What’s to be said about Yasukuni shrine? Located in Chiyoda ward the shrine was founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869 to commemorate those who died in service of Japan so it commemorates those who fell in the Boshin War all the way through to some parts of the Shōwa period. It is a huge source of controversy not only in East Asia, but within Japan itself. I won’t be looking at it from that aspect, I will be looking at it as one of the better-known shrines to visit in Tokyo.
It’s quite a big place at 6.24 hectares. While not as big as Meiji shrine, it is certainly big enough to keep you occupied. There are numerous buildings, monuments and places to explore. It’s the place where the souls of 2,466,532 men, women, children and even pets are enshrined and their names, birthplaces, birthdates and places of death have been recorded. And it’s not only the Japanese, it includes anyone who fought on Japan’s behalf – so that includes many Koreans and Taiwanese too. You can even find a shrine there for anyone who died during WWII there, the Chinreisha. So, Yasukuni isn’t just about Japan, everyone is included. Going there is quite an experience and considering how visited it is, it is very quiet.
I recommend entering it from the Kudanshita station side. One that side, the first thing that anyone will see is a 25-meter high torii (gate found at Shinto shrine) which leads on to a 500-meter long causeway which is lined by gingko trees making it a great place to walk in autumn. In the middle of the causeway is Japan’s first bronze statue, of Masujirō Ōmura (considered by many to be the father of the modern Japanese military) which is very big and impressive. There is another torii and several monuments along it, and at the end you’ll find the gates that lead to the shrine area.
Inside the gate and before the main hall is a courtyard filled with cherry trees, that when in full-bloom in spring is very beautiful. Beyond is another torii and then the haiden, where worshippers pray. Be careful with your camera there as the area in front of the steps and back to the torii is considered sacred ground so taking pictures is forbidden and there is security there to warn people. If you want to take pictures of the building, just move to the left or right away from the steps as that is permitted.
Yasukuni shrine also has something rather unique for a shrine, it has a military museum, the Yushukan. If you go, I would urge you to throw away all preconceived notions you might have and just look at it as a military museum, if you are interested in such as it really does have some great displays (no matter what might be said about how some of the history there is presented). It is quite large and might take you up to two hours to make your way through it in its entirety. Unfortunately, some of the exhibits have nothing explained in English and in what is has been directly translated in the majority of cases.
The displays they have there are very, very good. The most popular exhibit would have to be the Zero fighter which is in the lobby area, which is free of charge. In the main part of the museum you’ll find war exhibits from all of Japan’s wars and with all the associated paraphernalia – swords, tanks, aircraft, cannons and even submarines. Once again, I’d recommend it, but please go with an open mind.
As a major shrine, Yasukuni has plenty of festivals throughout the year including some sumo wrestling! The one I’d recommend though is the Mitama, which honors Japan’s war dead and takes place in July. For the festival, the complex is lit by 30,000 lanterns. Lots of people turn out in yukatas and omikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded along the causeway to the main hall. It is a very big event and something that you should see at least once in your lifetime!
If you want to see one of Tokyo’s most important shrines, military museum and cherry blossoms too, this is the one for you. Granted, Yasukuni won’t be for everyone but I really believe it is worthy of a visit. You can see its homepage here.
How to get to Yasukuni shrine
It is quite easy to get to and is served by Ichigaya/Iidabashi JR station and the Kudanshita subway station. Here is a map to give you an idea:
Yasukuni is open from 6 AM to 6 PM from March to October. From November to February it closes at 5 PM. The Yushukan is open from 9: AM to 4:30 PM (with last entry at 4 PM).
Entrance to the grounds is free, as is the lobby of the Yushukan. If you wish to see the museum in its entirety there is an admittance fee of ￥1000.
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Denstu building – want some views of the bay? Then come here!
Fukagawa Edo Museum – learn more about the Tokyo of old
Todoroki – enjoy a walk in a little valley near the center of the city
Tokyo Daibutsu – you don’t have to travel to Kamakura to see a big buddha
Zoshigaya – cemeteries are interesting places in Tokyo with so much history in them!