Remember when Commodore Perry muscled his way into Tokyo in 1853? Of course you do: we told you about it a couple of days ago when we visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum, although in fairness we did not warn you that there would be a quiz. Anyway, that more or less marked the beginning of the end of Japan’s Edo period, when the shoguns ruled the roost. They continued to lose ground after that, until finally in 1867 the biggest, baddest shogun of them all, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, ceded power to the emperor Meiji and thus ushered in the eponymous Meiji Period, also called the Meiji Restoration.
Meiji moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, opened Japan up to international trade and diplomacy, and generally built the country up into a world power. When he died in 1912 it was literally the end of an era. His son Yoshihito ascended the throne and with the assent of parliament built a large elaborate shrine in his honor; its grounds cover 174 acres and include a lake and gardens. Here is the entrance gate to the grounds.
It is a much-visited and much honored place, which is one of the reasons that the Allies firebombed it to ashes during World War II. It was rebuilt in the 1950’s. The shrine itself faces a large courtyard where amulet and votive vendors ply their trade, as they do at all large Shinto shrines. Just as in Kamakura, you can buy oddly specific good luck charms, e.g., for passing an exam, or finding a job, or improving your health, or (my personal favorite) “traffic safety”.
We were milling around the courtyard when to our delight a Shinto wedding procession exited the shrine, crossed the courtyard, and disappeared through the gate.
This was very exciting: our first Shinto wedding, and at a big-name shrine at that! How often does that happen?
The answer, as it turns out, is “about every ten minutes”. Because it was only a few minutes later that a wedding procession came back in through the gate, across the courtyard, and into the temple. Our first thought was, “Hey, why did they come back?” But no:
Different couple! It appears that the Meiji Shrine is the Las Vegas wedding chapel of Shinto nuptials. So, mazel tov to these happy couples, and any others that happened to go through the mill today.
Despite my personal flippancy, many Japanese take this place very seriously; Meiji transformed Japan and is still venerated. We saw a number of visitors — including young people — come to a stop as they were exiting the gate, turn 180 degrees, and bow repeatedly to the shrine before leaving. We obviously did not, but we did linger long enough to stroll around the grounds and lake.
Cutting this of early today as we are off to get a panoramic nighttime view of Tokyo from the top of the Tokyo Tower, at 800 feet.
Next time: the curse of the cat people.