HOME Harajuku Annual Events at Meiji Shrine: Diving Head First into Traditional Japanese Culture
Annual Events at Meiji Shrine: Diving Head First into Traditional Japanese Culture

Annual Events at Meiji Shrine: Diving Head First into Traditional Japanese Culture

Update: 9 February 2017

The year 2020 doesn’t only mark the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo but it is also the year of Meiji Shrine’s 100th anniversary. With its spacious grounds of over 700,000 square meters, Meiji Shrine, or Meiji Jingu in Japanese, is one of Tokyo’s most famous spots. Beloved by both Tokyoites and tourists alike, the shrine invites visitors to quiet and relaxing strolls through its forest that was created to be an ever-lasting one, almost one hundred years ago, and the shrine buildings themselves also offer a wonderful window to traditional Japan. Did you know, though, that Meiji Shrine also holds a variety of different events throughout the year, all entirely free?

Some of those events are century-old rituals, others are private – among all of them, which ones are particularly interesting and intriguing for the public? We asked Miki Fukutoku from Meiji Shrine’s General Affairs Division to give us an expert’s opinion on the shrine’s many events – and she even provided us with some photos for those that aren’t open to the public! While international visitors keep increasing every year, please keep in mind that these events are held in Japanese only – with a bit of preparation, though, you’re set!

January: The Nationwide Calligraphy Competition of Elementary and Middle School Children

January: The Nationwide Calligraphy Competition of Elementary and Middle School Children
Calligraphies created by Japanese students.

■ The Nationwide Calligraphy Contest for Elementary and Middle School Students
300 choice entries are displayed in the corridor of the Meiji Shrine.

“Elementary and Middle School students from all around Japan take part in this calligraphy contest, sending in about 25,000 unique works. From all of those, the 300 best are selected and displayed in the corridor in front of the main hall of the Meiji Shrine, which is a rather spectacular sight.”

■ Event Information
Calligraphy Contest
January 5 (Thu) to January 30 (Mon) 2017

February: The Gorgeous Mikoshi of Meiji Shrine

February: The Gorgeous Mikoshi of Meiji Shrine
The beautiful mikoshi (portable shrine) of Meiji Shrine can be admired from up close but be careful! The kami rides in it.

■ Kinensai, National Foundation Day
Praying for Japan’s prosperity and peace all around the world.

“On the National Foundation Day, Meiji Shrine’s mikoshi will be paraded from Meiji Park via Omotesando to the shrine. From the starting point in Harajuku to the final destination, Meiji Shrine’s main hall, people gather to see the parade. Both the procession itself and the crowds around it are an amazing sight, creating a one of a kind atmosphere. After the parade, the kami [Shinto deity] who rode in the mikoshi returns to the shrine. While this event celebrates the National Foundation Day, I am sure that even visitors from abroad will have a great time watching and experiencing the event.”

■ Event Information
National Foundation Day
February 11 (Sat, national holiday) 2017
Best Time: around noon, when the mikoshi is in front of Meiji Shrine’s main hall

April: An Offering of the Blessings of Spring to Empress Shoken

April: An Offering of the Blessings of Spring to Empress Shoken
An offering to Empress Shoken and the surrounding forest.

■ Shoken Kotaigo-Sai, Empress Shoken Memorial Ceremony
A Festival Held on the Day of the Empress’ Demise

“In general, the Empress Shoken Memorial Ceremony is about offering food to the kami. What food is offered is specified: rice, sake, water, bounty of the sea, bounty of the land, and fruits. These offerings make a “feast,” in regards to the formalities of the ceremony. This festival is held on the day of the demise of Empress Shoken, Emperor Meiji’s wife, and we also offer edible wild plants, shoots of wild horsetail, buds of the fuki, and bamboo sprouts gathered from the forest surrounding Meiji Shrine.”

■ Event Information
Empress Shoken Memorial Ceremony
April 11 (Tue) 2017
The offerings can be seen from outside the outer worship hall.

May: Traditional Music and Dance during Golden Week

May: Traditional Music and Dance during Golden Week
A demonstration of the koto, a traditional instrument.

■ Natsu no Taisai, The Great Spring Festival
Traditional Japanese Arts, Entertainment and Music at Meiji Shrine’s Great Spring Festival

“On a special stage in front of the main hall, bugaku dances, koto performances, and Noh plays will be held, free to enjoy for everyone.”

■ Event Information
The Great Summer Festival
April 29 (Sat) to May 3 (Wed) 2017
The offerings can be seen from outside the outer worship hall.

June and December: The Great Purification and Tsumikegare

June and December: The Great Purification and Tsumikegare
Every 6 months, a Shinto ceremony called Oharae, or the Great Purification, is performed to rid oneself of sin and impurities.

■ Oharae, the Great Purification
Cleansing Impurities, Twice a Year

“Other shrines perform chinowa-kuguri [passing through a hoop of kaya grass] on the same day. The meaning is the same, based on the belief that we are unknowingly accumulating [spiritual] sins and impurities which are then cleaned in this ceremony twice a year. These sins and impurities aren’t really due to us doing something bad but furthermore refer to causing harm to another being unknowingly. Eating obviously means consuming the life of a plant or animal, so the belief is that human life can only exist because of sacrifice.
At Meiji Shrine, the Great Purification is performed at the haraesha. The priest recites the oharae no kotoba [Words of the Great Purification], and the white paper snow you can see in the picture is called kirinusa and given to all priests. They breathe on it before sprinkling it over their own body, thus purifying themselves. Afterwards, the kirinusa is thrown on the attending people for the same kind of purification. Everybody is free to attend Oharae.”

■ Event Information
Oharae, the Great Purification
from 2:00 p.m. on June 30 (Fri) and December 31 (Sun) 2017

July: The Emperor Meiji Memorial Ceremony, Celebrated with the Emperor’s Favorite Wine

July: The Emperor Meiji Memorial Ceremony, Celebrated with the Emperor’s Favorite Wine
Emperor Meiji loved a splendid wine, hence the south approach to the shrine is decorated with wine barrels. Those are empty, by the way.

■ Meiji-Tenno-Sai: Emperor Meiji Memorial Ceremony
Remembering the Tastes of the Emperor, Even Today

“This day marks the day of Emperor Meiji’s demise. Since he loved wine in particular, we offer white and red wine. Originally, Emperor Meiji liked Japanese sake best but due to an illness, his doctor is said to have advised him: ‘Well, if it is red wine…’ Red and white wine is poured in a decanter-like bottle as an offering.”

■ Event Information
Meiji-Tenno-Sai: Emperor Meiji Memorial Ceremony
July 30 (Sun)
This is a private ceremony.
The wine barrels can be seen at the shrine’s approach.

October: Ningyo-Kanshasai, the Unique Festival to Say Your Thanks to Dolls

October: Ningyo-Kanshasai, the Unique Festival to Say Your Thanks to Dolls
People also tend to fold their hands before the dolls.

■ Ningyo-Kanshasai
The Appreciation and Purification of Dolls

“When you have a doll that you’re emotionally attached to and do not simply want to throw it away, bring it to the Meiji Shrine. There, it will be purified and exhibited in the corridor.”

■ Event Information
October 15 (Sun), 2017; 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (doll submission)
The submission fee for one doll is 3,000 yen.

October and November: Traditional Arts Galore at the Great Autumn Festival

October and November: Traditional Arts Galore at the Great Autumn Festival
The authentic demonstrations amidst green nature are particularly popular.
The Yoyogi Dance is performed in front of the main shrine.

■ Aki no Taisai, the Great Autumn Festival
Celebrating Autumn with Horseback Archery, Vegetable Exhibitions, and More

“There are numerous performances held as an offering at the stage in front of the main shrine, as well as in Meiji Shrine’s forest. Especially the yabusame [traditional horseback archery] is very popular, held on the lawn near the west entrance, people tend to line up for this event several hours before it begins. On the lawn nearby, you can look forward to various traditional martial arts competitions, such as Aikido, Iaido, spear fighting, and arquebus [an early type of gun] shooting. Everything is free of charge and many things can be experienced at once, so the Great Autumn Festival is very popular with international visitors. The Tokyo Metropolitan Agricultural Festival is held on the lawn area in front of the Treasure House, featuring a lot of exhibitions and spot sales. Vegetables and flowerpots are also given away.”

■ Event Information
Aki no Taisai, The Great Autumn Festival
End of October – November 3 (Fri) 2017
Yabusame and the martial arts performances are scheduled for November 3.

November: A Picturesque Treasure Ship Made out of Tokyo Vegetables at the Harvest Ceremony

November: A Picturesque Treasure Ship Made out of Tokyo Vegetables at the Harvest Ceremony
Almost too precious to be eaten: the vegetable treasure ship.

■ Niinamesai, the Harvest Ceremony
The Annual Festival to Celebrate a Bountiful Harvest

“This festival is a celebration of this year’s harvest and makes a pair with the Kinensai [National Foundation Day] on February 17. A treasure ship made entirely out of vegetables is showcased in front of the southern shrine gate, as well as in the corridor. The sails are made out of green onions, for example, and these ships made entirely out of vegetables are extremely popular photo spots. Since they will be dismantled on the 24th, the next day, make sure to come see them on the 23rd.”

■ Event Information
Niinamesai, the Harvest Ceremony
November 23 (Thu, national holiday) 2017
The treasure ships are a few days on display until November 23.

The Ever-Evolving Meiji Shrine

Ever since the shrine was built 100 years ago in 1920, Meiji Shrine has undergone small and big changes and will do so in the future as well. Right now, a new facility for the many national treasures of the shrine is being built and the former Treasure Museum is being repaired and given a new look. Furthermore, efforts are constantly being made to make the shrine more accessible and wheelchair friendly. No matter when you visit Meiji Shrine, you’ll likely see one or the other improvement or repair works being made to the shrine and its vicinity.

The grey part on the left side of the gravel road is a newly made paved path.
The roof all around the main shrine appears green but when it is freshly replaced, it is copper-colored like a 10 yen coin. Gradually, this copper color turns back into green.

All these works are planned to be completed in 2019, just before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. 2020 will also mark the shrine’s 100 year anniversary! Meiji Shrine itself is a wonderful example of the harmony between traditional and modern Japan, sticking to ancient customs and aesthetics while being infused with a lot of modern thought and method. We’re excited to see in what ways Meiji Shrine will change over the coming year – and in what ways it will stay the same as it has always been. The many festivals and events are just one example of the “changing steadiness” of this famous Tokyo landmark, so go ahead and explore them for yourself!

Meiji Shrine as seen from above. The green line leading up to it is Omotesando.
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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