Tokyo Temples

Tokyo temples and Tokyo shrines are located everywhere in the city. You are apt to come across a modest Shinto shrine on a street corner while shopping beneath skyscrapers in the modern Shibuya business district. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a home-hosted visit during your vacation, there will be a small household shrine even in the most humble of abodes. Temples and shrines are everywhere, and make perfect complements to the chaotic nature of a large city.

Tokyo temples and shrines are virtually never located together on the same grounds. They may be near each other and located in the same park, but they are clearly separate. This was not the case before the Meiji period of modernization that began in the mid-nineteenth century. Before this period, it was fairly normal for temples and shrines to be mixed, including both Shinto and Zen Buddhist sacred sites. Some even contained Christian sites. However, the Meiji Emperor decreed that they be separated. The Myogonji Temple is one of the rare exceptions, housing both a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple.

The Ekoin Temple is another unique temple that was built to honor the more than 100,000 victims of the Great Fire of Meirki in 1657. The fire burned for several days and destroyed a great part of the city. On the sixth day of the fire, bodies were transported to an area along the Sumida River and buried. The Ekoin was dedicated to them on that site. Traditionally, Sumo wrestling matches were held on the temple grounds, and some say that wrestlers would leave their topknots in the temple when they retired. Sumo matches are still popular events in Japan, and a modern wrestling stadium has been built nearby. When you visit, you may see wrestlers entering or leaving the stadium dressed in their traditional outfits.

The Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken, his consort. It is one of the most popular of the Tokyo shrines both for locals and visitors alike. If your sightseeing tours bring you here, you are quite likely to see a traditional Japanese wedding. The Meiji Shrine is often used for special events like weddings, as well as festivals and other public occasions. The emperor to whom the shrine is dedicated was born in 1852 and was the first ruler of what is considered modern Japan. It was completed in 1920, eight years after the emperor died, and consists of two parts: the outer gardens (Gaien) that are often used for weddings and the inner gardens that house a Treasure Museum where the emperor and his consort are interred. You will enjoy walking through the park, which has hundreds of trees and encompasses 175 acres.

The Meiji Shrine is very accessible by subways and trains, and is very close to the Shinjuku Station as well as to the many Shibuya hotels. Not far away are the Asakusa Shrine and the Sensoji Temple—both located in a large park with lovely gardens and trees that are beautiful during the spring cherry blossoms viewing time. These are among the most important Tokyo temples and shrines and very popular with tourists. Asakusa is the city’s oldest temple, dating to the seventh century. The Sanja Matsura (Festival) is held here in the spring, and Sensoji Temple is known for its several graceful gates. This has historically been a time of Shinto pilgrimage. Traditionally, pilgrims would purchase a variety of items in shops and stalls as they approached the temple, and this area is still a bustling shopping mecca, where you can purchase everything from fans and kimono to tee shirts and Godzilla toys.

Other important Tokyo shrines and temples include the Gokuku-ji Temple in the Bunkyo District, Zozoji Temple near the Toyko Tower, and the Tsukiji Temple near the famous Tsukiji Fish Market.

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