Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

One of our first site-seeing activities in Japan was visiting the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.  Dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the shrine is a massive forest that sits in the middle of one of Tokyo’s most modern districts, Shibuya.  The contrast between fast-paced, heavily-crowded Shibuya and the quiet, natural beauty of the shrine is amazing.

The entrance to Meiji Shrine, the Iris Garden, and other gardens.

We strolled around the manicured gardens and peaceful ponds, admiring the beauty of the forest.  The evergreen forests consist of 365 different types of trees, all donated by people from different parts of Japan.  My favorite part of the gardens was gazing toward the sky through the maple trees, watching the light dance through the pointy leaves like twinkling stars.  I will never forget that image in my head.

In real life, the leaves danced in the light like stars.

We came across the Kiyomasa-Ido Well, where water continually flows year-round from the South Pond.  A nearby signed explained that the well first belonged to Lord Kiyomasa Kato during the Edo period (1608-1868) and that the water is known for its superior quality and “ingenious way of sinking.”  (I’m not sure what that means but was glad the water wasn’t deep enough to fall into!)  A group of people had lined up to put their hands in the water, so my dad and I–not quite sure what to do or why–jumped right in line.  As soon as I touched the cold, clean water, I instantly felt a wave of calm come over me.  It was such a strange feeling.

Dad and me at the Kiyomasa-Ido Well at the Meiji Shrine.

Finally we came to shrine itself.  Built in 1915 to honor the emperor and his role in the Meiji Restoration, the original building was destroyed during the Tokyo air raids of World War II.  The shrine–and the large courtyard it sat in–was beautiful.  As if the moment couldn’t get any more picturesque, a wedding procession in traditional kimonos strolled by to add to the awe-inspiring scene.

In the courtyard of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan.

Many large shrines we visited throughout Japan had hundreds of small wooden signs with writing on them hanging nearby.  The signs, called ema, are a Shinto ritual where wooden plaques are purchased by visitors who then write their prayers or wishes directed toward the gods or spirits on them.  It is common to write about marital or relationship happiness, success at work or in school, or health.  The Meiji Shrine also had paper ema that visitors could write on and put in a collection box along with a donation.  The instructions near the shrine explained that in addition to personal requests from the gods, you could also thank them.

My ema at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan.

As I contemplated what to write on my ema, I thought about how I was on the vacation that I have dreamed about my entire life, was experiencing the land of my ancestors with my parents, was healthy and happy in life… and realized requesting any other favors from the gods just seemed greedy.  So I took the opportunity to thank the powers that be for all my good fortune.  Exactly what I wrote is a secret, but I will mention that half of it was written in Japanese! (Turns out those college courses paid off for something!)

My first day in Japan was truly mesmerizing.  I couldn’t wait to experience more!  Stay tuned for more of my Japan trip, including our meal at Sushi Dai, one of the best sushi places in Japan.

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