Recently, I found an old pamphlet (I love collecting them) from Meiji Shrine (or meiji jingū 明治神宮) in Japan. I think we received it when my daughter got a care package from her grandparents for Shichigosan.1 It’s a nice simple pamphlet that talks about the history of Meiji Shrine, provides a helpful map and so on. In one paragraph, it provides an interesting summary of Shinto that I wanted to share (kanji added by me):
Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is called Japan’s ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religion conversion, but Shinto values for example harmony with nature and virtues such as “Magokoro (真心, sincere heart)”. In Shinto, some divinity is found as Kami (神, divine spirit), or it may be said that there is an unlimited number of Kami. You can see Kami in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. From ancient times, Japanese people have felt awe and gratitude towards such Kami and dedicated shrines to many of them.
Shinto supposedly has eight-million kami, who come in all shapes and sizes, and this pamphlet helps reinforce that idea. The pamphlet also does a good job of reminding people of basic etiquette when coming to a Shinto shrine, which I blogged here a while back.
Anyhow, I just thought it was a nice summary of Meiji Shrine and Shinto in general. I have visited Meiji Shrine in 2005, but that was my first visit to Japan, and my first encounter with Japanese religion on the ground, so I was completely clueless. It took years of reading and subsequent visits (and asking My Better Half lots of questions) before I appreciated sites like that more. Both Meiji Shrine and the more controversial Yasukuni Shrine represent Japan’s imperial past, but Meiji Shrine is a lot more low-key and less confrontational about it, so it doesn’t seem to draw much negative attention. I think this is in part because it tends to focus on the positive legacy of Emperor Meiji (moving Japan out of isolation, adopting Western culture/technology, modernization) while Yasukuni Shrineovertly reveres those who fought foreign wars on behalf of Japan (to the detriment of those who died at their hands).
On the more practical note, Meiji Shrine is insanely crowded for Hatsumode (first temple visit of the New Year) which lines easily extending into two hours or more! If you’re visiting the Tokyo area just after New Years, just be aware, and maybe pick a smaller, less-popular shrine instead.
Any other time of the year though, Meiji Shrine is a nice place to visit, and pretty accessible in Tokyo, so definitely consider it if you can. Having been there once before, I’d certain go again if my plans allowed it. 🙂
1 My daughter also received a special ofuda for Shichigosan from Meiji Shrine too. I was going to write about ofuda soon, though I am still catching up on a huge backlog of posts. :p