replaced by Shintoism as the state religion of Japan. However, the differences between the two religions are not that big. In fact, today they are closely connected.
But where Buddhism follows the teachings of Buddha, Shintoism is about the worship of nature spirits, the so-called Kami. These Kami originate from traditional Japanese legends and are honoured by performing rituals. And now it is time for a walk…
A walk to the Meiji Shrine
From Harajuku station I walk north to the Meiji Shrine. On my way I come across an impressive wall with sake barrels. Unfortunately these are not filled, but every year local breweries from all over the country donate this traditional rice wine. This is how they’re praying to the gods for prosperity.
This gate is made of a 1500 year old cypress from Taiwan. Almost all buildings on the Meiji Shrine are made of traditional Japanese trees. At the end I take the exit to the right and I am at the entrance of the temple.
Meiji and modernisation
Around 1850, Japan opened its borders to foreign countries. Emperor Meiji was impressed by the industrial developments in Europe and the United States. He promoted trade with these countries and Japan underwent an unprecedented modernisation. Some of other changes that took place were:
- Abolition of the Samurai and the system of landlords
- Establishing a bureaucratic parliament
- Copying Western ideas and technologies
This turning point in Japanese history is known as the Meiji Restoration. Of course, these changes did not take place without difficulty. In general the plans of the emperor could count on nationwide approval. Finally, a new constitution was achieved in 1890, the Meiji constitution.
Tip: Need a rest? Just go the nearby Yoyogi Park and relax!
Death and a sanctuary to remember emperor Meiji
After the emperor’s death in 1912, the parliament decided to build a memorial site. This place became the north part of the Yoyogipark, because the emperor liked to walk through the gardens with his wife. Construction began in 1915 and was completed in 1920.
The park covers an area of 700,000 square metres. There are gardens, ponds, a number of statues and entrance gates (torii). The trees in the park come from all over Japan, as do the various irises from the Meiji Innergarden, which bloom beautifully in spring.
Ceremony: Every year several ceremonies are held in Meiji Jingu. The best known are the Spring grand festival (early May) and the Autumn grand festival (early November).
For rest and relaxation
What makes the Meiji Shrine so special is that you feel if you are 100 years back in time. But the interesting thing is that the current complex dates from 1958. The various buildings are nice to visit. But what makes this sanctuary so special is is that relaxing park. And that makes the Meiji Shrine one of the nicest attractions of Tokyo. Even on a rainy day…
Plan your visit to Meiji Shrine:
How to get there?
The best way to get to the Meiji Shrine is via Harajuku station on the Yamanotelijn. From there it is a 10 minute walk to the sanctuary.
Google Maps: Meiji Jingu Shrine Harakuja
The Meiji Shrine usually opens from 6am until 5pm. Admission is free. For the Meiji Innergarden a ticket (500 yen) has to be bought.
Would you like to read more about Tokyo?
- Tokyo Travel Guide | 10 historical attractions
- Edo-Tokyo Museum | 400 years of history in a special museum
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the road along the former Edo Castle
- Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko | The most loyal dog in the world?
- Sensoji Temple Tokyo? 5 historical facts you should know
- Zojoji Temple | Why the most important temple of Tokyo?
What’s your opinion about the Meiji Shrine? Please feel free to leave a message below!