In case anyone thought I forgot about this after coming back to the US, let me talk about my visit to Meiji Shrine on the third day of Japanese New Year. The first day, for hatsumode we visited Kawasaki Daishi, a local Buddhist temple, but it was so insanely crowded that we didn’t have much of a chance to explore and take care of spiritual matters for the year. So, my wife thought we should go to Meiji Shrine to make up for it (that and we haven’t been there in 6 years :) ), so we went.
Like all major Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, it was still super crowded for the first week of the new year. Here’s us on the bridge crossing from Harajuku ward to the shrine:
My wife, on the right, is sporting a nice, new haircut for 2012. On the left you can see people holding yellow signs. These were the same Christian proselytizers we also saw at Kawasaki Daishi by the way, and often see at downtown Shibuya Ward.
If you looked to the right, you can see hordes of people coming to Meiji Shrine from the Harajuku train station:
Anyhow, here’s the outer gate or torii for the shrine:
Shinto shrines have torii gates, while Buddhist temples have sanmon (山門) gates typically (in case you were wondering). Also, one think I liked was that outside the outer gate, there were blood donation (kenketsu 献血) stations setup so people could volunteer to the local Tokyo blood bank. I really thought about donation myself since I regularly do it in Seattle, and from Japan’s perspective, minority blood supplies are rare. However, I came with my wife and daughter and didn’t want to hold things up.
As I read in Reader and Tanabe’s Practically Religious, Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines in Japan put a lot of focus on contemporary social issues, rather than focus on doctrinal issues, and so while some mistake this for a sign of degeneracy, seeing something like blood donation stations outside of Meiji Shrine is both practical and a sign that critics may need to think again.
Anyhow, after we got through the outer gate, we followed the crowd for a while, thinking that we would avoid a long line this time, until we got about halfway through the shrine. Then the crowd came to a halt. Here we stood in line for a long time, like we did at Kawasaki Daishi, moving, stopping, and moving again:
Up ahead is the inner gate of Meiji Shrine. Along the way, we saw lots of signs and billboards about the life and times of Emperor Meiji, including this interesting one:
Interestingly, you can see Lafcadio Hearn (a.k.a. Koizumi Yakumo in Japanese 小泉八雲), one of my favorite authors on the upper-left. Ireland has no lack of superb authors. :)
Anyhow, through the inner gate it was more of the same: standing, moving, standing, moving until at last we reached the inner sanctum where Emperor Meiji is enshrined. Here, they had setup a large barrier and people simply tossed a coin into the space behind the barrier and said their respects:
My daughter loves to do this kind of thing, so she took a handful of coins from my hand, and tossed them at the barrier. Amazingly, all of them hit the edge of the barrier and bounced in. It was really cool to watch, I wished I had managed to record it. ;p
Anyhow, once we completed our purchases, we left and along the way back we found a huge eating area with lots of tents and such. We got some some jagabatā (ジャガバター), which is basically the Japanese word for mashed potatoes with butter:
These were really good, but we had a scary incident while waiting in line. The food stall was cooking the potatoes inside a huge steamer which had stacks of palettes on it (with potatoes between them). While we waited for our potatoes, they were changing the palettes for another batch, when the entire stack collapsed in my daughter’s direction. Luckily I caught it just in time because it would have crushed my little girl and scalded her at the same time. It took three of us to fix the stack, it was really heavy and I could barely hold onto it myself. Meanwhile we were too stunned to say much, and they were eager to get us out of there. Now that I think about it, I should have really yelled at them, but then again it was an accident and no one intended anything bad. Plus, thankfully nothing actually happened. Still I hate to think of the alternative.
Oddly enough, the next day, I noticed that the omamori I purchased at Kawasaki Daishi a couple days before had a broken string. Although I don’t take superstition very seriously, I do wonder if the omamori had done its job in protecting my daughter… or maybe it was a coincidence and the omamori charm had been shoddy quality. That’s the trouble with superstition I guess.
Anyhow, we fought through more lines, fought our way to Harajuku Station and made the long trek home. :)