meiji shrine

September 6, 2013

Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan after power was transferred to the emperor from the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867.

The original shrine was founded in 1920, after the death of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, on the site of the huge mansion of a powerful feudal lord in the Edo period, but it was destroyed by fire in World War 2 air raids. The present shrine buildings were renovated in 1958 thanks to donations from people in Japan and abroad.




woodland 1Meiji Shrine is surrounded by evergreen woodland that covers 700,000 square meters (70 hectares). This woodland is not a natural woodland but an artificial woodland, which was created as the first eternal forest in Japan by using the most advanced afforestation techniques.

Originally, 100,000 trees were donated by people from all parts of Japan, and today, about 100 years later, this woodland has evolved into a natural woodland, and contains about 170,000 trees of broad-leafed evergreens of 245 kinds like oaks and camphor trees.

Though this shrine is located near Harajuku, one of the busiest shopping areas in Tokyo, once you step into the woodland, you hear no more hustle and bustle of the big city, but hear trees swaying in the breeze and birds singing around you.

During the World War 2, the shrine buildings were burnt down by fire, but the woodland was saved from the fire and survived. It is believed the main reason is that broad-leafed evergreens contain more water in the trunks than other trees, so the woodland didn’t catch on fire.

meiji shrine 2In Japan, the woodland in a shrine is called “Chinju-no-mori,” where large trees spread out their branches and provide a home to many kinds of birds, insects, flowers and wild grasses. Chinju-no-mori plays an important role in conserving the natural environment around the shrine.

In addition, Chinju-no-mori helps greatly to ease global warming and reduce heat-island phenomenon.

According to a recent survey, shrine forests absorb about 3.3 times the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by other forests in Japan. It’s because traditionally shrine forests consist mainly of broad-leafed evergreens like oaks and camphor trees which tend to absorb carbon dioxide better. Moreover, another survey suggests that the average temperature difference between shrine forests and the roads surrounding them is 9.5 ℃, while the difference between parks and the surrounding places is 5 ℃.


the largest wooden Torii

the largest wooden Torii

There are 7 Torii gates in Meiji Shrine. If you come from JR Harajyuku Station and take the south approach path to the shrine’s main hall, the second Torii is the  biggest wooden Torii of its kind in Japan.

It’s about 12 meters high and 17 meters wide, and the pillars are 1.2 meters in diameter. It was rebuilt in 1975 by using a 1,500-year-old cypress tree from Taiwan. Generally, Torii in shrines are painted vermillion, but all of the Torii in Meiji Shrine are not painted vermillion in order to follow the wish of Emperor Meiji, who cherished nature as it was, and the top of these Torii gates are adorned with three 18-petaled chrysanthemum crests, which are the crest of the Imperial Family.




main hall 2At the shrine’s main hall, we Japanese generally pray according to the traditional way: bow slightly, throw money into the offertory box, bow deeply twice, clap our hands twice, say our name and address, make a wish, and bow deeply once again. It is said that the reason for clapping our hands is that (1) we call the deities by clapping our hands, (2) the sound of clapping hands resembles the sound of the creation of heaven and earth, and (3) the sound of clapping hands moves the souls of the deities and makes them happy.

Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular shrines for New Year’s visits. More than 3 million people come to this shrine and pray during the first three days of the New Year.

If we make an application for a shinto purification ceremony at Kaguraden (Hall of Sacred, Music and Dance), the shrine priest performs a purification rite for us and the shrine maidens perform sacred dances. We customarily offer some money as a token of our appreciation if we apply for this ceremony.


couple treesThis pair of camphor trees is called “Myotogi,” which litarally means Couple Trees. They were donated when Meiji Shrine was founded in 1920. The straw rope with several pieces of white paper is called “Shimenawa,” which divides the sacred world from the ordinary world. People pray to these sacred trees for a good match, the safety of their family and good relationships for couples.






emaThese wooden tablets hung around the tree are votive picture tablets called Ema, on which people write their wishes when they pray for something, or write thank you notes when their prayers are answered. Ema in Meiji Shrine bear a picture of a 12-petal chrysanthemum and a paulownia, which are the shrine’s crests.













car purificationThis is a place where cars are purified. If you ask the shrine priest to have your car purified, he exorcizes impurities and expels bad luck from your car by waving a rod with strips of white paper.







スクリーンショット 2013-09-06 20.49.34Meiji Shrine is closely related to Sumo. In January, the Yokozuna, the highest position in Sumo, performs a Dohyo-iri ring entering ceremony in Meiji Shrine, which is open to the public. Moreover, a new Yokozuna performs his inaugural ring entering ceremony also in this shrine within a coupled of weeks after the end of a tournament. This is partly because Sumo was originally performed as one kind of Shinto ritual to appease shinto deities.


wedding procession meiji shrineMeiji Shrine is very popular among young couples as a place they take marriage vows. It is said more than 1,000 couples hold a wedding ceremony here in a traditional Shinto style. If you are lucky, you can have a glimpse of a wedding procession of a bride and a groom wearing a traditional wedding costume, accompanied by the shrine priests, the shrine maidens, and their families.






Meiji Shrine is located in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo.  It’s a one-minute walk from Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Meiji Shrine website : click here.




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