Spotlight: Meiji Shrine (Tokyo)

Meiji Shrine (or Meiji Jingu) is not Japan’s oldest shrine but it’s one of its most beloved. Established in 1920, the shrine houses the spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his wife. Besides lending his name to a tasty chocolate bar (check your nearest Japanese convenience store), Emperor Meiji is best remembered for bringing Japan into the modern age. When Commodore Perry’s black ships left and the shogunate (Japan’s isolationist military government) collapsed, it was a young emperor who led his country through the growing pains of rapid industrialization.

The inner torii gate of Meiji Shrine

The shrine sits on the western side of central Tokyo and is easily reached by metro or Japan Rail (Stn: Harajuku). Wear comfortable shoes – it’s a long, pebbly road into the Inner Shrine. Along the walk, you’ll pass the entrance to the shrine’s garden. I love me a good traditional garden but to me, this one is NOT worth the entrance fee UNLESS you’re there in June. That’s iris season in Japan, and Meiji Jingu’s garden is a great spot to see these purple beauties.

Meiji Shrine is arguably Japan’s most visited shrine – 3.2 million visitors attended the shrine’s New Year’s festivities in 2010. Weekdays are quieter, but I actually encourage you to go on a weekend. It’s more fun to witness the shrine with all its bustle and weekends offer the best chance of catching sight of a traditional wedding. No one really minds if you play respectful paparazzo and snap a few photos of the bride in her headdress (did you know it’s called a horn-hider? 🙂 )

A traditional wedding party at Meiji Shrine

In the shrine’s inner courtyard, make sure you check out the ema, or prayer plaques. These small square boards – emblazoned on the back with a chrysanthemum, the symbol of the Imperial Household – are used by visitors and the faithful alike. For a few hundred yen, you can write your own message or prayer and hang in up on the accompanying board. The hope is that the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife will assist in making your wishes become reality. It’s always fascinating to see the many different languages on the plaques, proving just how far many visitors to the shrine have come.

An ’ema’ (prayer plaque) at Meiji Shrine


Cost: Free; interior garden ¥500

Location: Just steps from the Harajuku JR station or the Jingu-mae metro station

Hours: Normally dawn to dusk; interior garden 8am-5/6pm

Check out their excellent English website for more details.

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