May 17, 2013
Looking for a place to relax we headed to Shibuya station on the Ginza line of the Tokyo Metro subway (you can also get there on the Fukutoshin or Hanzomon line). We had heard there’s a Starbucks on the 2nd floor of a building that’s a great place for an afternoon of iced coffee and people watching. Our feet needed the rest and I’ll never turn down an iced coffee so away we went.
Shibuya is like Yonge-Dundas, except everyone pays a lot more attention to traffic and there’s less honking. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a horn honk yet in Tokyo. We grabbed our drinks and settled in to watch the six-way traffic dance that looped over and over every minute or so. It was hypnotic to watch the ebb and flow of people and traffic, back and forth, waiting and walking, over and over.
When our coffee was done we started looking for Hachiko. I forget where I first heard about Hachiko, I think it was years before we ever talked about going to Japan, but the story always stuck with me. Hachiko was an Akita dog who would greet his owner, Professor Ueno, at Shibuya station every single day until one day in 1925 his owner did not show up. Professor Ueno had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died, but faithfully for the next 9 years Hachiko would be at the station waiting for his owner who would never appear. In 1934 a bronze statue was erected in his honour as he had become a symbol for loyalty in Japan. During WWII his statue was recycled for the war effort, but in 1948 the son of the original sculptor made a second statue which still stands.
Looking for a little more calm in this hectic city we moved on to the close-by Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine is located in a huge forest, which is so dense and quiet you forget you’re in the middle of one of the biggest and most densely populated cities in the world. Huge torii gates mark the entrance and as you pass under you’re transported into a realm of peace and tranquility.
Getting closer to the shrine you walk past rows and rows of sake barrels donated every year by the Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association in honour of the enshrined deities. Each barrel is beautifully painted and totally unique.
The entrance to the main courtyard is impressive itself.
As you enter the main courtyard you are invited to perform Temizu, a ritual to remove impurities. Lucky for us there were signs and a picture guide explaining what to do. Take the dipper in your right hand and scoop up water. Pour some onto your left hand, transfer the dipper to your left hand and pour some onto your right hand. Transfer the dipper to your right hand again, cup your left palm, and pour water into it, take the water into your mouth and silently swish it around in your mouth, quietly spit it out into your cupped left hand. Then, holding the handle of the dipper in both hands, turn it vertically so that the remaining water washes over the handle. Then replace it where you found it. Easy, right? Both of us were super nervous as we didn’t want to come across as disrespectful, but looking around we saw a lot of people who looked just as nervous as we did so we jumped in and gave it a try.
The main building, or “honden”, was crowded with tourists and worshippers. Tourists tend to stand there in awe, while worshippers solemnly climb the stairs, throw a coin offering in a small box and bow their head in prayer. A note on etiquette, photos are not allowed on or above the steps leading to the main building; I think this is fairly standard for any shrine.
To the right of the main building is a huge tree surrounded by racks of “ema”, small wooden tablets with prayers written on them.
Not all the prayers are in Japanese and some of them were quite touching and even funny.
As we were leaving we were surprised to see a wedding procession taking place. The bride looked beautiful (albeit a bit nervous) and walked right in front of us before disappearing into one of the many buildings. It would have been nice to see the whole ceremony but I don’t think any one wants strangers at their wedding.
Thoroughly impressed with the beautiful architecture and refreshed by the calmness of this place of worship, we snapped one more picture as we left.