Although I have lived in Japan for about 20 years, and in Tokyo for almost 15, I still love exploring the city and showing people around. Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to show a new Tokyoite around, lucky me! We managed to see quite a lot in two and a half hours; we did a lot of walking and experienced the collision of traditional and modern, peaceful and screechingly raucous, autumn colours and teenage fashions.
The route we took started at Meiji Jingu, then down Takeshita Dori, over to Omotesando (past Kiddyland, a brief stop in Oriental Bazaar and a short visit to Union Church), along Cat Street to Shibuya (stops at Muji and Tokyu Hands) and ended at the Hachiko statue in front of Shibuya station.
Today was a very busy day at work; I didn’t feel like I stopped all day, and in the middle of it all a colleague did something really annoying which left me in a kind of fizzy, mentally-hopping-up-and-down state. Not conducive to sleep; even though I am tired and it’s after 1am, I am sitting here, pecking out my frustrations and feeling the tension slip away as I focus on what I saw yesterday afternoon.
Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine, 明治神宮) is a 175-acre forest in the heart of Tokyo. It was built to commemorate the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken. It was flattened (like almost the whole of the city) when Tokyo was firebombed in World War II, but rebuilt, and it’s a place of extraordinary beauty and peace. Some of the trees are huge and the torii (the wooden gateway to the shrine) towers over the visitors. It is a vast, green space, and the shrine itself is beautiful. It’s very simple and always gives me a feeling of great stillness. There is something about the wood everything is made of, it feels organic and almost as if it grew out of the forest.
In front of the shrine is a place where anyone can write their prayers and leave them to be offered by the priests. It is amazing how many different languages are represented on these ’ema’ (絵馬), or votive tablets. So many people come to this place and open their hearts to the universe, and when they go home they leave their hopes and prayers mingled with countless others, wood on wood, open to the elements, to prying eyes and other people’s cameras.
Sometimes it is good to feel small. To stand under a towering torii and feel as tiny as an ant, to know that the nature surrounding you is vast and ancient, that the paths lead into the forest, but also back to traditions and beliefs that have guided and strengthened people through hundreds and thousands of years. Whatever your faith, it is good to stand there, let your tensions and worries go, and feel your spirit soar.