The Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

by Sep 17, 2018Japan, Travel

The Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of the top 10 places to visit in Tokyo. But do you know what to do when you visit a shrine? I thought I knew all about temples and such after having visited so many Asian countries, but little did I know that shrines are completely different from temples. There are a series of rituals and etiquette rules that you need to follow. The good thing is that following these rituals is kind of fun, and that they are open to anyone of any religion. You don’t have to be a believer of Shintoism to take part in them. Follow this guide to learn how to make your cultural experience at the Meiji Shrine even more meaningful and memorable.

This post is part of my article on my 4 days in Tokyo itinerary. Go here to read about how to spend 4 days in Tokyo.

What is the Meiji Shrine?

The original Meiji shrine was built in 1920. It was then destroyed during WWII and rebuilt was rebuilt in 1958. The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, both of whom died in 1912 and 1914 respectively. Emperor Meiji was Japan’s emperor when the country modernized politically and socially from a feudal shogun-run system to a westernized one. This time period is known as the Meiji Restoration.

The shrine is located in a beautiful 175-acre park of evergreen trees. Trees were donated from every region of Japan. One thing you’ll notice while walking trough the park is how quiet it is compared to the hustle and bustle of a city of 9 million people.

Why visit the Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. At the beginning of the year, over 3 million people visit the shrine for the new year’s first prayers called hatsumodo.

How much does the Meiji Shrine cost?

It’s free for the main shrine. However, it’s 500 yen to see the garden, 500 yen for the Treasure House, and 500 for the Treasure Museum Annex. I only saw the main shrine as there are so many things to already see in Tokyo that I just didn’t have time.

When is the Meiji Shrine open?

The Meiji Shrine is open from sunrise to sunset, so times vary. In the summer months, it opens at 5:00 am and closes around 6:00, but in the winter it opens around 6:30 am and closes as early as 4:00 pm.

How to get to the Meiji Shrine

Take the subway to Meiji-jingumae (Harakjuku) station. When you get off, the shrine is right by the exit.

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Tip #1: Bring insect repellent. There are mosquitoes.

What is Shinto?

The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine. Shinto (the way of the Gods) is Japan’s native religion. In the Shinto religion, shrines are built to house spirits or gods called kami. Kami can be found in anything from rocks, trees, animals, water, places, and people.  However, people don’t actually worship any icon or statue of kami when they visit a shrine. From my understanding, the Meiji Shrine’s kami would be the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Unlike Christianity, there is no holy book, religious founder, or desire to convert people.

The Shinto religion has developed a bad reputation in the West and other parts of Asia from its role during World War II. During the Meiji restoration and especially during Japan’s military government in the 1930s and 40s, Shinto came under the state’s control, which became known as State Shinto, and the government used it to rally the people to its nationalistic and imperialistic causes of invading and colonizing Asia. The allied powers actually forced Japan to dissolve State Shintoism after Japan’s defeat.

You’ll sometimes hear about Japanese right-wing politicians including prime visitors visiting Shinto shrines dedicated to the war dead including those convicted of war crimes. There is one particular shrine in Tokyo that honors 14 war criminals that politicians visit. People in Asia like China and South Korea see these visits as a sign that Japan still has not accepted responsibility for the deaths, rapes, torture, and forced prostitution that it caused throughout Asia during the war. If you are interested in reading about the controversy, you can go here:

Visiting the Meiji Shrine – The Torii Gate

The first thing you’ll come to at the Meiji Shrine is a huge wooden torii gate. You will find toriis at all shrines around Japan. The purpose of the torii is to keep the spiritual world of the shrine away from the outside, secular world.

Japanese shrine etiquette irrespective of your religion, says that you should bow once before crossing the gate and bow once when leaving.

Long Path to the Main Shrine

After you pass through the torii gate, you’ll walk along a long and wide boulevard until you reach the shrine. Make sure to walk on the side and not in the center of the lane, which is reserved for the gods. It’s quite a walk. I’d say at least 10 minutes.

Enjoy the tranquil surroundings. You won’t feel like you’re in the middle of a city of 9 million people.

Sake Barrels

The one interesting thing that you’ll see along your way to the shrine is the wall of sake barrels.  Each year the sake brewers of Japan offer these barrels of sake to the shrine to show their respect to the emperor and empress, and in return the shrine offers their prayers for the sake industry.
You’ll pass through two more torii gates.
You can make a side trip to a garden, but it’ll cost you 500 yen.
There are public restrooms on the right side along the route to the main shrine.

The Main Shrine of the Meiji Shrine

You’ll come to another torii here. Make sure to bow once before passing through.
I was lucky to see a procession of Shinto priests coming out of the shrine as I was entering. Unfortunately, I was too slow to get the front view of them or to video tape them.

Purify your body and mind

When you arrive at the main shrine area, pay your respects at the shrine by purifying your body and mind at the water basin area called the temizuya. You do this purification by washing your hands and mouth.

1. Rinse your left hand

2. Rinse your right hand

3. Pour water into your left hand and put the water into your mouth (Don’t drink it!)

4. Spit the water out

5. Rinse your left hand again

6. Rinse the dipper by having the water pour down the handle

You can also just watch how Japanese people do it when you are there. What I found is that some people skip steps 5 and/or 6. You can watch this video on what you need to do.

Once you cross the gate, you’ll come to a wide-open space with lots of foreign tourists and Japanese people paying their respects at the shrine.

The Main Hall (Honden)

Next walk across the big plaza to the main hall to pay your respects. You cannot take photos or video inside the main hall. At the main hall, you can pay your respects by doing the following:

1. Put a 5 yen coin into the Offering Box. You should use a 5 yen coin because 5 yen in Japanese is goen, which means good luck.

2. Bow twice

3. Clap twice

4. Make a wish

5. Bow one last time

At other shrines around the country, you can also ring a bell before doing steps 2-5, but I didn’t see a bell at the Meiji Shrine

Ema: Votive Tablets

Next you can buy an ema, which is a wooden votive tablet on which you can write a prayer or wish for 500 yen. There are markers provided near where you buy the ema for you to write your wish on. After writing your wish on the tablet, you can then hang it under the camphor tree on the right side of the shrine. The emas are offered at the daily morning prayers by the Shinto priests. I did buy an ema.

Lucky Charms (Not the cereal)

You can also buy a lucky charm called an omomari. There are different prices depending on what you wish for. For example, to find a partner and to have safe travels, it will cost you 1,000 yen. The cheapest ones were wishes for divine protection for 300 yen. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of them. I also didn’t buy one.

You can attach the charm to your purse or bag. If you get one that’s in a pouch, don’t take it out. You’re supposed to keep it until the wish comes true.

Get Your Fortune Told

You can also get a fortune called an omikuji for 100 yen, which is a piece of paper with a poem that tells you your fortune. I suggest waiting until you get to Senso Ji shrine to get your omikuji. There you have to do a little ritual before getting a complete fortune instead of just a poem.
If you get a bad fortune, you need to tie the fortune up and tie it to a wrack to keep it from happening. The ones at Senso Ji actually do have bad fortunes. The person I went there with got a bad fortune.

Pin It For Later

The Meiji Shrine was my first experience at a Shinto shrine. I had no idea what to expect  except for the washing of the hands rines and mouth.  I wish I had known a bit more during my visit than I do now so I could have experienced it fully. After visiting my 10th shrine, I sort of got lazy in paying my respects and didn’t follow all the rituals, thinking that since I wasn’t Japanese, it didn’t really matter. I wish I had continued doing all the rituals every time. Have you been to a Shinto shrine before? Did you always follow the rituals?

Are you planning to visit Tokyo?  If you do, definitely visit the Meiji Shrine. It’s a must-see in Tokyo

If you want to learn how to see Tokyo in 4 days, go here to read my itinerary for 4 days in Tokyo. You’ll learn about what to see and do, where to eat, and how to get around Tokyo.


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The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel & digital nomad blog, dedicated to helping women over 40 travel the world safely, cheaply, and comfortably. Whether you’re going for a one, two- or three-week vacation, exploring the world as a digital nomad, or staying home and discovering the world from the comfort and safety of your home, you’ll find loads of information to help inspire and inform you in your wanderings.

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