You’re right! Meiji Jingu Shrine isn’t in Korea! After a week with Don and Chris in Seoul, Miriam and I set off “alone” to spend a week in Japan! Don set it all up months ago, so it’s not like it wasn’t all planned out, but actually, it WASN’T all planned out!
Although our flights into Tokyo and back from Osaka were booked, as well as our hotels in Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto, and we already had our “bullet train” seats reserved, we also had much time “on our own” to go exploring things we’d read about in various tourist guides.
Our first morning in Tokyo, however, we had a “half day” Grayline Tour, with an English-speaking guide, which took us to several not-to-miss venues as well as giving us the general lay of the land. It rained this day, so the view from the SkyTree wasn’t great, and I didn’t care a whit about driving by the Akasaka Guest House or the National Diet Building (seat of parliament).
The Meiji Shrine, however, captured my imagination and rekindled the fire at my spiritual center. There was something about the light, drizzling rain at the Shrine which gave it an additional air of solemnity. Passing under the arch to be “purified” felt somehow more holy in the mist.
There was a water-pouring over hands demonstration, which I equated to being blessed with holy water. Dippers of liquid from the trough, the process following a specific, century’s old ritual, felt very appropriate and natural and reverent.
As I understand it, the “Shintos” have no specific iconic deity, such as an image of Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, on which to focus their prayers and requests.
Here, when they climb the steps to approach their place to submit prayers, they first throw money into the “offering box.” There are several of them, end to end between the pillars, where you stand to face the inner courtyard. The boxes are wooden, maybe two feet wide and six feet long, and of a dark wood, maybe mahogany, and yes, the size and shape reminded me of a coffin.
Narrow slats, perhaps an inch wide and half an inch apart, run the length of each of them. Coins (and paper money) may fall in, but hands cannot reach in to pull the money back out. It matters not how much is offered, you are not buying more attention from the spirits by throwing more in. Our guide told us the coin with the hole in it is a very popular offering, which I think is only about fifty cents.
After throwing money into the box, they bow twice, and loudly clap their hands twice to call forth the spirits. They silently pray a short specific request, for maybe a safe journey, or easy childbirth, or to find happiness in a relationship, or to heal someone who is sick, then bow once more, and depart. Short, sweet, and to the point.
No photos are allowed at the top of these steps of the offering boxes or the interior of the shrine itself, which looked to be a rather plain area and not too elaborate or eye-catching. At the bottom of the steps are the ema, the prayer request boards (for which there is an approximate $5 cost to add yours to the thousands there).
When President Obama visited the shrine, he wrote a “prayer or wish request” on the small wooden tablets (ema) for the prayer board. Naturally, he asked for world-wide peace and global prosperity. He hung his ema with hundreds of others, but a priest removed it, afraid someone would take it. Obama asked him if his wish would still come true…
There is also an austere booth where you can buy blessed charms. I got one for “good fortune” and one for “soundness of mind and body.” No photos were allowed at the charm booth either, and no English explanation came with them, so I quickly jotted down which was which on the back of the envelope!
Our guide told us that Shinto Shrines are for happy times, while Buddhist Temples are for sadness and death. Most Japanese attend both, depending on the occasion.
The Meiji Jingu Shrine is the largest in Tokyo, and provided us with a long, pleasant, meditative stroll in the rain. It is a true oasis within the city.