Surrounded by a lush green forest right in the heart of Tokyo, this Shinto grand shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and Empress Shoken, modern Japan's first Emperor and Empress.
You should prioritize Meiji Jingu as one of your first Tokyo stops, as any trip to bustling Shibuya or Harajuku pairs well with a quiet walk down the well-trodden paths to the shrine's front gate.
Meiji Jingu is located next to JR Harajuku Station and the Meiji Jingumae subway station.
For JR, take the Yamanote Line and get off at Harajuku Station. On the metro, catch the Chiyoda or Fukutoshin Line and get off at Meiji-Jingumae. The shrine is a short 10-minute walk from either location.
The shrine will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics
There are over 120,000 trees in the forest around Meiji Jingu and Yoyogi Park
The shrine was built in 1920 as a memorial to the country's first modern-day royal rulers, Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
An early proponent of the ideologies that would come to define Tokyo, Emperor Meiji revolutionized modern-day Japan by pushing for a more westernized society, leading the nation in building relationships with some of the world's great powers. Like many other major sites in Tokyo, the shrine's buildings were destroyed during World War II, but rebuilt following a public fundraising effort.
Passing Harajuku Station, you'll be led into the forest down a winding pathway to the shrine's main grounds. The short walk to the front gates is sheltered by towering trees that block out the sights and sounds of the city outside.
Passing under the torii gate marking the beginning of the shrine grounds, you'll find it hard to believe you're in the middle of one of the world's busiest cities. There are over 100,000 trees making up this tranquil forest covering a gamut of different species, which were donated from all over Japan.
In the middle of this urban forest is the main complex of Meiji Jingu. If you've just arrived in Tokyo, it's a great destination for your first shrine visit, with plenty of English signage to help you partake in traditional Shinto rituals, such as making offerings and praying at the main hall, writing your wishes on an ema amulet, and purchasing a fortune or protective charm.
Beyond the main hall, there are a number of other important historic buildings you can explore, such as the Meiji Treasure House on the northern end of the grounds. Opened a year after the shrine itself, the Treasure House hosts historical artifacts and personal belongings of the emperor and empress.
To the southern end of the shrine grounds is the expansive Inner Garden, an often overlooked but important part of the shrine. The iris gardens here were often visited by the emperor and empress, and one of the reasons Meiji Jingu was built here.
Although it requires an entrance fee, the garden is a beautiful labyrinth of scenic forest walks and traditional iris flowerbeds, and features a classic Japanese tea house. Kiyomasa's Well, named after the military commander who dug it 400 years ago, is considered a "power spot," a location where people visit in order to receive positive and restorative energy.
Given its central location and rich history, the Meiji Jingu shrine grounds host a number of different festivals throughout the year.
Beginning on New Year's Day with Nikku-sai, when nearly three million visitors swarm the area in hope of a year's worth of good fortune, right up until the end-of-the-year ritual Joya-sai on December 31st, there's almost always something happening at the shrine.
However, if you're in Tokyo during late April and early May, be sure to come for the Spring Grand Festival, which hosts incredible performances of ceremonial music and dances. If there's not a festival on, there's a good chance a traditional Shinto wedding is happening in Meiji-Jingu, so keep your eyes peeled for a chance to spot the procession.
In addition, the surrounding Yoyogi Park is also host to a variety of modern festivals, food fairs, and performances all throughout the year.