The Japanese consider their 122nd leader, Emperor Meiji, to be the founder of modern Japan.
Not in a political or geographical sense – the country was well and truly established by the first 121 emperors. But in a cultural sense, he laid the foundations for the country which we know today.
It’s for this reason he is commemorated at one of the most important landmarks in Tokyo – the Meiji Shrine, known in Japanese as Meiji Jingu (which obviously bears his name).
The Meiji Shrine is one of the main tourists attractions in Tokyo and, for locals, it’s also one of their most important religious sites.
Beyond that, it also tells the tale of modern Japan through the story of Emperor Meiji himself.
Why is the Meiji Shrine famous?
Although it is not officially ranked as Japan’s most important Shinto shrine, the Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu) is usually considered to be the country’s most famous. Within a huge forested complex in the centre of Tokyo, it was built in 1920 and is dedicated to Emperor Meiji.
Who was Emperor Meiji?
Emperor Meiji was one of Japan’s most influential leaders. Ruling from 1867 to 1912, he was the force behind the Meiji Restoration, which transformed Japan from an isolationist country into the modern world power we know today.
Is it worth visiting the Meiji Shrine?
The Meiji Shrine is one of the most important things to see in Tokyo and I would suggest any visitor to the city find time to see it. It’s not just a significant Japanese landmark, but a beautiful site full of traditional art and culture.
Around the Meiji Shrine is a large park with tens of thousands of trees – which I’ll talk more about in a moment. But at its heart is the sanctuary where people come for prayer, along with the associated buildings set beyond a welcoming tori gate.
If you would like a guide to show you Meiji Shrine, I would recommend this private tour of the highlights of Tokyo.
When you come, you’ll likely head straight for the main shrine. But my first piece of advice for visiting Meiji Shrine is to leave some time to explore the parklands around it because they’re a natural oasis in a hectic city of skyscrapers and modernity.
My second piece of advice is to learn a little about Emperor Meiji, because there’s a reason he had such a monumental tribute built for him here in Tokyo.
Who was Emperor Meiji?
Emperor Meiji died in 1912 and, in the years before his death, he faced a period where Japan was being forced to open itself more to the world.
But rather than continue with the isolationist attitude of his predecessors and fight the tides of globalisation, he carved out a path that would lead to the rise of Japan in the 20th and 21st centuries.
He took the initiative to promote harmonious relationships with other cultures, introduce the ways of the Western world and develop technology from overseas – but do it all while preserving the unique traditions and identities of his nation.
If that sounds like modern Japan, you’re right. Emperor Meiji moulded a society that looks very similar to the one I’m visiting now – one that has survived war, depression and cultural imperialism without losing its identity or its friends (in the long term… let’s not talk about that difficult period in the 1940s).
The story of Meiji Shrine in Tokyo
The people of Japan had so much love and respect for Emperor Meiji that they wanted to give his memory a gift after his death.
The large forest the Meiji Shrine sits in was donated by the public. In total, more than 100,000 trees were gifted to build the park which is still an oasis of green in the world’s largest city.
The main shrine buildings in the centre of the park are made from Japanese cypress with copper plates for the roof. The current buildings were constructed in 1958 after the original ones were bombed during the Second World War (remember that difficult period I mentioned just before?).
In the central complex, there is also a sacred music hall and some smaller buildings used to house artwork. Further afield, in the forest, you can find a treasure museum and a martial arts training hall.
The Meiji Shrine is one of the busiest sites in Tokyo for tourists. There’s a steady stream constantly walking underneath the enormous tori gates at the entrances.
Perhaps they come because their guidebook told them they should, perhaps they come because it’s free and seems like an attractive option for a morning in an otherwise quite expensive city, or maybe they come because it’s next to the popular sightseeing area of Harajuku.
Visiting Meiji Shrine
I think that a visit to the Meiji Shrine is one of the best things you can do in Tokyo. It offers a fascinating look at the heritage and culture of Japan, blending the Shinto religion with the country’s imperial history.
If you’re visiting the city, I’ve put together this 3-day Tokyo itinerary, which shows you the best way to visit Meiji Shrine while also seeing the other city highlights.
It’s very easy to visit Meiji Shrine because it’s well-connected to public transport, free to enter, and open all day.
There is no particular dress code, although I would suggest you don’t wear anything too inappropriate because it is an important religious site.
You can take photos at Meiji Jingu except in the main sanctuary where people are praying. But, as you would expect, drones are not allowed.
Where is the Meiji Shrine?
The Meiji Shrine is in the western part of central Tokyo, between Shibuya and Shinjuku.
The official address is 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-8557. You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to the Meiji Shrine?
It’s easy to get to Meiji Shrine, which is very well connected by public transport.
The closest JR station is Harajuku, and the closest subway station is Meiji-jingumae. You can also use entrances near Sangubashi, Yoyogi, and Kita-sando stations.
When is the Meiji Shrine open?
The Meiji Shrine opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. That means the exact times change throughout the year, ranging from 05:00 – 06:40 (opening) to 16:00 – 18:30 (closing). (You can see the exact opening hours here.)
The Meiji Jingu Museum is open from 10:00 – 16:30 (last admission at 16:00) and is closed on Thursday.
How much does it cost to visit the Meiji Shrine?
Meiji Shrine and its precinct are free to enter.
The Meiji Jingu Museum costs ¥1,000 for adults and ¥900 for high school students and younger.
Are there tours of the Meiji Shrine?
There are no official tours of the Meiji Shrine, but there are a few good Tokyo tours that can take you there and explain what you’re seeing.
I would recommend either this private tour that you can customise to your interests, or this day tour that also shows you some of the hidden cultural aspects of Tokyo.
Tokyo is an easy city to get around, with one of the best public transport systems in the world. But its size can be daunting, especially with language and cultural barriers.
If you’ve never been to Tokyo before (and, to be honest, even if you have), spending a day with a local tour guide can be an excellent way to get a sense of the city and learn more about the Japanese capital.
You might like to have a look at one of these tours, which can be customised to also include the Meiji Shrine.
Ultimately, although Meiji Shrine gets a lot of visitors each day, I doubt many of them come here specifically because they are interested in Emperor Meiji and want to see his shrine.
However, his rule over Japan is one of the country’s most significant periods and it’s worth learning more about his life.
In some ways, it is respectful to pay him some credit. Without his foresight and guidance in Japan, we might still not be welcome here!
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION AT TOKYO STATION
Tokyo is a huge city and there are lots of different areas you could stay. For tourists, I would recommend either around Tokyo Station or Shinjuku.
If you’re looking for a backpacker option, you can get comfortable dorm beds at the great Wise Owl Hostel.
Tokyo is expensive but APA Hotel Ginza-Takaracho is a good price for a nice hotel near the station.
For a trendy modern hotel close to the station, I think you’ll like The Gate Hotel Tokyo by Hulic.
And for one of the best hotels in Tokyo, I would recommend The Peninsula.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TOKYO: SHINJUKU
Staying in Shinjuku puts you in one of the busiest parts of city, which is great for exploring during the day and at night.
An affordable hotel in central Shinjuku is IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku.
If you’re looking for a cool design hotel, then Bespoke Hotel Shinjuku is a great choice.
And for a luxury stay, you can’t go past the gorgeous Park Hyatt.