Dedicated to the late 19th-century emperor who opened Japan to the West, Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine is wonderfully serene and austere, not colorful or flashy like other Asian places of worship, and is less of a tourist trap than Senso-ji, the big Buddhist temple across town in Asakusa.
Two, large gates frame the entrance to this Shinto shrine that was dedicated to Emperor and Empress Meiji. Completed in 1920, repairs were required after the shrine was damaged during World War II.
The 40-foot-high (12-meter) torii gate at the entrance to the 200-acre park is made of 1,500-year-old cypress, and there’s a second one like it closer to the shrine itself. Stop at the cleansing station where you can dip into a communal water tank and purify your hands and mouth before offering up a prayer. You can write wishes on little pieces of paper and tie them onto the prayer wall, or do as the locals do — toss some yen into the offering box (it’s near the enormous taiko drum), bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more.
Construction began in 1915 under Itō Chūta, and the shrine was built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, using primarily Japanese cypress and copper. The building of the shrine was a national project, mobilizing youth groups and other civic associations from throughout Japan, who contributed labor and funding. It was formally dedicated in 1920, completed in 1921, and its grounds officially finished by 1926. Until 1946, the Meiji Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.
The original building was destroyed during the Tokyo air raids of World War II. The present iteration of the shrine was funded through a public fund raising effort and completed in October 1958.
Meiji Shrine has been visited by numerous foreign politicians, including United States President George W. Bush, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
On the eve of new year, Japanese usually visit a Shinto shrine to prepare for the worship - Hatsumōde (初詣) of the new year. Meiji Shrine is the most popular location in Japan for hatsumōde.
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- Head to the Imperial Garden in June, when irises are blooming
- Look for traditional weddings taking place on Sunday mornings with brides in all-white
- kimonos, grooms in a haori coat decorated with one’s family crest and hakama