Tokyo #2: Yasukuni and Meiji Shrines

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Asia » Japan » Tokyo » Chiyoda
May 25th 2015
Published: June 11th 2015
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I decided to start my day off by visiting one of the most controversial sites in Tokyo, Yasukuni Shrine. I was going to leave early, but my friend had reminded me yesterday that it would be Monday, so I should wait until after nine as the subway would be quieter. A good idea, which meant I got to spend a little longer in bed. On my way to the subway, I nipped into Family Mart to grab a coffee and a rice ball for breakfast. I'm glad my friend introduced me to these 100 yen coffees as it is the perfect (and very cheap) way for me to get my morning caffeine fix. The subway journey took around 20 to 30 minutes with one transfer, not bad at all.

I exited the subway station and could see the big gate at the entrance to the shrine. It looked huge, very formidable. This torii gate is called Daiichi torii, the Great Gate and it was the largest torii gate in Japan when it was erected in 1921. I walked thorough the gate, and up the wide path to the entry gates to the shrine. I passed the statue of Omura Masujiro, who was known as the father of the modern Japanese army. Since it was still pretty early the shrine was pretty quiet. It seemed like people were cutting through the park surrounding the shrine to reach work.

I walked through another two torii and Shinmon, which is the main gate. The shrine was really peaceful. It is strange as the shrine commemorates many war criminals. I walked around looking at the haiden, which is the main prayer hall. Yasukuni Shrine was founded in 1869 by Emperor Meiji to commemorate anyone who died in service of the Japanese Empire. The shrine lists the details of 2,466,532 men, women and children, this list includes 1,068 war criminals, 14 of them are considered A-Class. The Honden shrine not only commemorates soldiers but also relief workers, factory workers, and other citizens of other nations that also served Japan. There were lots of old Japanese men dressed in their Sunday best visiting the shrine.

Adjoining the shrine is Yushukan, the Japanese War and Military Museum. The museum was originally established in 1882 to preserve and display artifacts from the Japanese Imperil Army during the Meiji era. A friend had told me that the stuff housed in the museum is a lot more controversial than the actual shrine, but the museum seems to get little press. There were a few statues in the garden and I didn't know anything about the people they depicted. The entrance hall of the museum is free to enter. There is a plane, a train tat was part of the Death Railway and some tanks on display. I paid my entrance fee, it was 800 yen, so quite pricey, and entered the museum proper. The museum is huge and it took me a while to get around it all. Some things in the museum are labelled in English, but not everything.

I wandered through the different rooms, looking at all the exhibits. The museum is arranged in chronological order, starting with the history of Japanese military traditions and the spirit of the Samurai. There was a lot of information to take in, and things to look at. Some of the armour that the warriors wore back in the day was amazing to look at. The museum is very nationalistic and the way some things were referred to was slightly shocking. The Great Exhibition Hall houses a kamikaze plane, there was no English signage for this. It felt really weird and eerie as you enter the room, as the kamikaze plane is pointing straight at you. It gave me a bit of a shiver. The last set of rooms were dedicates to 'fallen heroes', there were a lot of soldiers' final letters home along with their personal effects. A lot of the letters had been translated into English and they definitely gave good tug on the heart strings.

I thought that I had visited Meiji Shrine last time I came to Japan, however when I was chatting with my friend yesterday, I discovered that it was a different shrine that I had visited. Ooops! She did tell me the name of the shrine that I had visited, but I promptly forgot it. I can be so useless at times. Since I discovered this, I altered my plans for today, so that I could visit Meiji Shrine. The subway journey took about half an hour and I only got lost once on the transfer. I had been in the area before on my previous visit, so when I came out of the station I recognised where I was. I stopped at the convenience store to get a drink and also picked up some things to eat. I haven't eaten much convenience store food this trip and I needed to make a last ditch effort, so I couldn't resist picking up some goodies.

Meiji Shrine is the most famous and popular shrine in Tokyo. On New Year's Day, it receives over 3 million visitors for Hatsumode, the first prayers of the new year. It is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan, and Empress Shoken. The temple was completed in 1920, eight years after Emperor Meiji died and it was destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt afterwards. I walked through the big gates, the area, the path was really wide and there were a lot of trees, (I read that there are over 100,000 trees planted in Meiji Jingu) so it felt lovely and peaceful to walk around. There were a couple of big exhibitions of old sake drums and wine barrels. It is normal to see the sake drums, which are always beautifully decorated. These sake barrels are offered each year to the enshrined deities to show the sake brewers' deep respect for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The wine barrels were an unusual sight to see. However there was an information board explaining why they were there. Under Emperor Meiji's rule, Japan opened itself up to the west more and adopted some western methods of modernisation while holding on to traditional Japanese values. The Emperor ate western food and enjoyed taking a glass of wine with his meal. These offerings of Bourgogne wine are an example of the continuing friendship between France and Japan.

The grounds of Meiji Shrine are quite substantial, so it was about a ten minute walk to the main temple buildings. There was an inner garden that you could pay to enter, but I didn't have time it visit it, so that's on the list for the next trip to Tokyo. I washed my hands before entering the temple, and headed over to the main shrine. I threw my money into the box, there is a specific coin that you are meant to throw in, as it will give you better luck. I then did the bows and the claps. While I was there, I was lucky enough to experience a traditional Shinto wedding. The priests led the bride and groom and their families through the courtyard of the shrine to an area, where they got their photographs taken. Everyone was dressed so beautifully, I'm really glad that I got to see this. Although I did feel I bit sorry for the couple having all us tourists gawking and taking photos. But they must know that it comes with the territory, if you're going to get married at such a popular tourist spot. I headed back towards the entrance and found a bench where I could have my little picnic. I love the rice and salmon sushi, so simple, but so delicious. I also had a banana and chocolate crepe, I don't think I had had one before on my trips to Japan and I really enjoyed it.

I headed back to the hostel to collect my stuff. I grabbed another snack and some water from the convenience store, gotta hit up the good old Family Mart as much as possible while I can. Back at the hostel, I ate the small shrimp and broccoli salad that I had bought, it was okay. Just as I was finishing up, the room started shaking. I realised that it was an earthquake, having experienced one before. It didn't last too long, maybe a minute. The staff from the hostel were so sweet and came through to check that everyone was okay. My friend also texted me immediately to make sure I was okay, and said that it was quite a big one. However, it wasn't as big as the one that made the news about a week later. I headed to the subway station and took the train to the airport. However there must have been some problem with the train as it terminated after a few stops, leaving a lot of confused people at some random subway station. Luckily, after about ten minutes a train came that was heading to the airport arrived and everyone got on that. This was a slower local train, so when we arrived at Narita Airport, my ticket wouldn't work in the machine, so I had to swap it for a ticket that would work and was given a partial refund.

When I checked in for my flight, I received a pleasant surprise. I was handed an envelope which contain over 1,000 yen inside. The woman explained to me that because Jeju Air had moved to Terminal 3, the terminal tax was cheaper, so everyone was getting the difference refunded to them. Score! Terminal 3 is the budget airline terminal therefore cheaper. I decided that I needed something substantial to eat before my flight and I still had loads of time, so I headed over to the food court. There weer a few different options, nothing really caught my eye, but since I hadn't had any noodles on this trip I opted for the place selling Udon Noodles. I ordered the pork udon, and there was some tempura next to them, most of it was sold out but there was a couple of pieces left, so I grabbed one. The pork noodles were delicious, the broth was spicy and I thoroughly enjoyed them. The tempura was chicken, I love shrimp tempura, but this made a lovely change. Once devoured, it was time to head through security and immigration and head home.

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