Nogi Shrine – a beautiful home for a hero

I discovered Nogi Shrine in a roundabout way. Many years ago, I enjoyed a pleasant walk through Aoyama Cemetery with a friend. She knew I liked military history and pointed out one grave. It was for a general, Maresuke Nogi. He fought during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and, years later, committed suicide. He was a national hero at that time and is still revered today.

His biography is extremely extensive. I won’t go into it here as I’m a photographer and not a historian. But, you should know why he has a shrine. After the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912, he committed junshi.

General Nogi statue
General Nogi statue at the shrine.

Junshi was the practice of ritual suicide to follow a leader into the afterlife. Even back then, it shocked Japan. Some people thought the act was antiquated and unnecessary. Others thought it was the supreme act of loyalty. The general’s supporters created a group to have a shrine built for him. It opened in 1923.

The shrine is beautiful and quaint. It has everything you’d expect. There are torii gates, lanterns, and the general’s house. On weekends you might even see a wedding. The grounds are small, though. You can get some good photographs, but Nogi Shrine doesn’t compare to the much larger Meiji or Sensoji. 

Yes, you can see the general’s house. It opens a few times a year, so you might be limited to viewing it from the outside. The building is small, but it’s lovely with its garden. If you visit in early summer, you’ll enjoy its hydrangeas.

There is one thing that astounds me about the shrine. Trees surround the place. Once you enter, you might think you have teleported out of Tokyo! You can see a few tall buildings outside, but many trees are around you.

Nogi Shrine general house
The general's house.

A Brief History of Nogi Shrine

  • Upon the death of Emperor Meiji, General Nogi and his wife Shizuko commit suicide in their house.
  • In 1913, Tokyo mayor Baron Yoshio Sakatani establishes the Central Nogi Association. Its aim is to build a Shinto shrine for the general and his wife.
  • The shrine opens on November 1, 1923.
  • Air raids on May 25, 1945, destroy the buildings.
  • Rebuilding in 1962.

Photography at Nogi shrine

  • Nogi is the best-kept shrine I’ve ever seen in Tokyo. The staff work hard at keeping it in tip-top condition.
  • The general’s house and stables date from the Meiji period. It gives you a chance to photograph some old architecture.
  • In the garden, hydrangeas bloom in summer.
  • If you are lucky, you might be able to photograph a Japanese wedding procession.
  • A short row of torii gates.
  • If you want to do sunset photography, be aware that the gates close at 5 pm. That limits those shots to mid-winter.

Nogi Shrine details

See the shrine’s location and opening hours on the official website.

Wrapping up

I enjoy visiting Nogi Shrine. It is small but gorgeous.  The problem is finding things to photograph. It’s not like Meiji, where you can walk in and easily find pictures. You’ll need to think. Walk around and look at things from different angles. In the end, you should have enough images to take home with you.

horse stables
The old horse stables.

So why go?  Well, General Nogi is a significant figure in modern Japanese history.  That is reason enough in my book!  The other is that this shrine is small so it won’t take up your whole day.  And they are reason enough for you to put this place on your Tokyo trip itinerary.

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