Sunday in Tokyo is very much like any other day. There are no religious reasons for shops and businesses to be closed and the streets are as busy as ever. But Gail and I felt like a quiet day was in order, so we headed to Meiji Shrine, in Yoyogi Park for a day of wandering and contemplation.
Of course, it was packed, but still somehow tranquil and quiet. The park grounds are amazing – 85 acres of thick, dense evergreen woodland in the middle of the city – if you can somehow block out the traffic noise and sounds of helicopters flying overhead, you could be deep in the countryside just 10 minutes walk away from our apartment!
Walking from Harajuku Station, a long road through the forest leads to the shrine, passing under massive cedar gates and past offerings from throughout Japan and the rest of the world – brightly decorated barrels of sake and wine from France and chrysanthemums both full-sized and bonsai, with many of the latter placed in complex dioramas and scenes depicting childrens’ nursery rhymes and stories.
The shrine itself is a Shinto shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. It was originally constructed between 1915-1926 and was rebuilt in 1958 after the original iteration was destroyed by bombings during World War II. It’s used for contemplation and meditation, and also for weddings – we were lucky enough to see a wedding procession on the afternoon we were there.
Families bring their children, often dressed in kimonos, to be blessed and dedicated, and to have family portraits taken by professional photography services who wait patiently for new customers, unmoving and silent.
Off the main drag to the shine and behind a 500 yen paywall, is the Meiji Shrine Inner Garden, or Yoyogi Gyoen. The Emporer and Emporess would visit these gardens regularly to walk and fish, and these days there is a teahouse with some amazing bonsai, a fishing spot with some amazing Koi and a couple of arbours where you can sit and relax.
Deeper into the Gyoen is Kiyomasa no Ido (Kiyomasa’s Well) an ancient spring that flows at a constant 15 degrees Celsius and which irrigates the flowers and plants throughout the gardens. You can also queue to wash your hand in the run-off, which is a shinto tradition of meditation which we did take part in, though it’s difficult to be at all contemplative when a queue of people is waiting semi-patiently behind you with their iPhones to record the moment they stuck their hands in a stream!
“But John?” I hear you say, “this blog post doesn’t mention food!” And you’re right. But we did go for okonomiyaki later – Japanese omelette that you cook yourself – and you better believe there’s a post coming about that next!