Meiji Shrine

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Meiji Jingu (明治神宮) is the Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. The following account is compiled from the English version of the shrine brochure and text at,, and

Emperor Meiji was the 122nd emperor of Japan; he ascended to the throne in 1868 at the age of 14 and ruled the country for nearly half a century. During the Meiji Era (1868–1912) Japan flourished under the benign rule of Emperor Meiji, who promulgated the Meiji Constitution, promoted friendship with foreign countries, and developed the nation in every cultural field. It was one of the most glorious and prosperous periods in all of Japan’s 2,000-year history and the period when the foundation was late for modern Japan.

It was Emperor Meiji who, as the leader of this colorful early modern period of Japanese history, devoted himself wholeheartedly to increasing the prosperity and peace of the nation and the world. Consequently, Emperor Meiji was regarded as a truly great emperor not only by Japanese but also by foreigners.

Empress Shoken assisted the emperor behind the scenes during this eventful and difficult Meiji Period and was lauded as the model of the Modern Japanese Woman. After the death of the emperor on July 30, 1912, followed by his empress on April 11, 1914, the wish of the Japanese nation to commemorate their illustrious lives generated a movement to create a shrine.

The building was constructed in 1920 by over 100,000 volunteers, and the souls of the royal couple were enshrined on November 1 of that year. Although the body of the emperor was buried in Kyoto, the Japanese believe that his soul dwells in Meiji Jingu.

The original Meiji Jingu was destroyed by fire in air raids during World War II. The present shrine buildings, which carefully replicate the originals, were completed in November 1958. They consist of the Main Shrine, built in the Nagerezukuri style, together with Noritoden (where the words of praise the Emperor and Empress are recited), Naihaiden (the Inner Shrine), Gehaiden (the Outer Shrine), Shinko (the Treasure House), Shinsenjo (the Consecrated Kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and some office buildings. The materials are mainly plain Japanese cypress with copper plates for the roofs.

The shrine is entered through two huge wooden torii gates. The wood for these gates came from Taiwanese cypresses more than 1,700 years old. The shrine is a popular site for weddings, but the most impressive sight is New Year’s Eve, when about two million people flock to the shrine to pray for well-being and happiness in the coming year.

In the shrine yard, a sacred camphor tree grows. The fence around it is covered with a great number of wooden votive tablets. Worshipers can buy a tablet and write a wish or prayer on it; the shrine priests will then pray daily for this wish to come true. As we were leaving the shrine, Kyoko pointed out a shed where you can have your new car blessed by the shrine priests! (This was indicated on the map in our brochure as “purifying ceremory place of car.”)

The shrine is surrounded by an evergreen park that stretches for 700,000 square meters. It contains more than 120,000 trees of 365 species. All of them were presented by Japanese in memory of the emperor. Each year on the emperor’s birthday, November 3, a traditional festival is held in the park. This park is the “Inner Garden”; the “Outer Garden,” which is actually some considerable distance away, contains not only a picture gallery but also several sport facilities, including the National Stadium (built for the third Asian Games) and the Jingu Baseball Stadium.

I have only the vaguest memories of this shrine, which was our fourth shrine, second imperial shrine, and tenth religious site. At this point we were about shrined and templed out; it’s probably a good thing this was the last day of the tour.


First torii (gate) entering the shrine. The chrysanthemum (菊 kiku) is the monshō, or crest, of the Emperor of Japan.

The second torii. There are numerous explanations of the origins of the torii. According to one version of an old Japanese legend, the sun goddess Amaterasu became extremely annoyed with her prankster brother, Susanoo. She hid herself in a cave and sealed the entrance with a rock, causing an eclipse. The people were afraid that if the sun never returned, they all would die. So, at the advice of a wise old man, they built a large bird perch out of wood and placed all the towns roosters on this perch. They all started to crow noisily, causing the curious sun goddess to peek out of her cave. When she had opened the door a crack, a large sumo wrestler from the town ran up and pushed the rock away, letting the sun out, and thus the world was saved. That bird perch was the first torii gate. From then on, the torii became a symbol of prosperity and good fortune, and spread all over Japan.

Kyoko again demonstrates the ritual of purification.

The purification trough

Approaching the outer or main shrine

The main shrine

A priest striking a drum

The inner shrine (which I believe we did not enter)

Votive tablets

Layout of the shrine precinct in the Inner Garden
Recreational facilities in the Outer Garden

Relative locations of the Inner and Outer Gardens