Friday, April 29, 2016

Tokyo: Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife. Shinto is a religion or philosophy original to Japan.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan. Most Japanese people belong to Shintoism and Buddhism because the two are not mutually exclusive and instead complement each other quite well. Shinto believes that every living, and some non living creatures have a spirit. A flower,  a mountain, the sun for example all have their own spirits. Shinto shrines are ubiquitous in Japan and are dedicated to the spirits of notable individuals that lived through out Japanese history. In the case of the Meiji Shrine, it honors the late emperor.

The shrine is surrounded by 170 acres of forest. The trees were donated by citizens from all over Japan to honor the emperor. It is an oasis in the middle of a very busy town. Companies still donate barrels of sake (rice wine) decorated with their names or logos to ask the gods to bless them with prosperity. The sake is then drunk during festivals to bring happiness and become closer to the gods.

Shinto temples are where traditional Japanese weddings are performed. We witness one wedding party in the process of entering the temple to be married. Weddings in Japan are quite expensive (avg. $30,000). Only the closest family members are invited to attend the ceremony which is usually held in the morning. An evening reception is held and 100 guests are invited - 50 from the groom and 50 from the bride. Each guest is expected to bring a gift of $300 to help pay for the wedding. Japanese people have special wedding envelopes for the cash gift.

At the entrance to a Shinto temple is an archway. People entering the temple are expected to bow prior to crossing the archway, and to walk through on either side out of respect to the gods who cross through the center.

Upon entering individuals cleanse themselves of evil and sins before worship.  Water is poured upon the hands and face and then down the handle of the cup for purification.

The temple itself is a place that should be approached with respect so no cameras or other electronic devices are allowed - so we have no pictures. People throw coins into rectangular collection bins that surround the entire perimeter of the building blocking further access into the shrine. After their donations individuals can pray to the gods for whatever help they require.

Another way to pray to the god is by buying wooden plaques and writing your prayers or wishes on them. The plaques, called ema, are then left at the shrine for the gods to receive them.  Most of the ones I saw in Meiji asked for health, success in career, and happiness in life.  One person prayed for a big house :)