Tokyo, Japan is one of my favorite cities to visit in the world. Visitors often describe Tokyo using words like “vibrant”, “active”, “ultra-modern”, “crowded”, and so on. However, because the city is on the go around the clock, “tranquil” is a word I never thought of to describe it. However, my first visit to the Meiji Jingu Shrine showed me a place where this description is very apt.
History and Symbolism…
The shrine, completed in 1921, was erected to honor the spirit of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The shrine and its gardens and grounds are located on the western edge of Tokyo in the Shibuya neighborhood. Because it is a Shinto shrine, giant torii gates stand over the entrances. Torii gates symbolize the transition from the outside, profane world into the inner, sacred world of a shrine. In this case, the transition is profound. Giant trees and plants line the pathways inside the grounds, surrounding you with nature. Visitors typically enter the shrine complex with quiet reverence for the spirits that are honored there.
An oasis of quiet…
The grounds of the shrine offer many places for visitors to sit and relax and to contemplate. Although the hustle and bustle of Tokyo surrounds the park, the trees and landscaping help deaden the noise. This creates an atmosphere that’s perfect for quiet contemplation and relaxation. Those wishing to honor the traditions and rituals of the Shinto religion may offer up prayers to the spirits of the Emperor and Empress.
A place of tradition…
Many Japanese visitors to the shrine dress up in traditional clothing when visiting. This is especially common among young girls, who wear beautiful kimono. Young boys often wear suits or tuxedos as well. It’s also quite common to see engaged or newly-married couples posing in the park for wedding photos.
Because the shrine represents a sacred place in Shinto and Japanese culture, visitors should be aware of the rules of etiquette that are expected in the park.
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The Meiji Shrine is by no means the only spot for peace and tranquility in Tokyo – my fellow travel bloggers Nic and Paul wrote a great post about the the beautiful temples and shrines of Tokyo that you should read if you’re headed there soon.
To reach the Meiji Shrine, take the JR Railway Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station. The entrance to the shrine is a 2-3 minute walk from the station. If you’re traveling via the Tokyo Metro railway service, you can take the Chiyoda or Fukutoshin lines to the Meijijingu-Mae Station. The shrine is a short 5-minute walk from the station.
The shrine is generally open from sunrise to sunset. Official opening hours vary from month to month, so it’s best to verify the hours ahead of time. On the night of December 31st, the shrine is open all night.