The Meiji Shrine is just a hop-skip from Takeshita Street, with its cat cafes, kids in costumes, and stores dedicated to specialty socks.
But arriving at the shrine was like sinking into distant time and place. The shrine—and I don’t know what makes it different from a temple—enshrines the deified spirits (but not the bodies) of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken.
You may have heard of the “Meiji Restoration.” It (to vastly simplify) was the reassignment of power to the Emperor Meiji from the Shoguns who had run things in Japan for hundreds of years.
During the shogunate there had been Emperors, but they were only figureheads, like today. When the American Admiral, Matthew Perry, arrived in 1853 to press for a treaty after over 200 years of Japan being closed to foreigners, the Japanese recognized how far behind they were technologically. The Emperor Meiji led the industrialization of Japan, along with other reforms.
Meiji was the 122nd Emperor. That sure beats any European throne for continuity. Naruhito, the 126th Emperor, just ascended to the throne after his father retired—a first in Japanese history.
I stopped at a café near the entrance to have a cappuccino and a red bean croissant and lace on my new walking shoes. The café wasn’t anything special but I am still thinking about the croissant today, it was so delicious. For the next month I would look for another one, to no avail.
The shrine is surrounded by 170 acres of woodland and gardens. The trees were so enormous it was difficult to capture them “on film.” If you can make out the people in the photo below, it will give you a sense of the scale.
I had seen small wooden plaques at the shrine I’d visited the day before, but since my visit coincided with a torrential downpour I hadn’t lingered to inspect them. Today it was dry. This is just one of five or six walls of plaques. After observing for a while, I figured out that you buy a plaque at a little kiosk, write a prayer on it, then leave it behind—presumably in hopes that the Emperor’s or Empress’s deity will grant your wish.
Here’s Harry’s wish:
This reminded me of the western wall in Jerusalem, where people write prayers on scraps of paper and leave them tucked inside the cracks. I did this. In 1998 I left a prayer for my son to recover from addiction. He is now in recovery. So it worked!
Some of the plaques had illustrations of students taking exams or of boars—it being the Year of the Boar. I bought a couple and tucked them in my bag. I wasn’t going to leave them behind; they would make great little souvenirs.
I strolled through the gardens. There was a bonsai exhibit.
And Iris gardens, which were cultivated in fields of standing water.
I caught a glimpse of a monk.
There was a gift shop; I bought a boar banner for 200 yen (less than $2) which I now have hanging in my entryway along with a plaque from a subsequent shrine.
I would travel to Nikko the next day. I retired early to my hotel room and tried to deal with the mistaken charges on my credit card. I got caught in a loop where I couldn’t login to my credit card company’s website because it wanted to send me a verification text due to me being in an unfamiliar location. I couldn’t get texts, right? And I couldn’t call them. I tried Skype but my credit for regular calls had expired and when I tried to top it up it was somehow linked to Apple, which said my account was invalid.
Suddenly a slew of texts arrived. I guess I could receive but not send. My mother was in the ER, unfortunately a regular occurrence. I am on all her forms as the contact. I had delegated to my brother while I was away but my niece stepped in and took charge.
My mom was released the next day. I suppose I should have felt guilty about not being there, but I felt only relief.