Visiting one of the most iconic shrines in Tokyo
Coming to Japan, one of the most important items on most people`s to-do-lists is visiting shrines and temples. There are several, which usually appear in most itineraries - Senso-ji (Asakusa) and Meiji Jingu (Yoyogi / Harajuku) in Tokyo, Heian Jingu, Kyiomizu-dera and Nanzen-ji in Kyoto, Itsukushima Jinja on the Miyajima island in Hiroshima and so on. There are plenty others, some of them with more specific visitors. For example Kashima Jingu and Katori Jingu (Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures respectively) are specifically of interest to the practitioners of martial arts from all around the world, being dedicated to deities directly connected to Budo/Bujutsu.
While other may appear on our blog later on, this short article will be about brief and elementary introduction of the Meiji Jingu shrine, as it is located within the walking distance of our classrooms. There are several entrances to the shrine, the most widely used one being accessible from Harajuku or Meiji-jingumae stations (depending on whether you took the JR Yamanote line, or either the Chiyoda or Fukutoshin lines), or if you feel adventurous you could begin walking from either Shibuya (JR Yamanote) or Omote-sando (Chiyoda, Ginza, Hanzomon lines) station. Either way, the first thing you will notice is wide bridge over the rail tracks, which is often occupied by the local youth, street performing or simply cosplaying. After crossing the bridge, you will enter a wide plaza, which most distinct landmark is the iconic torii gate / arch marking the entrance to the shrine.
Another popular entrance is the Kita-sando one, which is easily accessible from either Kita-sando (Fukutoshin) or Yoyogi (JR Yamanote) stations. Coincidentally, this entrance is also the closest one to the Tokyo Calligraphy Education Association headquarters and sometimes you can meet one of our staff having a stroll through its premises during their lunch break. Not as opulent as the previous one, it`s a bit more serene, less crowded and offers an easy access to the Shibafu park nearby. It had been the author`s favourite one long before he started his work at this particular company.
There are, of course, other possible ways how to get into the premises, entrances located near Sangubashi or Yoyogi-hachiman stations (both are located on the Odakyu line), or Yoyogi-koen station (the Chiyoda line). The last two offer an access through the famous Yoyogi park. Regardless of which one you choose, it`s important to keep in mind, that the whole area is very large, as it spans over " an area of 70 hectares (170 acres) " (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine , accessed November 22, 2018). That means that it consists of various areas, each one worth exploring (it`s important to note, however, that although most of them are free of charge, for some there is an admission fee, most notably the Inner Garden). There are both places incredibly crowded at any given moment, such as the main offering hall and the inner Naien area in general, while some are incredibly tranquil and almost devoid of human presence, which is remarkable when taking into account it is located in the centre of one of the most busy and cosmopolitan cities in the world.
There is also a general etiquette that should be observed, not only in Meiji Jingu, but in other shrines as well. People bow in front of the torii before entering the premises (although admittedly not everyone does that, even among the Japanese), you are supposed to use the chozuya/temizuya to cleanse your hands and mouth, and there is a protocol regarding the praying itself, as well as that of what to do with the items sold in the shrine, be those fortune prayers (omikuji), protective amulets (omamori) or a household talisman / amulet (ofuda). Those protocols are, however, not too complicated and their implementation can vary from prefecture to prefecture, or even from person to person.
As with every other custom, observing those around you and instructions written on the walls / pillars of that particular shrine, as well as asking politely when in doubt usually prevents any major faux pas from happening.
Certainly a lot more could be said about that fascinating place, especially regarding its history or connection to the Imperial House, however as a brief introductory article this should perhaps suffice. We certainly do encourage you to dedicate at least few hours to visiting this particular shrine (although be careful - it closes fairly early every day and we would not recommend going there any later than 16:00, at least around 14:00 would be much better, as it leaves you with enough time to explore the place without rushing). It is also a somewhat stage for events, be it those relatively small (there is a substantial chance of a marriage ceremony taking place during your visit), to some truly big ones, such as the annual Old / Ancient Martial Arts Taikai (古武術大会) taking place usually in November.