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Meiji Shrine

Meiji shrine is an incredible place to visit.  Some people I know have called it an incredibly surreal place.  It truly is a must-see place for any visit to Tokyo.

In Tokyo, Meiji shrine is the shrine to rule all shrines.  It is a magnificent complex that was built to house the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken.  Covering about 175 acres it can be extremely busy and crowded in one area while being extremely peaceful and serene at the same time in another.  Some people I’ve talked to have said the experience of visiting it is completely surreal.  It is just amazing that just a very short distance away one of the popular shopping streets in Tokyo lies this serene shrine.  Meiji shrine (or Meiji Jingu if you prefer) is a must-see for any visit to Tokyo.

The main courtyard of Meiji shrine with the Honden on the far side and the NTT DOCOMO Building, in Yoyogi, visible in the distance

The shrine can be very busy, especially on weekends – with worshippers making their way inside to pray, wedding processions, priests, miko and other staff going about their daily business.  Of course, you'll also find lots of tourists visiting just to see what the place is about.  But be warned though, if you visit there on New Year’s and some other special occasions such as the Grand Autumn Festival the shrine will be literally overflowing with people.

The torii (gate) closest to Harajuku station. By looking at the woman near it, you can get an idea of the size

What do I like about Meiji Jingu?  There is so much to like.  As soon as you walk in, you’ll be walking under huge torii (gates).  Then there are the sake and wine barrels on either side of the path to shrine.  And of course, there are the buildings themselves!  All that traditional Japanese architecture!  While you’re there you might be able to see one (or more) of the ceremonial events and festivals the shrine is famous for, like 7-5-3 or yabusame (horse archery).  These events aren’t held every day of course, so please check the shrine’s calendar for further information.

A wedding procession at Meiji shrine making its way across the courtyard

For many people though, I think Meiji shrine is the best place to see a Shinto wedding procession.  They are very colourful and take place in front of the main building, moving across the courtyard.  They are most common weekends, but I’ve even seen them there on a Friday morning!  The processions are very impressive.  They are quite solemn, led by the priests and miko (girls who assist in the ceremonies), and the bride and groom in their kimonos and hakamas, who walk under a large red parasol, followed by parents and guests. When the processions appear, there is a usually a rush as visitors try to get a good position.  The excitement level can be pretty high as the processions are very colourful (so make sure you don’t get too close to the parade).

The famous sake barrels of Meiji shrine

Meiji shrine also has an iris garden which is popular in June, that the Empress Shoken used to visit.  At the back of Meiji shrine, there is the Shiseikan (martial arts training center) and the Homotsuden, a museum devoted to the life of the Emperor Meiji.  In front of these two buildings is a big open grassy area from where you can get some great shots of the skyscrapers in Shinjuku poking up over the tree line.  This area looks great, but amazing in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

The park at the rear of Meiji Shrine. The skyscraper in the distance is the NTT DOCOMO building in Yoyogi

And lastly being a shrine you can purchase ema (the plaques on which you write your dreams/wishes) as well as omomori (protective charms).  There are even several restaurants there if you need a place to enjoy a break.

Chrysanthemums on display in the autumn of 2017

If you are ever thinking of visiting Tokyo, Meiji shrine should be on your list of places to see.  It has a great mix of the traditional and the new, plus events that everyone can join (such as New Year’s) and others that you can view.  It is also close to the major fashion and shopping areas of Harajuku and Shibuya.  You can see the shrine’s website here.

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How to get to Meiji Shrine

Meiji shrine is very close to Harajuku station which can be reached by the JR Yamanote line.  You can even use the Chiyoda subway line and get off at Meiji Jingu-mae station (which is also extremely close).  The entrance to the shrine is about a one-minute walk from the station.

Here is a Google map:

Cost of admission

Entrance is to Meiji shrine, but the there is a ¥500 entrance fee for the Homotsuden and the Iris garden to help cover the costs of maintenance.

Opening hours

Meiji Shrine is open daily from sunrise to sunset.  However, the Homotsuden is open only on Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays.

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