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Temples & Shrines (How to) February 7, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples & Shrines (How to)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-IE

Visiting a temple or a shrine in Japan is a very common thing.  It is very cheap as they usually don’t charge you any money to visit.  The biggest challenge comes in what to do when you do visit a shrine, and learning the differences.  The first thing to learn is the differences between a temple and a shrine.  The basic difference is the religion.  A temple is generally associated with Buddhism and a shrine is associated with Shintoism.  Shinto is a Japanese religion that worships various deities and people.  Buddhism and Shintoism had been intertwined since Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the late 600s.  In the 1800s, during the Meiji Restoration period, the two religions were split and Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were no longer allowed to function as one unit.  This split can easily be seen in various locations around Japan where you will see a major Buddhist temple and a small Shinto shrine next to it.  The opposite also occurs.  This makes it very difficult to differentiate between the two and even scholars can have a difficult time if all the information was removed.  The easiest way, aside from reading the name, is to look inside the main hall.  If you see a Buddhist statue, you are in a temple.  If you see an elaborate room with gold leaf or other things scattered about, you are probably in a shrine.  This is not to say all temples and shrines are like this, but it is an easy way to guess which one is which if you don’t know the name or kanji to differentiate the two.

Before entering a temple or shrine, you are greeted by a large font of water and ladles.  This is the purification, or washing, font.  It is a simple task where you must wash yourself to become pure.  It is akin to dipping your fingers in the holy water and making a sign of the cross as you enter a Christian church.  The process is a little different.  The strict rules state that you grab a ladle by your right hand, fill it with water and proceed to rinse your left hand followed by the right.  Be sure to pour the water into the trough and not back into the font.  I’m sure I must have done this by mistake the first time.  Put a little water into your left hand and slurp it up.  You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to, and you can spit it out into the trough next to the font.  Afterwards, rinse your left hand again and place the ladle in its original location.  It is a very simple process that takes seconds to do but can mystify people who have never seen it or prepared for it before.  I remember my first time doing this and I had no clue as to what to do.  Even Japanese people don’t know the “proper” way to do it.  The best thing to do is just rinse your hands and finish up.  I don’t recommend drinking the water, although it is usually safe to do so.  I do put the water in my mouth but I never drink it.  There is also no obligation to doing this every time.  Think of it as if you enter a church.  If there is holy water, you don’t have to dip your fingers in it, but to be respectful to the religion, you should.

The prayer is where things get more complicated and diverse.  In a temple, you generally only have a prayer offering box.  When you go to a shrine, things can change a little.  Shrines tend to have a type of noise maker over the offering box.  It is typically either a gong or a rattle of some sort.  The gong and rattle are located near the roof and a large rope is connected to it.  When praying, the first step is to throw your money into the box.  To be lucky, you should use a coin that has a hole in it.  In Japan, 5 and 50 yen coins are lucky.  500 yen is good too, but I feel it isn’t as lucky as there is no hole in the actual coin.  Once the money is in the box, you can shake the rope and make some noise.  If there is no rope, you can skip this step.  Take a step back if necessary and bow 2 times, followed by clapping 2 times.  After the second clap, keep your hands together and make a prayer or wish.  Bow one more time and you are finished.  Most Japanese people aren’t religious, rather they are more superstitious than anything else.  They tend to pray for luck and money but most people don’t actually believe in the religion they are praying to.  It’s similar to having a lucky doll when writing a test.

Japanese people can act very superstitious about religion.  You can purchase a variety of lucky amulets from temples and shrines that will protect you on a journey, bring you good health, or help you with a test.  While some temples will offer lucky amulets, the amulets are almost always exclusive to shrines.  Most of these amulets are good for one year, after which they need to be “recharged”.  Many people will purchase one each year and return it to the shrine they purchased it from.  If you want to recharge it, you must go to the original shrine you bought it from, which can make things a little difficult if you are just visiting Japan or you purchase it from a small shrine in a remote location.  Some people do return to the original temple but the majority don’t.  If you don’t want the amulet anymore, especially if the power has run out, you can return it to any shrine, especially during the new year’s festivities.  They usually have large boxes where you can toss your lucky amulets in for recycling or ritual burning.  Be sure that you don’t open the amulets or the power can either run out or turn to bad luck.  I have heard stories, first hand, of people having their amulets opened as they travel through airport security.  Think of asking a Hindu to take off their turban.  Opening a lucky amulet, in a religious sense, is similar to taking off a turban or even a hijab.

Both temples and shrines have “omikuji” or fortunes.  These are pieces of paper that tell you if you have good or bad luck, and to what degree.  There are roughly 9 levels.  There are 3 each for good luck, bad luck, and mixed luck.  The most interesting way to get your luck is a sort of lottery system.  There is a large container that is either cylindrical or hexagonal in shape.  You shake this and try to get a stick through a small hole at the top.  Once you get a stick, it will have a number on it.  That number will tell you which fortune you can receive.  Sometimes they have a letter instead.  Put the stick back into the container and pick up your fortune from the corresponding drawer.  Unfortunately, most fortunes are in Japanese only, but a few places such as Sensoji in Asakusa have Englilsh fortunes.  The other way to get a fortune is to dig around a box.  Some shrines have boxes where you can dig through many fortunes and hope you get a good one.  You can also get them from vending machines, but there isn’t much fun in that.  Once you get your fortune, you have to tie it somewhere in the temple or shrine.  There are usually racks where you can do this or a tree where many others have done the same.  You can easily find the location by looking around the temple or shrine.  For those who have the best luck possible, you actually put it in your wallet and keep it for a year.  The reasoning for leaving the fortune at the shrine is to prevent the bad luck from following you home, although with any good luck, I don’t see the point in leaving it there.

Leaving the shrine is much easier.  Look at the exit and walk that way.  There are actually a lot of things you can do at the temples and shrines that most people don’t know about.  Most temples and shrines offer personalized writing and stamps.  It is relatively unknown but you can buy a special stamp book from any temple or shrine and pay a small fee for one of the priests to write the name of the shrine and put the official stamp inside the book.  This book is a record of your pilgrimage to visit various temples and shrines around Japan.  It makes a great souvenir as well, even if you can’t read it properly.  Making notes of this is good enough.  You can also buy are prayer beads or rosaries.  These are available at Buddhist temples only.  Unfortunately I am not familiar with how they work, but they are a nice accessory.  As I said, there are many other things you can do, and even I am constantly discovering new things about temples and shrines.  For a typical tourist, the information here is more than enough to keep you satisfied.  For a resident, just enjoy the adventure.

Shrine and Temple Information:

General Information:  http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/pilgrimages-pilgrims-japan.html
Another account into Stamp Books:  http://japanlifeandreligion.com/2010/04/12/tales-of-a-buddhist-pilgrim-me/



Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji May 24, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji” complete with photos. http://wp.me/p2liAm-EH


There are two famous large temples located just within walking distance of Kyoto Station. These are Higashi and Nishi Honganji. They are both some of the largest temples I have visited in Japan and both are extremely important to Japan both culturally and historically. They are both free to the public and both are very similar in appearance. The first time I visited Kyoto was around 2006, and the second time I visited Kyoto was in 2009. Although the difference in time was only about 3 years, I can’t clearly distinguish the difference between the two temples. It can be very difficult, so visiting one temple only is not a big problem. If you are pressed for time, you don’t have to feel the pressure to visit both temples as you might be better off visiting only one of them and spending the extra time at another temple around Kyoto.

In 2009, I visited Nishi Hongaji. Nishi Honganji was recently renovated, so the entire temple grounds are remarkably beautiful. The approach to the temple from the station is somewhat bland. There is a long wall stretching along the entire complex with gates along the way. The gates themselves are very beautiful with typical Japanese temple designs. Upon entrance into the temple grounds, you will be amazed by the sheer size of the main hall and the open area. Unfortunately, like my visit to Kinkakuji earlier in the day, it was raining heavily when I visited which made things difficult. On the other side of the coin, the fact that there was almost no one around made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Entering the hall is free and the hall itself is very spiritual. It’s hard to explain but whenever I enter a Japanese temple, I always feel a type of calm. Even with the rain and humidity, I felt very relaxed. The entire area may look and feel like a typical Japanese temple, but the atmosphere is the most important aspect of any temple visit. I can’t imagine a teenager visiting any temple and having the same feeling that I had but I hope they will. One of the more interesting aspects of the hall is the windows or rather wooden panels. There are large wooden panels that line the sides of the main hall that allow more light and air into the hall. These are huge panels that hinge upwards. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see these in use. The other interesting piece is the lights. There are several gold covered lamps located around the outer walk of the hall. From afar, they don’t look very unique or interesting but when you see them from underneath, you can see the detail of a dragon that has been sculpted into the bottom. It is not unique to Nishi Honganji, but it is still a very beautiful thing to see. When you are finished, you can always head to the adjacent office and relax a little.

Higshi Honganji is the younger sibling of Nishi Hongaji. They are both different sects of Buddhism that have splintered away from each other. You can think of this as akin to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. They are similar yet different religions. Higashi Hongaji was built 11 years after Nishi Hongaji and replicates the look and feel of Nishi Honganji. The main difference is that Higash Honganji is actually bigger than Nishi Honganji and there is a gold alter located inside Higashi Hongaji. Otherwise, it can be difficult to discern the difference between both temples. Both temples used to be in the same sect of Buddhism but due to political pressure, the temples were split up leading to the construction of Higashi Honganji. As I mentioned above, visiting one of the two temples is enough for a visit to Kyoto. While Higashi Honganji may be closer to the station, Nishi Honganji shouldn’t be overlooked either. If you take a bus, you can always stop at Nishi Honganji on the way to another location. Be sure to plan ahead and you can see a lot more.

Honganji Information:

Honganji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3920.html
Honganji (Wapedia):  http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/nishi_higashi_honganji.shtml
Honganji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongan-ji
Nishi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishi_Honganji
Higashi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higashi_Honganji


Kyoto – Kiyomizudera February 8, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Kiyomizudera” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-BV

Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Of course, to be one of the most famous temples in Kyoto doesn’t mean as much as it does in Tokyo as there are so many famous temples in Kyoto . This one is of special importance due to its history and the fact that it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list for Kyoto. The temple itself is located on a mountainside with spectacular views of the surrounding area. It is almost always listed on travel guides as a must see temple and I would highly recommend it.

The first step to visiting this temple is to actually reach the temple. The easiest way to get there is to take a bus. From the bus stop, you still have to hike nearly 1km to get to the main entrance of the temple complex. This can be a difficult hike for those who have never exercised in their life, but when visiting Japan, it’s always safe to assume that you will be doing a lot of walking. The main street and bus stop is located at the very bottom of the hill yet the entire hike up is still enjoyable. After one or two blocks, you start to see all of the typical tourist shops that would line a major street towards any tourist attraction.  Due to the popularity and history of Kiyiomisudera, many of these shops have been around for decades, if not centuries. You will be able to see various shops selling locally made arts and crafts and dozens of food shops. All of the shops sell regional items and they shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking for a full meal, you may want to skip this area as the costs can be high, but if you are looking for cookies, crackers, or something in that range, you can’t really go wrong buying things here. On almost any day you visit, you will be fighting a steady stream of people heading both up and down the hill. If you go on a weekday, there is a high chance you will see hundreds of school kids making their way up and down, whereas if you are going on the weekend, you will see just about anyone. This can be a challenge if you are pressed for time and it only gets worse as you get closer to the top. Once you reach the temple entrance will you get some room to move around freely.

Upon entering the shrine, after paying the entrance fee, you have a short walk past various buildings till you reach the main hall. In terms of a private tour, most people make a B-line to the main hall as it is the main reason people visit Kiyomizudera.  In reality, there are lots of things to see along the way if you are patient enough and if it’s your first visit to a temple.  For those who have visited many other temples around Japan, there aren’t many unique features in this area, but there are a few. The main hall is located 13 metres above the ground near the exit and has beautiful views of the surrounding area. Inside the hall itself is a large open space that is designed in a very classical Japanese Buddhist style. It’s difficult to explain but it’s something that must be experience and seen by oneself. The entire hall is not open to the public but a fairly large area is. The main attraction has to be the outer walk/stage which is where you can enjoy the beautiful views. In the spring, you can enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms and in the autumn, the autumn foliage is a wonderful sight. You can enjoy all of these at night as well as the temple regularly installs lighting so that the views can be enjoyed nearly 24 hours a day. Of course the temple is closed at night, but during certain times of the year, they open later so people can enjoy the beauty of the forest below.  On my own personal visit, it was pouring down which added a unique feature of allowing me to see how the water ducts work at clearing water from the roof.  Seeing a torrent of water stream down from the corner of the roof was amazing but you need a lot of rain to do that.

There is a small shrine located just behind the main hall itself and is part of the main self guided tour. There are steps that lead up to the Jishu shrine. This is a “love” shrine where you can pray that you will find your one true love. There are two stones set 18 metres apart. If you can find your way between the two stones without looking, you will find love on your own. If you need help, you will need someone to help you find your true love. On the various English websites that I have visited, they mention that you only have to do this one way, however on the Japanese inscription, I believe they said you have to return to the rock you started from. I’m not entirely sure but it doesn’t hurt to do it. The more interesting part of this shrine is the fact that they have a large statue of a rabbit/hare. The old story is that Okuninushi, the god whom the shrine is dedicaqted to, wanted to marry a beautiful princess and was on his way to court her, but a hare stopped him and asked for help. He was with his brothers who also wanted to court the princess but they didn’t offer good advice. Since Okuninushi helped the hare and the hare happened to be a god, the hare said he would be the one who would be able to marry the princess. The story goes on from there, but it is not relevant to enjoy the shrine. Needless to say, the hare itself is a bit scary and nothing a young child would enjoy.

The temple grounds themselves are large and I didn’t get to see everything. I took the main tour as that was all the time I had to see. There is one last point of interest within the temple grounds itself. This is the Otowa Waterfalls. There are three streams of water that fall from above and you are given a ladle with a long handle. The streams of water represent wisdom, health, and longevity. If you drink from the proper stream, you will increase one of those three traits. It is a custom to drink from one or two of the three, at the most, as drinking from all three is considered greedy and can create misfortune instead. It is common to see very long lines outside of this attraction and you will have to wait anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to reach the streams. For some people, this is well worth the wait, but I’m pretty impatient when it comes to lines and decided to skip it. I don’t feel I need to improve anything specifically, but if you want to have a little fun it is enjoyable and free with admission to the temple grounds.

The temple grounds were a big surprise for me. When I visited, it was raining pretty hard at first which made things a little difficult to get around. Nevertheless it was beautiful and a place that I recommend, even with the hundreds of people walking around. It’s difficult to get a good picture of the area and I recommend patience. If you expect to feel relaxed with a sense of enlightenment, you might be disappointed as there are generally too many people to make this peaceful. However, the views and intricate detail of this typical temple is well worth the visit. There is a good reason all of the guide books include it as a must see destination when visiting Kyoto.

Kyoto – Kiyomizudera is part of a Kyoto series.  Please follow the links below to read more about Kyoto:

Kiyomizudera Information:

Kiyomizudera (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizudera (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html
Okuninushi (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckuninushi


Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/index.html


Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji] February 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gk

Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu.  This is much more tranquil than Sensoji.  There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds.  The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine.  This is, in itself, a difficult task.  It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there.  The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest.  The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees.  The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious.  This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations.  If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine.  I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip.  You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it.  These are sake casks.  Inside each one, it is filled with sake.   They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons.  It makes for an interesting photo opportunity.  The shrine itself is pretty interesting.  The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas.  This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo.  You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through.  Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area.  Overall, the private area is nothing special.  They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls.  There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing.  Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors.  After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine.  Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else.  Do you want to have a child?  Do you want to do well on a test?  Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you.  It’s valid for only one year.  After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it.  When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station.  On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit.  I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.

If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended.  Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo.  It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu.  The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either.  You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary.  However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique.  Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street.  It’s bustling with traffic all day long.  In fact, it can be extremely noisy.  However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear.  All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush.  There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique.  You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year.  The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism.  The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall.  While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate.  It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming.  If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.

Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable.  Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone.  It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo.  It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan.  Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals.  If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple.  You never know what interesting things are going to happen.

Note:  Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more, please head over to Part I.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zojoji (Zojoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3010.html (Zojoji)


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