Meiji Shrine is always a rewarding place to visit. The Main Hall in which the Emperor Meiji and his wife the Emperess Shoken are enshrined as deities is reached by walking down a long and wide gravelly path shaded by the myriad trees which were brought from all corners of Japan to create a dense forest right in the heart of Tokyo. I suppose one could say that it is the primeval forest in the heart of Japan. The crunchy sound of footsteps and the chatter of the birds lucky enough to have found refuge in this unlikely avian oasis almost drown out the hum of traffic from the surrounding megalopolis. This is all after you pass the immense torii gate at the main entrance to the path, which might be the most beautiful in Japan, made of finely grained, warmly colored single trunks of trees brought from Taiwan. All a surprising contrast to the bizarre assembly of cos-players who can always be seen (and photographed ) just before reaching the gate. This spot is a true meeting place of Old Japan and the New.
When you finally make the last turn before the main ensemble of buildings (it is a little slow going with the soft, pebbly path), you are treated to a wonderful scene of classic Japanese architectural aesthetics. There are always traditional wedding processions and colorfully costumed priests and shrine maidens to photograph. It the perfect place to visit yourself or take guests from out of town.
It might be in November though, that Meiji Shrine is at its best. There are four reasons for this. First, November is the month in which the Japanese celebrate Labor Thanksgiving Day. Before 1948, November 23rd had been a holiday with strong connections to the Imperial family: the Niiname-Sai (新嘗祭) ceremony in which the Emperor would offer part of the new harvest to the Gods. The ceremony appears to be very ancient, and used to occur in December (the 11th month of the lunar calendar). However, in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) the date on which it is now performed was set.
Auspicious Treasure Ships (TAKARABUNE) are created from the fruits ( or should I say vegetables) of this year`s harvest- at The Meiji Shrine
After WWII, the occupation government tried to remove any vestiges of Emperor worship from Japanese culture, and thus changed the name and theme of the day to Labor Thanksgiving Day (though the Emperor still carries the ceremony out in private in the palace).
At Meiji Shrine, with its strong imperial connections, however, the spirit of the Niiname-Sai lives on and you can admire the offerings of incredible vegetable sculptures adorning the alcoves along the walls of the inner-court-yard. Last year`s year’s theme was Takara-Jima (Ships of Fortune), but this month you can enjoy many similar such creations (with a different theme), made exclusively of this year’s veggies!
The next reason to visit in November is the display of chrysanthemums (kiku), which though originally brought over from China, are the symbol of the Imperial Family. All over Japan, November is the time to enjoy displays of majestic mums, and mums of all sizes arranged to form sculptures. As you can imagine, Meiji Shrine is a good place to see these exhibitions.
November is the chrysanthemum season in Japan and shrines across the country have displays set up- the Meiji Shrine is no exception.
The next reason might be the best, as it is the most photogenic: the families all dressed up for Shichi-Go-San (a celebration of children who have reached the ages of 3, 5, and 7 — in the old days, a child who passed away before the age of 7 was not buried in the family graves!). In the Edo Period, this came to be celebrated in November (probably because the harvest was finished and people had free time), and it is customary to have the kids dress up in traditional wear and carry a long box of traditional sweets. This makes for some very cute photos and a joyous atmosphere.
Last but not least there is the autumn foliage, which to tell the truth will not be at its best until the first week of December. It was still beautiful on November 24, but I’m going to go back and pay the 500 yen fee (again) to enter the inner garden in about ten days’ time when the leaves are at their peak.
There are still a couple of weeks of November remaining — if you have some free time Meiji Shrine is the place to go. Get off the Yamanote line at Harajuku.
And while you are half-way down the pilgrims path this year, you will see a long line ( of mostly women) waiting to get into the shrine`s inner garden. What have they come for? Ive written about it here:http://blog.alientimes.org/2010/08/the-power-spot-boom-has-thousands-of-women-and-a-fair-share-of-men-as-well-flocking-to-meiji-shrines-gyoen-garden-but-unfortunately-the-presence-of-all-these-ladies-has-driven-away-all-the-tits/