Tokyo's Meiji Shrine: The Most Popular in Japan

Japanese people have several traditions for New Years Day, there are bamboo displays and wreaths at doors, special cake/sweets, traditional meals, and on the first few days of January, several "first ~~ of the year". January is the start of a new year, completely separate from the past - it really is about new beginnings. At the end of the year, houses are thoroughly cleaned, and bonenkai parties (year forgetting parties) are held to leave the prior year's worries and troubles behind. Boy, I wish that worked with credit cards. Perhaps the most visible tradition during this time is when everyone goes to their local shrines to pray for good fortunes in the new year.
 The most popular shrine in Japan is Meiji Shrine, located near Harajuku (between Shinjuku and Shibuya). Literally millions of people visit the shrine in the first three days of the year. Most probably start at this gate, located near next to Harajuku Station.
 It's a long, peaceful approach, eventually leading to the shrine itself.
 Enter through the nice doors into the large courtyard.
 When I visited, they had bonsai on display! I'm sure exhibits rotate occasionally.
 I really enjoyed the trees, some of which were hundreds of years old.
 They're a bit inaccessible for close-up shots, otherwise I think I could have taken some great photos.
 I don't have the patience to keep a bonsai properly. I recall my mom having one at some point when I was a child, but I don't recall what happened to it.
 With a proper background, they could pass as a small grove!
 Anyway, back to the temple. Enjoy the small details found around the grounds.
 There is an inner courtyard, but I believe it was closed when I visited. I don't know if or when it opens, of if you just pray from the gate you see here.

 Japanese shrines appear simple from far away, but a keen eye up close will notice artwork and design motifs.

While we were there, some angry lady walked up to us and told us that taking pictures of shrines is not allowed. I want to point out that this rude woman (rude not because of what she said, but how she said it) was incorrect.

Photography at shrines and temples are usually allowed, although out of respect you shouldn't take photos in the center line of the approach to the shrine. I'm not sure how that applies to the gate in my first photo, although I am slightly off to the side there as well. (I'm not very good at remembering this rule.)  Also, as a general rule in Japan, avoid taking pictures of people. Sometimes it's impossible, and sometimes people in the photo are important (Shibuya Crossing, for example). But religion in Japan is mostly very private - nobody will ask you to convert and my Japanese students almost never discuss their religious activity - so you should wait patiently.

That said, unless there are signs (you should look for them), photography is permitted at shrines. Especially the most popular shrine in Japan, which is also a major tourist destination. Anyway, if that rude woman shows up again, perhaps you could show her the 360-degree panorama on Google Maps of the courtyard...

After reviewing the Meiji Jingu website - for the first time since I just realized that they have one, it seems that they don't like photography inside the halls, but outdoor photography is permitted. And I didn't see this information at the shrine, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
 Heading back to Harajuku, we took our time enjoying the slowly disappearing daylight. There's a small bridge along the way...
 ...with a small stream running beneath.
Also, there's a large sake barrel display.

Access is from Yoyogi Station (on the northern end) or Harajuku Station (from the south). There's a white-sided treasure house in the north and an inner garden south of the main shrine complex. The shrine is open from sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.

However, the treasure house is open only on weekends and holidays from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (4:00 PM November through February) and there's a 500 yen admission fee, which includes an annex (open everyday, including weekdays). The treasure house is located at the far north end of the property, while the annex is a modern building along the eastern edge, near Harajuku Station. The annex also has a restaurant, gift shop, and more amenities.

The inner garden is also open every day 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM or 4:30 PM, and admission is another 500 yen; it's very popular and has extended hours in June, when the irises bloom. The garden grounds are just south of the shrine complex, accessible from the wide main path leading to the shrine (there are also smaller approaches that lead to the west and east gates).

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