Jun 30, 2020

Meiji Shrine - A Spiritual Oasis

5 am on a quiet Saturday morning found me walking towards the train station instead of lying snuggled up in bed. My plan for the day was to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine and take a refreshing morning walk through the forest surrounding it. In the land of the rising sun, sunrise is at 4.20 am during summer and by 5 the day was already promising to be one of those hot, breathless summer days with bright blue skies and not a cloud in sight. I wanted to make the most of the day before heat and humidity drove us indoors. 

Oasis of calm in the midst of an urban jungle 

Nestled deep within lush green woods right in the heart of Tokyo, the Meiji Jingu is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 till 1912 is known for the modernization of Japan and opening the country to the west.
To reach the shrine, you walk through a winding forest of thick trees that seem to form a wall of dense foliage. You can enter the forest from Yoyogi or Harajuku, both extremely busy districts, but as soon as I stepped inside, the city seemed to magically fall away. The only sound I heard was the wind rustling through the leaves. Even my footsteps seemed inordinately loud on the gravel. The serene walk through the lush green forest calms your senses and you are almost in a zen-like state by the time you reach the shrine.




After walking for about 15 minutes you reach an imposing 40-foot high torii (gate) made entirely of cypress. This is the official entrance to the shrine. A Torii is supposed to separate the spiritual world from the physical, material world. As soon as you pass under the Torii you are supposed to be in the presence of gods. 



The massive Sake barrels add a splash of color

Before you walk towards the shrine, you see an interesting sight – bright, colorful barrels of Sake or Japanese wine. Sake is also used as an offering to Gods in Japan and these barrels have been donated by Sake manufacturers from all over Japan. The Sake is used in religious ceremonies at the shrine.




A place of great spiritual aura

The main gate to the shrine is magnificent and sheer size boggles your mind.




The main shrine is inside a huge courtyard with entrances from three sides. The shrine was designed by the architect Chūta Itō and built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style using Japanese cypress. The roof of the main building is made of copper. 



Almost in front of the shrine stands two camphor trees bound together by a holy rope called Shimenawa. This is supposed to be a spot of great spiritual power. People flock here to pray for everlasting relationships and marital happiness.
The air was heavy with the fragrance of camphor. 
I had never seen a camphor tree and never knew the smell emanating from them could be so strong. It all added to the spiritual aura of the place. In the quietude of the morning, the shrine did seem to vibrate with the spiritual aura it is so famed for. 


Moving away, opposite the camphor trees is the place where people hang Ema or prayer plaques. You can buy these wooden plaques at all shrines, write your prayers and wishes on them and hang them here. 



Dignified in its austerity 

The Shrine is majestic but almost unadorned, its severe lines enlivened here and there by delicate woodwork. One would expect a shrine dedicated to an emperor to be flashy and colorful but there is great dignity in the austerity of the Meiji Shrine.





The shrine is also famous for Shinto weddings. I was too early to see an actual wedding but I did catch a bride and groom as they got ready for one.



A visit to the Inner Garden completes the experience

The Meiji Shrine is also known for its Inner Garden. The garden existed even before the shrine and Emperor Meiji and his wife were frequent visitors. The beautifully laid out garden has an arbor, a tea house that the emperor had built for Empress Shoken. 
The tea house is on a gentle slope of land, surrounded by greenery and overlooking the pond. 


The pond is a delightful place at all times and the clear blue sky, the cluster of lilies floating in the water, and the colorful carp weaving through them made a pretty picture.




Different flowers bloom all through the year, but the garden is particularly famous for its irises. The Irises were in full bloom when I visited.




With its imposing torii gates, austere yet dignified architecture, tranquil forest area, and a beautiful garden, Meiji Shrine is the epitome of Shintoism. A must
visit if you are in Tokyo. 

2 comments:

  1. Refreshing read! Loved all the green spaces and the equally green descriptions of them :)

    ReplyDelete

 

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