Historic Tokyo: Meiji Jingu


The Meiji Emperor, Mutsuhito, ruled from 1867 to 1912. The emperor’s shrine is one of the major sights in Tokyo. I arrived at the Meiji Jingu late in the afternoon. The approach roads were flanked by tall trees which filtered the golden light of the sun and gave the place a gloomy serenity which perfectly evokes the idea of a shrine. I passed one of the tallest gates I’ve seen (photo above). I’m pretty certain that I’ve been here before, but I have to disinter the photos taken before the days of electronic cameras in order to make sure.

These wide but gloomy avenues eventually reach a little fountain with ladles laid out so that you can scoop up water to wash your hands with. I wonder whether the fanatical cleanliness of Japan can be traced to such religious rituals. Notions of ritual cleanliness have gone quite the other way in India, where spiritual purity trumps mere bodily cleanliness. I’m sure some doctoral students are busy investigating these differences for their theses.


After washing your hands you pass through another gate, and then cross into the final courtyard before the shrine. Around a tree in one corner of this large courtyard are hung tablets called ema. You can buy a blank tablet for 500 Yen and write your wishes for the world on it. It hangs here for others to come and inspect. From the fact that some people were searching quite hard, I guess it is a bit of a hobby for some. In Japan Otaku is everywhere.


After this, broad stairs lead you to a point where you can look at the shrine. The chrysanthemum of the emperor (kikunogomon) is on rafters, lanterns, brass inlays on the doors. Beyond a railing which still separates the emperor from common people is the rest of the shrine. I saw people praying here: claps, offers of money and bows, all go into these prayers (the shrine’s web page gives you the right way to pray). I think Shinto makes a distinction between the person and his soul, because the web page of this shrine says that the deities in the shrine are the souls of the emperor and his consort. There’s an echo of ancient Chinese beliefs in all this.


The sun was very low by now, and I gave up on my plan of walking over to the part of Yoyogi park which has cosplayers. Instead I took a side exit which eventually brought me to the Kita-Sando metro station. This route was almost deserted, but the surrounding greenery was extremely beautiful. Beyond all the rituals and the deification of the emperor it is the memory of this lovely man-made forest which has stayed with me for the decades since I first came here.