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Meiji Shrine – visiting a shrine for an emperor

Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji. Ten million people visit it every year. It has serious appeal for photographers. Some of the attractions are obvious, while others are not. Let’s explore it!

Meiji Shrine sake barrels

The first time I went, I couldn’t believe it was in the middle of a forest! Walking through its 100,000 trees (no exaggeration) was quite an experience. And it will take about 10 minutes, past the famous sake barrels, from the front torii. Even in Tokyo’s hot summer, it’s not unbearable as the leaves and branches block out the sun to a certain extent.

And guess what is just outside the forest? A busy pop-culture world leader, Harajuku! Two opposites right next to each other, in harmony. One friend on his first visit told me he thought the experience was quite surreal. So did I on my first visit. I hope first-timers will feel the same.

While you are walking the path into Meiji Shrine, you’ll be able to learn about its history. From the second torii from the Harajuku entrance onwards are a series of billboards. They have pictures taken at various points during the complex’s history. Everything on them is in Japanese and English. I doubt a native English speaker wrote them, but they are an excellent source of information.

man walking acroos Meiji Shrine courtyard and main worship hall

A brief history of Meiji Shrine

After Emperor Meiji died in 1912, the Japanese government passed a resolution. It was to commemorate his role in the restoration of Imperial rule. They decided to build a shrine for him and his wife (Empress Shoken). They chose the area near Harajuku, with an iris garden that the Imperial couple had often visited. By the way, this garden is still there and is very beautiful. You should see it in summer when those flowers bloom.

Some facts about the construction

  • Chuta Ito was the designer, and construction began in 1915.
  • The builders chose Japanese cypress and copper as their materials. They built it in the traditional nagare-zukuri style.
  • Youth groups and civic associations contributed to labor and funding.
  • Meiji Shrine was dedicated in 1920 but not completed until 1921.
  • The work on the grounds finished in 1926.
  • Until 1946, it was a Kanpei-Taisha (shrines that received most government support).
  • The air raids of WW2 destroyed many of the shrine’s buildings. Luckily, the Homotsuden (Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum) escaped destruction. After the war, there was a public fundraising effort to reconstruct everything. That was completed in 1958.
Meiji Jingu large torii gate

Why do photographers like Meiji Shrine?

Here is my list:

1) lots of flowers over the year, including cherry blossoms (in spring); Japanese irises (in summer), and chrysanthemums (in autumn).

3) Kiyomasa’s Well in the Inner Garden.

4) museums (two): Homotsuden (or Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum), and; Meiji Jingu Museum).

5) sake (and wine) barrels (found near the main entrance).

6) Shiseikan (martial arts training center).

7) Shrine architecture.

8) torii gates (maybe the biggest in Tokyo).

gate to inner courtyard and main worship hall

Events at the shrine

Meiji Shrine has plenty. Anyway, here is a partial list of what is on throughout the year:

  • January – New Year’s Day (Hatsumode) – It’s the biggest event of the year. If you go, be ready for crowds! Because it will seem like every Tokyo will be there with you. That has been in my experience!
  • February – Setsubun (Bean Throwing Festival)
  • June – Iris field in bloom
  • July – Tanabata (the Star Festival)
  • November – Autumn Grand Festival (including Yabusame)
  • Check the shrine’s website for the complete list and full details.

Wedding photography at Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine is famous for its weddings. They are a must-see. Most weekends will have at least one. It depends on the calendar, though.

Meiji Shrine Japanese wedding procession

Before and after the ceremonies, they make their way across the courtyard, in front of the main hall. The bride and groom, parents, and guests walk in order of importance, following the priest and Miko. Everyone dresses formally, with many in kimonos. They are colorful and make for superb photos. Visitors crowd the route to take pictures of it. You can read about them in this article.

When is the best time to visit?

  • This is a tricky question. Every season has something special, so it is hard to give a definitive answer. But, I’d choose autumn. That is the time for the Grand Festival (with its yabusame) and chrysanthemums. And there are more wedding processions.
  • But late spring and early summer, with azaleas and irises, are excellent. They are in the Inner Garden, deep in the forest. Whenever I go, it always feels like I’m entering a secret world with its must-visit serenity!
  • There is a caveat, though. Throughout the year, Meiji Shrine has many festivals and special events. Many of them are worthwhile seeing. Before you go, it might be a good idea to check the website and see what might be on during your visit.

Where is Meiji Shrine?

There are two stations nearby:

  • Harajuku, on the JR Yamanote Line, and;
  • Meiji Jingu-Mae, on the Chiyoda Line (subway).

The entrance to the shrine is a short walk from both stations.

Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

The shrine is open from sunrise to sunset.

Admission costs

Entrance to the shrine is free, but there is a ¥500 fee for the Homotsuden and Iris garden. That is to cover maintenance costs. The museum is ¥1000.

Japanese Iris garden with wooden bridge
The Japanese Iris garden.

Other photo spots in this area

Aoyama Cemetery

External links for Meiji Shrine articles

Wrapping up

Meiji Shrine is a great place. It should be on every photographer’s list of places to visit in Tokyo. There is so much to see and do, especially those wedding processions!

Mieji Shrine ema votive tablets

The real bonus for this place is that Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, and Shibuya are close. If you went on a Sunday, you could fill an entire day with many great things to do. And most importantly, they would all be picture-worthy!

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