Complete Guide to the Charms of Meiji Shrine, from Must-See Spots to Access Info and More
The Michelin-starred tourist attraction Meiji Shrine is a stone's throw away from Harajuku, the heart of Japanese pop culture; and Omotesando, the place to be for world-famous designer brands. It is also within walking distance of Shibuya. This article presents the best things to do at Meiji Shrine and everything worth seeing in the surrounding area.
- About Meiji Shrine
- Visiting Meiji Shrine
- [Highlights of Meiji Shrine]
- Otorii (Large Torii Gate)
- Minami-Sando: Southern Approach
- Donated Wine and Sake Barrels
- The Main Shrine Building and the Husband and Wife Camphor Trees (Meoto Kusu)
- The Meiji Jingu Museum
- [Looking for a Souvenir? Here Are Some Recommendations]
- Try Your Luck with an Omigokoro!
- Get a Goshuin (Red Temple Stamp)
- Buy Omamori (protective charms)
- [Other Recommendations]
- Visit the Meiji Shrine Inner Garden
- Get Power from the Kameishi (Turtle Stone)
- Forest Terrace Meiji Jingu (Former Meiji Jingu Cultural Hall)
- Take a Break at the CAFÉ "Mori no Terrace"
- [Other Sights to Take in While You Are in the Area]
- Togo Shrine
- Yoyogi Park
- Lunch Options Near Meiji Shrine
- A Small Bonus: Weddings at Meiji Shrine
About Meiji Shrine
Built in 1920, Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji (the great, great grandfather of the current emperor) and his wife, Empress Shoken. With easy access from nearby JR Harajuku Station, this three-star Michelin tourist attraction is one of Tokyo’s must-see spots. The 180-hectare site is brimming with greenery and has an air of serenity that lets you forget you are in the city. Believed to be one of the most spiritual places in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine attracts more visitors than any other shrine, and receives an astonishing 3.2 million Hatsumode (the custom of a visiting a shrine between January 1 and 3) each year.
Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset (Opening and closing times change each month. Check the official website for specific times.)
Visiting Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine is accessible via northern, southern and western entrances, with each offering a different route to the shrine. All routes take around 15 minutes on foot to the temple from the entrance. As the temple grounds are covered in pea gravel, good walking shoes are recommended.
Southern approach from South Gate (Harajuku Entrance): JR Harajuku Station or Meiji-jingumae Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Lines next to Harajuku Station (main entrance)
North Gate (Yoyogi entrance): Yoyogi Station on the JR Yamanote Line and Toei Oedo Line/Kita-sando Station on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line
West Gate (Sangubashi entrance): Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line
[Highlights of Meiji Shrine]
Meiji Shrine has many highlights. This section introduces the ones not to miss!
Otorii (Large Torii Gate)
This torii (shrine gate) was built to mark the boundary between the area outside and the area inside the grounds of Meiji Shrine. The land inside the gate is considered sacred. Meiji Shrine has many torii gates, but this large torii leads towards the main shrine building that links the Northern approach to the Southern approach near Harajuku Station. The giant gate, at a height of 12m and a width of 17.1m, is the largest wooden torii in Japan. The pillars are made from a 1500-year-old Taiwan cypress and have a whopping diameter of 1.2m. This is actually the second gate, built after the first was damaged by lightning. As a suitable Japanese Cypress could not be found, they used a tree sent from Taiwan. The decoration on the upper part of the gate is the Imperial Seal of Japan. The symbol represents a chrysanthemum and is therefore known as the Chrysanthemum Flower Seal.
Minami-Sando: Southern Approach
This main approach, leading from the Harajuku entrance to the main shrine building, is a just short walk from Harajuku Station and across the Jingu Bashi bridge. It is a handy route if you want to do some sightseeing in Omotesando and Harajuku. The torii at the entrance is a possible photo spot, but as the previously mentioned Otorii is still to come, don’t mix them up! Once you have passed through the gate you are within the shrine grounds. Walk along the pristinely kept gravel path until you reach the main shrine building. Living in the luscious greenery of the shrine grounds are raccoons, insects, and birds rarely seen in the city. If you spot any wildlife, please watch from afar and take care not to disturb it.
Donated Wine and Sake Barrels
Continue along the Southern approach and on your left-hand side, you will see rows of wine barrels. This is apparently due to the Meiji Emperor’s willingness to adopt western culture and his love of wine. The wine barrels were donated from wine manufacturers in Burgundy, France. Wine lovers should spend some time reading the labels. There is even a premium wine from the renowned Romanée-Conti vineyard.
On the opposite side you will see 216 donated sake barrels piled on top of each other. These were given in thanks for an abundant rice harvest (rice is the main ingredient in sake) and to pray for a good harvest in the coming year. The distinctive barrel designs featuring unmistakably Japanese patterns make a great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, however, the barrels are empty. You will find neither wine nor sake in any of them.
The Main Shrine Building and the Husband and Wife Camphor Trees (Meoto Kusu)
Next, you will arrive at the beautiful hall of worship with its curved copper-tiled roof. When worshipping in the Gehaiden (The outer hall) you can see the Naihaiden (inner hall) in front of you, but not the Honden (The main hall and most sacred building reserved for housing deities). To the left is a chozuya, a water basin where you should purify your hands and mouth before entering the shrine. On the left of the picture you can see two trees tied together by a rope. They were presented to the shrine when it was built. This is considered one of the most spiritual places within the shrine grounds. The trees, known as husband and wife camphor, represent the close, loving relationship between Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Symbols of a safe home life and peaceful marriage, their strong spiritual energy is said to help you find a love match. To receive some of this energy, after visiting the main shrine building, stand at the camphor and pray in the direction of the main shrine. It is said that the husband and wife camphor are sacred trees. You might be tempted to touch the trees to gain some extra energy but be warned: it is strictly forbidden.
The Meiji Jingu Museum
Situated in Meiji Shrine’s forest, the Meiji Jingu Museum blends perfectly with its surroundings. It is one of the shrine’s newer attractions, having just opened in the Autumn of 2019. On the second floor, the museum is currently exhibiting a collection of stationery, books, carriages, and furniture belonging to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. They were moved from their former home, the Meiji Jingu Homotsuden Treasure Museum, which is currently closed for reconstruction. It is also worth checking out the building itself which puts a contemporary slant on traditional Japanese architecture. International architect Kengo Kuma, designer of Japan’s New National Stadium, has used wood to create a building that has an innovative design while respecting the natural environment.
Entrance fee：1,000 JPY
Opening times：10:00 am - 4:30 pm (Last entry 4:00 pm)
[Looking for a Souvenir? Here Are Some Recommendations]
Why not embrace Japanese tradition and discover your fortune or buy a bit of luck to take home with you?
Try Your Luck with an Omigokoro!
At shrines, you can usually find Omikuji that contain messages from the deities advising which path you should take in life. Typically, fortunes range from Daikichi (excellent luck) to Daikyo (very bad luck). However, Meiji Shrine offers fortunes known as Omigokoro. These contain messages of life guidance and moral instruction taken from an extensive collection of waka (traditional, Japanese, fixed-form poetry) written by Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. For tourists who cannot read Japanese, there are English versions available. Regardless of the message you receive, be sure to take your selected Omigokoro home with you.
Location: Kagura Hall, Shamusho (Shrine office) (If you are facing the hall of worship, it is on your right)
Donation: 100 JPY
Get a Goshuin (Red Temple Stamp)
A goshuin is proof that you have visited a particular temple or shrine. The name of the shrine or temple and date you visited with be stamped into a special collectors’ book know as a Goshuin-cho and a Shinto priest will write in the book using ink and a brush. If you do not have a stamp book don’t worry, you can have it written on a piece of paper. You can also buy an original stamp collectors’ book at the shrine. After visiting the shrine, go out of the East Gate. You will soon find the Kagura Hall where you can receive your stamp. Meiji Shrine is written in large letters at the center of the stamp, with the date of your visit on the left. On the right there is a year. This is the present year calculated from the year of the enthronement of the first emperor in 660 BC. The contrast of the red stamp against the black ink creates a stunning image. The goshuin is a protective charm rather than a commemorative stamp, so you should take good care of it.
Donation: 500 JPY
Buy Omamori (protective charms)
Anyone wanting to take some of the shrine’s spiritual energy home with them should purchase Omamori. The rewards offered by the many charms available at Meiji Shrine are too many to list, but include good fortune, marriage, a healthy mind and body, protection from evil, safe travel, and easy childbirth. Have fun choosing your preferred protective charm from the array of colors and sizes available. Omamori are believed to contain the essence of deities so it is important not to open them as this will sully and weaken their protective power.
Where to get your omamori: Nagadono (Infront of the Kaguraden), Kaguraden, Minami Shinmon-mae (In front of the Southern gate), Shukueisha.
There are many parts of the shrine to recommend. As well as being full of spiritual energy, Meiji Shrine is a good place to find some peace and tranquillity.
Visit the Meiji Shrine Inner Garden
Once you have passed through the Torii, you will see the north entrance to the Meiji Shrine Inner Garden which belonged to a former Daimyo (a powerful feudal lord). Entrance to Meiji Shrine is free, but here, there is an entrance fee of 500 JPY to cover the costs of maintaining the imperial gardens. Narrow paths allow you to stroll around the gardens. From June to August, you can see Japanese irises and waterlilies. However, the garden’s centerpiece is Kiyomasa's Well, famed for bringing good luck to people who have a photo of it as their home screen. Numbered tickets are now provided to keep up with the demand to see the well. When you see it in person, you will be taken aback by its beauty, the flowing water is so clear that it appears to cleanse everything around it. Take a photo and take home some of the well’s spiritual energy.
Get Power from the Kameishi (Turtle Stone)
As the name suggests, the stone resembles a turtle. It sits on a large area of grass in front of the Treasure Museum (Currently closed for reconstruction). As there is nothing to cordon off the stone, you are able to climb on it or touch it. In old Japan, people had a close relationship with turtles who were seen as lucky animals representing longevity and good health. The rumor is that the power of the Turtle Stone is so strong that people can feel their body warming up around it. It has become known as another ‘Power spot’ for spiritual energy. Walk clockwise once around the turtle then touch it and you will receive its power. As many people go straight home after visiting the main shrine building, this area does not get many visitors so you, can take your time absorbing the power of the Turtle Stone.
Forest Terrace Meiji Jingu (Former Meiji Jingu Cultural Hall)
Forest Terrace has just reopened in Autumn 2019 complete with a wedding venue. There are several restaurants and cafes including CAFÉ "Mori Terrace 2nd", Restaurant ‘Yoyogi’ which serves authentic Western and Japanese dishes and food corner ‘NOODLE ＆ RICE BOWL’ that offers light meals. At Shop "Mori", you can buy original Meiji Shrine souvenirs and Japanese goods. On the way to Forest Terrace, there is sometimes the opportunity to get your photo taken dressed in a kimono. (2000 JPY (incl. tax) for one photo plus the choice to take photos on your smartphone). As the suggested time for this experience is just around 10 minutes, it is worth a try!
Take a Break at the CAFÉ "Mori no Terrace"
Located on the path from Harajuku Station to Meiji Shrine, CAFÉ Mori no Terrace is next to the shrine entrance. The cafe blends right into the surrounding greenery and inside, the counter and furniture were made using wood from trees donated for the construction of Meiji Shrine that have since died. It is a relaxing space where you can take things easy. Take a few minutes after your shrine visit to sample the light meals and deserts.
[Other Sights to Take in While You Are in the Area]
Less than a 10-minute walk from Meiji Shrine, these attractions are all must-sees!
This Shrine is dedicated to Heihachiro Togo, the first Japanese man to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Having gone to Britain to pursue his naval studies, he found great success as a naval officer and, due to this, became a deity of victory. As a shrine that brings victory to those who visit, you may wish to purchase a protective charm or lucky ticket if you are likely to be entering a contest. You can also get a goshuin stamp here. From Meiji Shrine, walk to the other side of Harajuku Station. You will find Togo Shrine a little off Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street).
Yoyogi Park is next door to Meiji Shrine. Section A of the park is an inner-city oasis filled with fountains, wide grassy areas, and a forest park that attracts wild birds. Frequented by families and adults alike, the park is perfect for renting bicycles, reading, having a picnic or just about anything else you can think of. On the other side of the road is Section B, the events plaza. Events are held almost every week ranging from food festivals to flea markets and they are always bustling with people. Most years in December, you can see Blue Cave SHIBUYA, a magical illumination event that brings color and light to the 800m stretch from Yoyogi Park’s row of Zelkova trees to Shibuya Koen Dori.
Lunch Options Near Meiji Shrine
There are great places to eat lunch in the areas near Meiji Shrine like Harajuku, Omotesando, and Yoyogi. In Harajuku and Omotesando, there is sure to be a restaurant that will meet your needs, whether you want fast food, authentic French dining, or ramen, and there are many fashionable cafes around Yoyogi Park. If you want to enjoy lunch in the area, it may be a good idea to visit Meiji Shrine in the morning.
Relax Shokudo Harajuku
Relax offers set meals with okazu (side dishes that accompany rice at mealtimes) as the focal point of a set meal (teishoku). The okazu, based on dishes from all over Japan, will be a meat fish or vegetable dish with the rest of the set meal made up of rice, miso soup, and pickles, as is customary in Japan. Daily specials are all designed by a nutritionist to provide safe, healthy, nutritionally balanced meals. Prices are reasonable with most meals costing around 1000 JPY. Actually, the first-floor restaurant was originally built as a canteen for workers at a specific company but they took their idea of balanced lunches for workers further by opening it to the public. Set just off Takeshita Dori, this is an option worth considering for lunch.
Opening times: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm (Lunch: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm)
Closed: Saturday, Sunday, and National Holidays
A Small Bonus: Weddings at Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine also holds Shinto weddings. Before the ceremony begins, the bridal procession is led by a Shinto Priest and Shrine Maiden to the sound of gagaku (music performed on traditional Japanese instruments). The bride and groom proceed to the altar with their new family. There is always a chance you will get to see them walking past the shrine. While it may seem a little odd, the bridal procession will add a moment of vibrant color to your day. If you happen to come across a wedding, wish the bride and groom well on their new departure and celebrate their happiness.
Meiji Shrine has been close to the hearts of many Japanese for years. Make sure you make the most of your trip to Japan’s most visited shrine.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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