Every year, Meiji Shrine has the largest number of worshipers in Japan gather for Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the New Year). Surrounded by trees in the dense forest of approximately 700,000 square meters, around 3,000 species of plants and animals currently inhabit it, and only the chirping of birds and the sound of the wind rustling the leaves can be heard. How about taking some time to enjoy being enveloped in the refreshing air?
Meiji Shrine is a sacred place built in 1920 it was dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Dowager Shoken. Different from its current state, it is said that it used be wilderness at the time of its construction, so they planted around 100,000 trees that were donated from all over Japan as to match the foundation and artificially made up the Chinju-no-Mori (the forest kept and protected around Shinto shines) which is a surprise. Once you head toward Meiji Shrine from Harajuku Station, the first thing that comes into view is the first Torii (shrine gate). The main shrine is still a long walk away. Bow once in front of the Torii, then let's enter inside.
A step inside the sacred place naturally pulls one's mind together. The path slopes gently downhill. It is said it was designed as a downward slope to enable visitors to comfortably worship at the shrine. Upon stepping forward firmly on the gravel, the air will feel nice and cool. The sound of the gravel being stepped on is said to have a purifying effect on visitors, and just by walking along making noise, the pleasant crunching brings peace to one's mind as well.
What comes into the view is the sake barrels and the wine barrels. Emperor Meiji is said to have had a taste for wine, especially the ones made in Burgundy. The barrels stacked in rows are overwhelming.
Here are the Japanese sake barrels. If you like drinking, it would be interesting to try and observe the brands of wine and sake.
Ahead, the O-Torii (great Torii) which appears on the left is the largest wooden Myojin-style Torii in Japan, which one pillar is said to have been made from a single entire Taiwan cypress tree.
Upon passing through the O-Torii, you will finally arrive at the main shrine building. From here it is an especially sacred place.
Before paying respects, let's purify our body with temizu (Shinto water for a ceremonial purification rite). The way to do it is to first use your right hand to scoop the water with a hishaku (a dipper) and rinse your left hand. Then, put the dipper in your left hand and rinse your right hand. After that, put the dipper back in your right hand and pour some water onto the palm of your left hand, then rinse your mouth with that water. Finally, after you have finished rinsing your mouth, rinse your left hand once more, allow some water to run down the handle of the hishaku, and return it to its original place.
Put some coins into the donation box, then comes the time for "2 bows 2 claps 1 bow". Bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then after you've made a wish, bow once at the end. It is better to practice beforehand in order to perform it smoothly.
After your visit to the shrine is complete, we go to the Meiji Jingu Gardens. According to the description, this imperial garden used to be the garden of a shimo-yashiki (a villa located outside of central Edo) owned by the Kato clan and the Ii clan since the early Edo period. However, It fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Imperial Household in the Meiji period and it appears it was given the name Yoyogi Gyoen. Currently, it is called Meiji Jingu Gardens. From long ago this place has been a garden, but in the Meiji period it was maintained by Emperor Meiji for Empress Shoken to be able to take walks. It is a place that gives off an impression of native thickets, and even the atmosphere of the path is a little different from others until now, with its natural trees which will welcome you refreshingly.
We've found Kiyomasa-no-Ido (Kiyomasa's well) which became famous through Japanese TV! You can touch the pure spring. The water temperature is around 15 degrees Celsius throughout the year with the water gushing out at at 60 liters per minute. It is nice and cold and feels nice. This seems to promise a good fortune, yet no coins are allowed to be tossed in. That would defile the clean water and is considered not good.
Walking the path of thickly grown trees, the view suddenly opens, and the Shobuta (Japanese iris field) appears. Here is the place where Emperor Meiji had irises to be planted for Empress Shoken. The irises starts to blossom in June, welcoming the best time to see them, various species of colorful irises will be in full bloom. At the time the irises fill the field, it is said to create such a beautiful scene that people forget Harajuku and Shibuya are nearby.
At the lake in the imperial garden, there are of course koi, but depending on the season wild birds such as mallards, mandarin ducks, and meadow buntings are found. In the summer, beautifully blooming sacred lotus flowers can be seen.
Around the time you reach the front of Homotsuden (Treasure Museum), our field of vision opens, and a space fully covered with lawn appears! The skyscrapers of Shinjuku can be viewed over the vast sky. When you get tired of walking, you can enter the shade of a tree and take a short break there. If you feel the refreshing wind while resting on the lawn, perhaps the power of Chinji-no-Mori will swell within you! By the way, it should be noted that including this place, they do not allow eating and drinking inside the shrine except for some specified locations.
We've arrived at the entrance of Homotsuden. Inside the portraits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken are displayed. Various items with deep connections to both deities of the shrine are exhibited.
In front of Homotsuden also stands the Sazare-Ishi (pebbles which grew into a large rock over time) which also appears in the national anthem "Kimigayo". Those little stones which came together by the river current have become one large stone such as this. It was dedicated here from its original place in Gifu.
The way back towards Harajuku is surrounded by tall overgrown trees which provide a refreshing path. Although the sun is already high, the tree leaves moderately block the sunlight, and cast beautiful shadows over the forest.
After a fulfilling walk of the grounds, its time to go back to the entrance to have tea time at the cafe Mori-no-Terrace. In warm seasons, relaxing on the open terrace with it's carefree atmosphere is recommended. Menu items such as tofu-milk gelato and croissants are popular at the cafe. After satisfying your appetite, quenching your thirst, and taking a breather, remind yourself of the sights you saw or things you felt while walking. There must have been a variety of discoveries and surprises.