Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu. This is much more tranquil than Sensoji. There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds. The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine. This is, in itself, a difficult task. It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there. The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest. The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees. The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious. This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations. If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine. I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip. You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it. These are sake casks. Inside each one, it is filled with sake. They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons. It makes for an interesting photo opportunity. The shrine itself is pretty interesting. The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas. This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo. You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through. Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area. Overall, the private area is nothing special. They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls. There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing. Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors. After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine. Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else. Do you want to have a child? Do you want to do well on a test? Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you. It’s valid for only one year. After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it. When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station. On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit. I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.
If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended. Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo. It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu. The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either. You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary. However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique. Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street. It’s bustling with traffic all day long. In fact, it can be extremely noisy. However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear. All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush. There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique. You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year. The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower. It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism. The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall. While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate. It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming. If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer. It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.
Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable. Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone. It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo. It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan. Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals. If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple. You never know what interesting things are going to happen.
Note: Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).
This is Part II of a two part series. To read more, please head over to Part I.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)