Forest in a city
Tokyo does have several large parks but the grounds of the Meiji Shrine are less landscaped and more forest like. The Meiji Shrine entrance is located just near the Harajuku station and so it's easy to include a visit to the shrine when roaming around Harajuku.
This picture inspired my title to this post. I stopped to photograph the Japanese maple in the centre of the picture. I love Japanese maples in summer and in autumn, the summer colour is this bright shade of green and come November the leaves turn an amazingly vivid shade of red. The landscape looks wonderful with all the splashes of red among the woodland settings.
The Meiji Shrine is the major Tokyo Shinto shrine, over the new year period where Japanese people visit shrines to pray for a good year. The Meiji Shrine over a three day period (January 1st, 2nd and 3rd) has over one million people visit. It's really difficult to visualise that number, the courtyard in front of the shrine where the people come to pray is so full of people that, as my Japanese friend explained, everyone is crammed in so tight all you can do is shuffle forward millimetre by millimetre.
One section of the courtyard/quadrangle. The 2 girls wearing the orange pants are shrine maidens, their jobs are to assist in the ceremonies. Shinto priests are male.
This is where the crowds at new year are trying to shuffle forward to, the area in front of the altar. There are large boxes that people stand in front of to pray and then throw a coin into the box. I had to take this photo from a distance as no photos or videos were allowed up close. The picture has one of the security officers whose job was to make sure this no photos ban was enforced. While I was up near the praying area, a group trying to take a photo were asked to stop and move away. I was polite and went down the steps to take my photo!
This is one of the pillars up near the praying area. My Japanese friend explained to me that with the crowds being so large at new year most people can't get up near the altar and the boxes you place money into after completing your prayer. So what they do instead is try and throw a coin to land in one of the boxes in front of the altar. Those small black marks on the pillar are the indentations coins make when thrown with a great deal of force and end up hitting the pillars instead of landing in the money boxes. All of the pillars in front of the altar boxes are covered in these dents. When I first came years ago the lower part of the pillars had clear plastic shields on them, I noticed that they're not there any more.
All Shinto shrines you can find these wooden tablets. You buy a blank one and then write your desire or wish or prayer on it and hang it at the shrines for the gods to read and maybe grant what you asked for. In the past I've had Japanese friends translate them, generally they are requests to pass exams or find a partner. These ones I noticed had things written in a variety of languages as international visitors are writing them as well.
All Shinto shrines have these large gates as you enter. Mainly they are a red or orange colour but this shrine has its gates made in a particular style and from cypress wood. This is the largest gate of this style in Japan. The Meiji Shrine was destroyed by allied bombing in World War II and these gates were rebuilt in 1975 using wood over 1000 years old. ( I read the sign!) The circular motifs across the top is the chrysanthemum seal of the Japanese Imperial Family.
The Shrine was built to honour the Emperor Meiji who was the emperor that pushed for the modernisation of Japan in the late 19th century. After he died in 1912, the building of a shrine to honour him was put forward as a national project. The original shrine was finished in the 1920s, destroyed in World War II and then rebuilt with public donations and reopened in 1958. ( I looked this up!)
As you walk towards the shrine one of the first things you pass are these barrels of sake. Sake barrels can be found in major shrines (little neighbourhood shrines don't tend to have them). The barrels are made from straw and I'm assuming that various sake breweries have donated a barrel to the shrine as it looks as though those are brewery names on the barrels. The sake barrels are offerings to the gods.