This is one of a series of blogs which describe my trip to Japan in April 2012. To see further blogs in the series, click on “Japan Odyssey” in the Tag Cloud.
Like our hotel door to 16th floor lobby experience, we emerge from the underground into the light of a Shinto Shrine.
Our Meewa guide turns out to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Meiji Shrine. The park was built near the beginning of the 20th century with trees planted by 10,000 volunteers. 90 years on it is one of the three largest man-made forests in the world. The others being the Bois du Boulogne in Paris and Central Park in New York. We enter through a massive wooden gate constructed with two single cedar tree posts brought from Hong Kong.
One of the first things we saw on the pathway leading up to the Shrine, were offerings to the many Gods. There are 180 Shinto Gods and judging by the wall of Saki barrels that were left for them, they must have been heavy drinkers.
As we walk up the wide paths through the wonderland of specimen trees, we occasionally pass a be-masked fellow wanderer, surely missing the point of this fresh air lung in the city. On the approach to the Shrine, the path widens and is framed by an advertising hording sized gallery depicting the history of the park. Even the people with masks stop to admire them, but they still don’t take their masks off.
At the next turn in the path, a man with a rake has a Forth Bridge job of raking flat the loose gravel scuffed up by all the visitors. He shows no sign of concern about new visitors approaching his freshly levelled work, more like pride that they can walk on a smooth leafless path. His job is to keep the path looking today as it did on the day he first started in the job. Change is in the hands of the God of the Seasons.
Before we were able to enter the Shrine, we had to cleanse ourselves of any impure thoughts. There is a small washing place and Meewa shows us the ritual of washing our left hand first, then our right hand, then cupping water into our cleaned right hand and swilling our mouth. I don’t know if it worked but we tried.
After this, there are no more photographs as you weren’t allowed to film inside the Shrine.
The Japan Odyssey continues as we emerge into the more commercial world of Tokyo again but with one final surprise just outside the entrance. I saw in the distance a familiar building which was locked way back in my mind from my early architectural training. A building designed by Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This swimming pool design was so outstanding that it instantly brought back the impression it had made on me all those 38 years ago.