After their deaths, Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken were enshrined by the people of Japan to commemorate their virtues. This entire forest and all that is in it was built from scratch for them. Sadly though all burned down in 1945 from the firebombing of the war. It was then reconstructed and completed in 1958.
Arguably Tokyo's most popular Shrine, the Meiji covers 174 acres of land between Shinjuku and Shibuya. And more than just the Meiji Shrine, the grounds are a dense forest which house several other highlights:
Exit the ticket gate at Harajuku Station and just keep walking forward, in under a minute you'll encounter a large stone bridge on your right. Turn right onto the bridge, and walk forward and then you will find yourself in front one of the massive 25 foot wooden Toriis which are placed at entrances throughout the park.
Your trek starts here at the South Entrance, make your way North and eventually on your right hand side you'll the run into the Bunkakan (exhibition at Treasure Museum Annex) and the accompanying cafes, restaurants and souvenir shop. Directly across from the parking lot on the left hand side you'll find another giant wooden Torii. This one marks the entrance to the Meiji Shrine area, walk through the Torii and keep going straight.
On your left you will find a small entrance with some signboards. This will take you to the Iris Gardens, Kakuuntei and Kiyomasa's Well. If you continue going straight and don't take the left, the path will bring you right to the Meiji Shrine.
In the very North West corner of the grounds is the Treasure Museum, here you will find a great assortment of items such as the actual horse carriage used by Emperor Meiji, and many of his personal effects.
One of Tokyo's most under-rated sights is the Kakuuntei Teahouse. Although a replica (the original burnt down in 1945 from firebombing and was rebuilt in 1958) it is flawless and puts you right back in old Japan. Descending from the tea house you will find a winding path which winds through the front lawn/garden, past perfectly trimmed round bushes, the path finally takes you to the pond.
Follow the pond you will run into the Iris Gardens and the even further Kiyomasa's Well (500 yen to access the well)
This Iris Garden is the biggest and most impressive in Tokyo, blooming in stunning shades of purple and white between the months of May and August. If you're in Tokyo during this time then visiting the Gardens is a must.
Quite usually there is a very long line to visit this well (a 10-15 minute wait is not uncommon). A park official will ask you if you have a ticket before you can enter the area. Tickets are 500 yen.
After your wait and after descending down the steps you'll find the well, a wide cylinder a few inches high, with a magical continuing overflow of water. Although it appears completely motionless and no water is flowing, on closer inspection you will find that it is indeed pumping out water. Visitors are aloud to photograph, video tape, and put there hands in the water. (as well as paper or cloth) I'm not sure if you could take a vile and fill it up for a keepsake but it would certainly be worth a try, the worst thing that could happen is the attendant or visitors say "dame!" (means: you can't do it!). Fortunately if you're a foreigner you're automatically given a lot of slack.
At last we come to the main feature. The Meiji Shrine certainly does not disappoint, its grounds are wide and spacious, with many courtyards, walls, gates and talisman shops spread throughout. It is common to catch a Traditional Japanese Wedding in progress while visiting, crowds of tourists and locals stop to gawk at the proceedings.
The Shrine is bright, clean, crisp and is an essential part of the Tokyo Experience.
Yamanote Line - Harajuku Station.
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