“Akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu” (Happy New Year!)
As we hopped off the train at the Harajuku exit, we were a little surprised by the scenery that welcomed us. On the train we were facing buildings, cars, and train tracks in the distance, but as we turned around to get off the train, we faced nothing but woods! It was the funniest thing to go from the bustling city stations right behind you, to having people take your train ticket, instead of machines, on a paved road in the woods! And not only that, once we had gotten off and given them our ticket, there were no signs anywhere. We had gotten off at an exit with no signs, no idea of how to get to our destination, and what seemed like in the middle of nowhere!
Luckily we just so happened to be looking for Japan’s largest Shinto shrine, Meiji-jingu, and it also happened to be January 1, 2014. The Japanese New Year celebration is called shogatsu. New Year’s Day on January 1 is called gantan and is a Japanese national holiday. It’s the most important holiday in Japan. People say to each other “akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu” (Happy New Year) whenever they see each other for the first time in the new year. It is traditional for Japanese people to visit a shrine or a temple during New Year’s holidays. People pray for safety, health, good fortune, etc. The first visit to a temple or shrine in a year is called hatsumoude. Many well-known temples and shrines are extremely crowded. Some temples and shrines expect a couple million visitors during the New Year’s each year! So needless to say, we may have gotten off at an exit in the middle of nowhere, but we weren’t the only ones… many, many, many people were all over the paved road and they all seemed to be going one way. And since this was an important Japanese date and we were going to the biggest Shinto Shrine, we figured we’d just follow the crowd and see where we ended up- assuming they were headed in the same direction to make their first shrine visit of the year!
Sure enough, we ended up at Meiji-jingu and spent about an hour and a half of waiting in line, only to quickly walk through the Shrine area, just to see Japan’s largest Shinto shrine. But hey, it was New Year’s and it could’ve been worse!
Meiji-jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is called Japan’s ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religious conversion, but Shinto values, for example, harmony with nature and virtues such as “Magokoro (sincere heart)”. In Shinto, some divinity is found as Kami (divine spirit), or it may be said that there is an unlimited number of Kami. You can see Kami in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. From ancient times, Japanese people have felt awe and gratitude towards such Kami and dedicated shrines to many of them.
This shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his spouse Empress Shoken (their tombs are in Kyoto). Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914. After their deaths, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to respect and worship them forever. So they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and from overseas, and they worked voluntarily to create this forest. Thus, this shrine was established on November 1, 1920.
It was a long path to the shrine, but there were some neat offerings and displays along the way to look at:
Barrels of Sake Wrapped in Straw: During the Meiji Era, Emperor Meiji led the industrial growth and modernization of Japan by encouraging various industries and supporting technological development. These sake barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Zenkoku Shuzo Keishinkai (Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Assoc.), including the Kotokai, which has made offerings of sake for generations, as well as other sake brewers around Japan wishing to show their deep respect for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
Provenance of the Bourgogne Wine for Consecration at Meiji Jingu:
“By gaining the good and rejecting what is wrong, it is our desire that we’ll compare favourably with other lands abroad.”
-Poem by Emperor Meiji
The Meiji Period was an enlightened period during which a policy of “Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge” was adopted, to learn from the best of Western culture and civilization while keeping Japan’s age-old spirit and revered traditions. Emperor Meiji led the way in promoting modernization by embracing many features of western culture in his personal life, such as shearing his topknow and donning western attire, and in many other aspects of daily living. Among these departures, His Majesty set an example by taking western food and in particular by enjoying wine with it.
The barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu have been offered by the celebrated wineries of Bourgogne in France. Profound gratitude is due to the winemakers who have so generously contributed to this precious gift to be consecrated here to the spirit of world peace and amity, with the earnest prayer that France and Japan will enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship.
The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the demise of Empress Shoken. They had set up a presentation introducing the life of Empress Shoken whose influence extended both inside and outside Japan by her devoted activities, including her involvement in the establishment of the international cooperative fund of the Red Cross.
Proper etiquette for paying respects at Meiji-jingu:
(These actions express respect and are independent of one’s religious beliefs).
-At a Torii gate: bow once before entering and once when leaving.
-Paying respects at main shrine building:
1. Put coins in offertory box as an offering.
2. Bow twice.
3. Clap twice.
4. Then pray or make a wish.
5. Bow once more when finished before leaving.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!