Today we had the opportunity to visit Meiji Shrine- a Shinto Shrine that was founded about 100 years ago in the name of the late Emperor Meiji, whose spirit has been enshrined there. The experience was mesmerizing and unforgettable: It will undoubtedly be one of my fondest memories of Japan, and something I will treasure for a lifetime.
We entered the shrine by walking a long and winding gravel pathway. Birdsong and the loud cries of cicadas echoed around us as we made our way through several large, wooden torii gates. Moss encroached here and there upon the walkway, and we saw several stone lanterns dotting the sides of the path at frequent intervals, ready to alight and cut through the darkened shroud of tree cover. It was hard not to feel relaxed and at peace as we meandered through those ample and winding forest pathways. It was as if you could reach out and touch the very spirits that are said to frolic in the forest around us.
As we made our way to the last of the large toriii that stood at attention at the entrance to the shrine, we were directed to purify ourselves at a nearby basin of fresh spring water. As we ambled up its stone steps and poured the cool water over each of our hands and sipped it to moisten and purify our mouths, a further sense of calm and serenity seemed to descend upon me. The water seemed refreshing and rejuvenating- the best water I had had in some time.
After purification, we were directed to the main shrine building, told to take off our shoes, and were ensconced inside its prayer room. There we sat on soft tatami mats and trained our eyes to the large, raised dais full of Shinto regalia and instruments. For the next hour, we watched, mesmerized and silent, as several priests, shrine maidens, and the head priest conducted a traditional prayer service for the kami (deities) enshrined at Meiji.
Words can’t describe the feelings that echoed across the room as peace and serenity- but most importantly, reverence- descended upon us. We were silent as we watched the almost intimate moment play out inside the shrine. The things that transpired were of the utmost elegance and beauty. They were executed with perfect attention to detail and with such sincerity it was simply breathtaking. What took place inside that shrine was so encompassing and spectacular that even now, hours later, I am left in awe and wonder.
This entire trip has been much the same, in perhaps a lesser degree. There have been so many things I have done that I never thought I would get the opportunity to do or experience; places I have never through I’d be able to actually see in person. It feels a little like a fairytale or some wonderful dream. There have been bumps and misunderstandings, but they seem to have only enriched the experience further and made experiences like my visit to the Meiji Shrine that much better. I feel changed not only by this particular moment, but by the entirety of this trip so far.
I feel as though a changed person stepped out of the shrine today: Changed for the better in some places, and enhanced in others. I can’t wait to see how many more changes I will undergo during this amazing/incredible/wonderful journey.