Meiji Jingu

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Meiji Jingu (Japan)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Meiji Jingu, a shrine located in Tokyo and the leading center of national Shinto in Japan, is one of the newest of the world’s major pilgrimage sites. It was built in 1920 to honor the life and accomplishments of the Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) and his wife, the Empress Shoken (1850–1914). Emperor Meiji, born on November 3, 1852, oversaw a prosperous era generally seen as the transition period during which Japan moved into the modern world. He ruled Japan for more than a half century (1867–1912) and had been responsible for establishing the state religion of Shinto and promoting it as an integral element in the identity of the Japanese people. He was buried in Kyoto, his birthplace, and the shrine was built to house his soul. Empress Shoken was born on May 28, 1850, in Kyoto. Best known for her promotion of the Japanese Red Cross, she was also buried in Kyoto.

The construction of the shrine culminated the series of regulations that had guided the rise of Shintoism over Buddhism. The Japanese military officially sponsored the site, which became a visible focus for the belief in the divinity of the Emperor. State Shintoism was promoted as something above and beyond religion, leaving individuals free to choose a religious faith (although religious organizations were forced into a select few groups recognized by the government). Members of the population were expected to give their assent and behave appropriately relative to State Shinto regardless of their religious commitments otherwise. The fact that the emperor was seen as divine created numerous problems for religious people across the Buddhist and Christian spectrum.

The shrine rests in the midst of a large park in Tokyo. The entrance is through Japan’s largest tori (gate). The three main buildings are the Outer Shrine, the Inner Shrine, and the Main Shrine. Shinto believers who visit will initially engage in a brief purification ceremony that includes rinsing their hands and gurgling water. Once they enter the shrine, there is the opportunity to make an offering, acknowledge the deity spirits (kami), and engage in an act seeking one’s fortune. The nearby Treasure Museum houses articles that belonged to the imperial couple and a photo display that facilitates memories of their life.

The shrine was destroyed during World War II. Following the war, the United States insisted on the transformation of the emperor’s office from absolute monarch to merely a symbol of the unity of the Japanese people (similar to the British monarch). In 1946 the emperor made a formal declaration that he was not a divine spirit (kami). Shintoism was also disestablished as the state religion. After a decade under the new system, the shrine was rebuilt in 1958. It continues to be the site of a site of eleven annual Shinto festivals. In addition, it serves as a major recreational park. The surrounding garden, some 33,000 square meters in size, includes an art museum and a variety of sports facilities for baseball, tennis, golf, swimming, and others. The park includes more than three hundred species of trees that were brought from across the country.

Beyond its religious role, the Meiji Jingu has become a major tourist attraction that draws several million visitors annually.

Sources:

Kasahara, Kazuo. A History of Japanese Religion. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing, 2001.
Reader, Ian, Esben Andreasen, and Finn Stefansson, eds. Japanese Religions: Past and Present. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1933.