He ascended the throne at 14 and led Japan to the modernisation it needed. Under his leadership, Japan opened its borders to the rest of the world and emerged from a closed society to one of the most modern open societies in the world. And all this in less than 40 years. Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) can call himself one of the most impressive emperors in the history of Japan.
In the Harajuku district you will find one of Tokyo’s most beautiful temples, the Mejij Jingu Shrine (明治神宮). Anyone who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of the city should definitely visit this place. It is beautifully situated in the forests of Yoyogi Park and is a true source of peace and mysticism. The Meiji Shrine also has great significance for the city of Tokyo.
This shrine was built in honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. In this article I will explain what this emperor has meant for Japan and give you more information about your visit to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. It begins with a brief life history of the 122nd Emperor of Japan.
Who was Emperor Meiji, the 122nd emperor of Japan?
His real name was Mutsuhito. In 1867, at the age of 14, he ascended the throne when his father, Emperor Komei (1831-1867) died of smallpox. That same year he married Ichijō Masako (1849-1914), later to become Empress Shoken. Mutsuhito officially received the title Emperor Meiji only after his death, but during his reign he called Japan Meiji, which means Enlightened Reign. It was therefore no problem to decide on the Emperor’s final name after his death.
Emperor Meiji and his wife did not have any children. Fortunately, he had thought of a solution and went to bed with five different ladies of the court. In this way he fathered 15 children, of whom only five reached adulthood. The fourth child, Yoshihito (1879-1926) became his successor in 1912, known as Emperor Taisho.
The former Edo Castle and current Emperor’s Palace is the heart of the city of Tokyo. This is also one of the sights you can come and see. Read more about it in Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the route along the former Edo Castle…
The Meiji Restoration – Japan and the Road to Modernisation
Emperor Meiji was a progressive person. He moved the seat of the imperial family from Kyoto to Tokyo and the official state religion became Shintoism. He promoted trade with the rest of the world and the country experienced an unprecedented industrialisation. Other changes included:
- Abolition of the samurai and the system of landlords
- Establishment of a bureaucratic parliament
- The copying of Western ideas and technologies
This radical change of direction is known in Japan as the Meiji Restoration. Of course, these changes did not take place without a struggle. But generally speaking, the emperor’s plans met with approval. Eventually, in 1890, it led to a new constitution, the Meiji Constitution.
Readers’ tip: That Emperor Meiji’s changes also had disadvantages can be read in the article Kegon Falls | Why 200 people committed suicide in Nikko?
The death of the Emperor and the Meiji Jingu Shrine
Around 1900 Japan was one of the most modern countries in the world. A great achievement! When the Emperor died in 1912, the parliament decided to build a memorial site. This place became the area north of Yoyogi Park, because the emperor liked to walk through the gardens here with his wife. In 1915, a year after Empress Shoken’s death, construction began and the Meiji Jingu Shrine was completed in 1920.
Fact: Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Whereas Buddhism is all about following the teachings of Buddha, Shintoism is all about the worship of nature spirits, called Kami. These Kami originate from traditional Japanese legends and are honoured through rituals. The Meiji Jingu Shrine is dedicated to honouring the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
Your visit to the Meiji Jingu Shrine
By now, are you ready to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine (if you can, corona?). Below is a brief explanation of the main attractions of this place.
Sake and wine barrels: When you walk north from Harajuku station to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, you will come across a number of special things. You will find an impressive wall of saké and wine barrels. These are unfortunately not filled, but every year, local brewers from all over the country donate this traditional rice wine. With it, they ask the gods for prosperity.
Torii: After the wall of barrels, a large wooden gate suddenly appears, a torii. This gate is made of a 1500 year old cedar tree from Taiwan. Almost all buildings at the Meiji Jingu Shrine are made from traditional trees, most of them from trees originating in Japan. A walk through the park feels like a mythical experience: ancient trees and mysterious objects…
Prayer Hall: Upon entering the complex, you first walk through a few more torii and entrance gates. But before you enter the prayer hall, you must first perform the Temizu & Sampai. This is a cleansing ritual that is common to many temples. This ritual is characterised by washing hands and bowing to show your respect. Would you like to know more? On the website of the Meiji Jingu Shrine you will find a good explanation.
Inner Garden: After the Meiji Jingu Shrine, you can take a walk through the Inner Garden. This was Empress Shoken’s favourite place and is a nice walk along ponds, beautiful flowers and different types of trees from all over Japan. A visit to this garden is not free and costs 500 yen.
Museum: At the time of rewriting this article, only the Meiji Jingu Museum is open to the public. In this museum you get an insight into the personal belongings of the emperor and his wife. It is located south of the shrine.
Yoyogi Park: Finished visiting the Meiji Jingu Shrine? Then head to Yoyogi Park to relax. Especially in spring with the blossoms, this is highly recommended.
Ceremony: Every year various ceremonies are held at Meiji Jingu Shrine. The best known are the Spring grand festival (early May) and the Autumn grand festival (early November).
Would you like to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo?
How to get there? The best way to get to the Meiji Jingu Shrine is via Harajuku station on the Yamano line. From there it is a 10 minute walk to the shrine.
Opening hours: The Meiji Shrine is usually open from 6 in the morning until 5 in the evening. Admission is free. However, you need to buy a ticket (500 yen) for the Meiji Inner Garden. The garden is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Do you have more tips, ideas or comments about the Meiji Jingu Shrine? Feel free to leave a message below.