The Meiji Shrine: An Oasis of Zen in the Center of Bustling Tokyo

The Meiji Shrine: An Oasis of Zen in the Center of Bustling Tokyo

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Japan is a unique country, one that is both very modern and also very traditional. In the heart of Tokyo, there is a shrine dedicated to one of the most important Japanese Emperors and his wife. This Shinto Shrine is one of the most popular in Japan, and is an oasis of Zen, set in a vast forest at the heart of the hectic metropolis of Tokyo.

The History of the Meiji Shrine

Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) is a pivotal figure in modern Japanese history. His reign saw the modernization of the country and its defeat in both China and Russia. After the Emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a law that ordered the building of a Shinto Shrine in his memory. The Emperor and his wife, the Empress Shōken, often would visit a small garden in Tokyo and this was selected as the site of the new shrine. Work began on the new shrine in 1915 and it was built by volunteers from youth groups and civic associations. The building was opened in 1920 but work continued on the grounds until 1927.

Painting of Emperor Meiji and his family (Kasai, Torajirō / )

This shrine was supported by the government and was used by the Japanese militarists for propaganda purposes during WWII. During this conflict the original shrine complex was destroyed by an American air raid. After the war, the Japanese public contributed funds to the reconstruction of the shrine. This was an indication of the esteem that they had for Emperor Meiji and his wife. Since its opening in 1958, the shrine has been visited by countless foreign dignitaries, including American presidents. During the New Year holidays , many Japanese people visit the shrine as part of the custom of Hatsumōde. However, the actual remains of the Emperor and his wife are not buried here but in Kyoto.

What to See?

The Meiji Shrine is located in a forest that is over 150 acres, and it has many walkways and some gardens. Entry to the shrine is by means of a Tori gateway, which is in a classical Shinto style. This is to mark the boundary between the sacred and the profane, and it is painted red and black. The shrine is made out of traditional materials, including copper and cypress wood, and it can be accessed by steps. It is built in the Japanese style known as the nagare-zukuri style. The shrine and other buildings are all built in an asymmetrical style, and it has a distinctive gabled roof that overhangs the front of the building and forms a portico.

Tourists exploring the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo ( coward_lion / Adobe Stock)

The Naien is the inner precinct, where the shrine to the Emperor and his Empress is located. There is a large courtyard here that is formed by the shrine and some other buildings. There are many offerings, including barrels of Sake, to be seen here. There are also prayers written on paper / wooden tablets attached to a wall in the inner precinct and there are even desks where people can write their own prayers.

There is also the museum that holds many artifacts associated with the Emperor Meiji and his reign. It is built in the style known as Azekurazukuri and is a simple, minimalist wooden construction, with a gabled roof. The Gaien is the outer precinct and this includes a gallery filled with murals of the Imperial couple and there is a large public space here. There are a number of sports facilities nearby, including the Tokyo Olympic stadium.

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Wishing / prayer wooden tablets at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo ( thaifairs / Adobe Stock)

What to Do?

The shrine is easy to access by public transport, and there is a subway nearby. The shrine opens at first light and closes in the evening. This attraction is always busy, and there is a lot to do. There are a number of holidays and festivals celebrated at the shrine every year. The most important of these are the Autumn Flower Festival and the New Year Festival. There are often displays of traditional Japanese culture, including horse archery near the shrine. There is no admittance to the shrine and its grounds. It is possible to take part in Shinto activities but visitors should act in a respectful manner. There is plenty of accommodation near the Meiji Shrine, but they can be very expensive.

Women in traditional Japanese dress during a festival at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo ( gilad / Adobe Stock)

Tokyo’s Best Shrines And Temples

Tokyo's Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are some of the most interesting sites in the city to visit. Here is a very selective list of my favorite shrines and temples in the city.

The Hozomon gate at night in Asakusa: pattang /

Tokyo is not a city of shrines and temples the way that Kyoto is. Kyoto is a much older city and was the center of Japan for over a millennium, so that most major sects have their headquarters there. Then, most of the temples and shrines in Tokyo were bombed flat in World War II, so that almost everything you see today is a modern reconstruction. Still, there are some fine temples and shrines in the city and it's well worth a visit to some of them.

Note that if you plan to visit Kyoto, which has the best shrines and temples in Japan, you don't have to go out of your way to visit shrines and temples in Tokyo. If you're going to Kyoto, I'd suggest only visiting Meiji-jingu Shrine and Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo. Likewise, if you plan to visit places near to Tokyo like Nikko or Kamakura, both of which have great shrines and temples, you don't have to focus on shrines and temples in Tokyo.

The Nezu Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Tokyo, and was built in its location as it is today during the Tokugawa dynasty in the 1700’s. When the capital of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo by Japan’s Emperor Meiji, he sent his envoy to Nezu Shrine to pray to the gods in his place. This is a popular shrine for traditional Japanese weddings and photo-shoots to take place and is home to a small shop selling omamori and omikuji, a temizuya washbasin, and a large grounds area complete with koi ponds. Somehow the temple remains off the tourist radar, so it’s possible to escape the crowds within the grounds of this Shrine. Aside from the beautiful architecture of old Japan, the most memorable feature here is the Torii gates.

These red Shinto gates, the most famous ones being the 1000 Torii gates in Kyoto, are densely lined up to create a tunnel effect across one side of the shrine complex. The gates can be enjoyed any time of the year, but the best time to visit Nezu Shrine is in late April when the shrine’s wall of azalea flowers are in full bloom. The closest stations to Nezu Shrine are Todai-Mae Subway Station on the Namboku line, and the Nezu Subway Station on the Chiyoda line. If you’re down for a long stroll, the Nezu Shrine can be reached within 20 minutes on foot from the Yanaka Ginza area next to Nippori Station, or 20 minutes coming from Ueno Park in the other direction.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is another one of the top historical places of Japan. In fact, this is one of the most sought after tourist attractions in the city. This is a massive park that spans a total land area of 120,000 square meters. It’s filled with walking paths, trees, and lawns, which provide a green oasis to the chaotic downtown area that surrounds it.

Prior to the nuclear bombing, this area used to be a political and commercial district. After the bombing, it was transformed into a park for peace memorial facilities. The Peace Memorial Museum is also located within the park and the A-Bomb Dome is the most striking figure here (also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial).

Temples of Nara

Nara is one of the best historical cities in Japan. It’s home to many great temples in fact, you kinda need to tick off the “Seven Great Temples of Nara” in your travel bucket list. These temples are the Todaiji Temple, Saidaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Horyuji Temple, Daianji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and the Gangoji Temple. Most of these temples have remained largely intact until today.

Each temple has its own peculiarity:

  • Yakushi-ji was built in the 7th century and is home to a fine collection of Buddhist art objects.
  • Todai-ji Temple is known as the largest wooden structure in the world.
  • Saidai-ji Temple is known for its Hasedera-style Kannon Bosatsu carving.
  • Kofuku-ji Temple served as the clan temple of the Fujiwara clan.
  • Horyu-ji is a large temple home to the oldest wooden buildings in the world.
  • Gango-ji is among the oldest temples in Japan. A
  • nd Daian-ji Temple is the final stop in the Yamato Jusan Butsu pilgrimage.


Nikko is a town in Japan that is famous for Toshogu – the most lavishly decorated shrine in Japan which houses the mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu. For many centuries since the 1600s, Nikko served as the center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship. The Nikko National Park is one of the most visited attractions in town in which you can find a charming array of natural formations such as hot springs, mountainous landscapes, waterfalls, lakes, hiking trails, and wild monkeys.

The Okunikko area of Nikko, in particular, is popularly visited by tourists during the fall season because of the beautiful autumn colors. This town is located within the Romantic Road of Japan.

Osaka Castle

The Osaka Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. It was first constructed in 1583 at the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple. When that temple was destroyed, this castle was built and Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended for it to become the new center of Japan under his rule. During that time, the Osaka Castle was the largest of its type in Japan.

The castle tower is one of the most prominent features of this castle. It’s made with secondary citadels, turrets (small towers on top of a larger tower), gates, stone walls, and moats. The castle also has the Nishinomaru Garden, which is filled with more than 600 cherry trees, a guest house, tea house, and more. The entire park in the castle spans 2 square kilometers with plenty of green spaces and sports facilities. It’s also a popular spot to visit during the cherry blossom season.

Nagasaki Peace Park

Nagasaki Peace Park is another notable tourist attraction in Japan. Built to commemorate the atomic bombing in the city of Nagasaki in August 1945, the peace park is actually part of a complex that consists of a memorial museum and two parks. The Hydrocenter Park is at the heart of this complex which also marks the epicenter of the bombing explosion. When you visit the park today, you can still find remains of the bombing on the site.

The memorial park is a few kilometers north of Urakami. You can take the tram line 1 or 3 and get off the JR Nagasaki Station.

Fukuoka Castle

Fukuoka Castle is right at the heart of the city’s Maizuru Park. Despite the name, only the ruins are left of the castle. It was once a large castle but it was completely demolished during the Meiji Restoration because it was considered an unwanted symbol of the past. When you visit the site today, you will only find the ruined walls and the turrets. All the same, the park still draws tourists because it has plenty of walking paths to explore and lookout points. The Fukuoka Castle was built at the start of the 17th century.

Since this is a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing, the best time to visit Fukuoka Castle and its ruins is during the cherry blossom season in late March to early April. A few other surviving structures of the castle that are worth visiting are the guard towers and gates.

History of Yoyogi Park

The current location of Yoyogi Park was originally a military training ground for the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 all the way till the end of World War II in 1945.

The first flight of an air plane in Japan successfully took place here in 1910, and there is currently a monument and two bronze statues of the pilots who made the flight possible to commemorate the event.

After WWII had ended, the location was used as a place for residences of the US Allied Occupation forces and was called “Washington Heights”.

During the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, some of the buildings were used as the athlete’s village (one of the Dutch athletes’ residences is still presently preserved for its commemoration).

After the Olympic Games, the buildings were torn down and the land was redeveloped. Yoyogi Park opened and became the first forested park in Tokyo. 1/3 of the land was covered with trees in October of 1967 (the park fully opened in April of 1971).

Washington Heights in Yoyogi Park

Apartments and Houses for Rent in Yoyogi Listings of popular and luxurious apartments, condominiums, and housesdesigned with expats in mind.

Island gives back to its visitors

Years later, an incineration plant was built here, which brings us to the present. Yumenoshima’s greenhouse, its most notable attraction, is heated entirely by waste heat provided from the nearby incineration plant. Opened in 1988, its three domes are home to a fascinating variety of plants, including tree ferns, regional Japanese plants and even carnivorous, plant-eating insects. Visitors can also enjoy educational videos, events and an herb garden. You can also go on a virtual reality tour of the facilities.

Besides the greenhouse, visitors can enjoy viewing flowers and plants at Yumenoshima’s spacious park as well. Another unique attraction is the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibit Hall, which showcases a tuna fishing boat exposed to nuclear radiation from U.S. atomic bomb testing. The exhibition is to help teach about wooden vessels used for deep-sea fishing, as well as the problems and damage caused by nuclear weapons.

Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibit (Image: Shutterstock)


Japanese Lamp at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Tokyo is an exotic blend of old meets new, this is the place where shrines sit at the foot of silver skyscrapers, where bullet trains glide across serene Zen inspired gardens and where traditional tea houses glowing with lanterns blaze next to sleek bars. The result is simply fascinating and makes for delving in deep. For a glimpse of old world Tokyo the Tsukiji Fish Market is a must to shake the dreams from your head. The rich sea scents, the hustle, the bustle, the cries and the flying fish floundering in the air are enough to shock your senses into overdrive. Calm down with a breakfast of the freshest sushi imaginable. Yoyogi Park is another must with its endless sea of fields and fountains to help you regain your balance, yet the park has an eclectic side filled with music and magic as the street performers congregate to entertain. The Meiji Shrine delivers an unexpected oasis in the heart of the bustling city and is the perfect place to glimpse traditional weddings and take a moment to meditate.

Japanese Women in Traditional Dress at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Tokyo Classic Japanese Garden

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Day 2


JAL (JAL Japan Explorer Pass) Show details

Like most international airports, I found Haneda airport English-friendly. It certainly offers a number of restaurants and shops to pass the time.

The flight from Tokyo to Yakushima was trouble-free, with the usual high standard of customer service that Japanese airlines are renowned for, as well as on-time departure and accommodating staff.I certainly enjoyed the refreshing kiwi juice that I choose from the range of complimentary soft drinks JAL had on offer.

Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Village Center Located close to Miyanoura Port, Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Village Center offers a great chance to learn about the unique nature and culture of Yakushima. The exhibition hall displays include a range of models, information panels, videos, samples, and images, making learning easy, interactive, and fun for children as well as adults. The center also shows an interesting and appealing 25-minute video called “Yakushima, Symphony of Forest and Water,” which is shown in the large-screen of the theatre hall.

Yakushima Visitors Center Yakushima Visitors Center is a one-stop shop to get all the information you could possibly need about sightseeing tours, accommodation, hiking routes, and local areas. All hiking and outdoor equipment that you would require can be rented, and bus tour tickets can be purchased. The visitors center also offers you the chance to see and purchase over 5,000 local products.

Seibu Rindo Forest Path more

Located on the western part of Yakushima is a 15km road that is included within the island’s World Heritage Site due to the evergreen forest that surrounds it. The route is like a tunnel of green through which you can slowly take a drive through, looking out for the many wild animals in the area. The endangered Yakushima white pine trees and the giant Gajomaru trees, with their air roots hanging down, can be viewed along the route.

Ohko-no-taki Waterfall more

Rated as one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan, Oko no Taki is the largest waterfall on Yakushima Island. Standing at the base, looking up and seeing the roaring water descend from the 88-meter-high cliff is spectacular. It is a popular destination during the hot summer months, which is understandable as the cool spray gives a nice release from the heat.

Yakusugi Land Yakusugi Land is the most accessible area in which to see the island’s beautiful ancient sugi (cedar) trees, which are over a thousand years old. Taking a relaxing stroll through this park gives you a sense of peace and tranquillity. There are several trails in the park that lead you to Buddha sugi, Futago sugi, and Sennen sugi, which are all trees worth seeing.

sankara HOTEL & SPA YAKUSHIMA This hotel really is the last word on elegance, luxury, and style, with 29 guestrooms in 12 villas dotted throughout the tranquil, wooded grounds. Each standard villa features its own distinctive bedroom, living area and multi-purpose room. Renowned for its five-star spa experience, the Sankara spa, Sana, is the perfect place to re-energise body and mind. The Sankara's magnificent outdoor pool, with spectacular poolside views of the East China Sea, certainly makes a visit worthwhile. The Sankara follows a special concept when it comes to its cuisine: “local production for local consumption.” They take local, seasonal island ingredients and create the finest dining experience.

The Meiji Shrine: An Oasis of Zen in the Center of Bustling Tokyo - History

Meandering rows of irises, known as ayame or shoubu in Japanese, bloom each June in the garden located with the precincts of Meiji Jingu Shrine. The vibrant purple and white of the flowers are set off beautifully by the the verdant green of the grass and trees along a creek that seems to go on forever in this rustic man-made garden in the Harajuku area of Tokyo.

Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) commissioned the garden for his wife, Empress Shoken (1850-1914) and the two are said to have spent a lot of time relaxing, fishing and even writing waka (Japanese poetry) in the garden.

Benches dot the garden’s paths and are a great way to rest your feet and take in the different and lovely views seemingly around every bend of this and most other well designed Japanese gardens. A tea house overlooking a fishing pond and a rest pavilion where you can purchase snacks and drinks can also be found in this beautiful garden.

The Meiji Jingu Iris Garden, located within a 175 acre forested area in central Tokyo, is a lovely place for a stroll anytime of the year but is best seen when the irises are in full bloom. As you wander about you will find it hard to imagine that you are in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. It’s one of my favorite places in Japan!

The garden is open daily from 8AM to 5PM ( 6PM on Saturdays & Sundays) and is easily accessed from either Harajuku Station (Yamanote Line) or Tokyo Metro Meiji-Jingumae Station . Admission is Y500 for adults. (Meiji Jingu Access Map)

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6 comments Leave a comment »

I wanted to visit this garden, but couldn’t find the time Maybe this year…

[…] agree with Muza-chan, the Meiji Jingu Iris Garden is in the precincts of the shrine and is an oasis of calm in the bustling metropolis of […]

[…] is a nice article about the Iris Garden at Meiji Jingu at The Nihon […]

I plan on going there today.

[…] For more information: Related articles in The Nihon Sun 1) Yomeiri Fune: Wedding Ships Set Sail in Japan and 2) : Meiji Jingu Iris Garden […]

[…] is a nice article about the Iris Garden at Meiji Jingu at The Nihon […]

Watch the video: Meiji Jingu - A Tokyo Oasis