Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Temple and the Shrine

While in Tokyo our group visited two different religious and historical sites: Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple, and Meiji shrine. I was careful to research the proper formalities for both sites because I did not know the nuanced differences between religions and customs. I am sure I did not embarrass myself as the sites are full of tourists and, therefore, signs explaining what you should or should not do. At both shrines and temples you are expected to wash your hands and mouth to cleanse yourself before praying.  There are signs posted explaining the order in which to perform this ritual. We saw one tourist spit the water back into the fountain. He must not have read the sign. When praying you offer a few coins, clap, and bow. While the rituals seemed very similar, the two sites had very different looks and atmospheres.

Senso-ji is Tokyo's oldest temple and completed in 645 B.C. The temple we toured was much newer as it was rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII. The dominant colors are red, black, and gold. We first viewed the thunder gate with an enormous paper lantern painted red and black. The street behind the gate was full of stalls selling food and souvenirs to the large crowds of tourists. Once we reached the inner part of the temple we washed our hands, offered a prayer, and paid 100 yen to see our fortunes. You drop your yen into a box and pick up a wooden box full of sticks. You shake the box until one stick falls out with a number. The number corresponds to a drawer that you can open and take your paper fortune. I received good fortune, but Matt's read poor fortune. He tied his and left it at the shrine to symbolically leave his bad fortune behind. We all enjoyed admiring the intricate details everywhere, but we were glad we came early to avoid the worst of the crowds that continued growing.

The guys in front of the Thunder Gate.
The giant paper lantern
Matt and I in front of the pagoda.

Good fortune for me! None for Matt...
Meiji is a Shinto shrine for the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. Emperor Meiji helped to modernize Japan and was the first emperor to wear Western-style clothing and hair style. Empress Sho-ken established the Japanese red cross while the country was at war. While we were still in Tokyo, Meiji shrine is surrounded by forest. It was very peaceful, and we found ourselves completely alone at some points while wandering the paths. I was fascinated to learn that the forest was artificially grown around the shrine. 100,000 trees were donated from around Japan to create a mature forest full of oak trees. While the shrine itself burned down during WWII, the mature trees contained enough water to keep the forest untouched during the war. Our group walked the many paths, purchased charms at the temple, and even entered the history museum which we left quickly after discovering the lack of air conditioning. I much preferred the solitude at Meiji shrine to the vendors and crowds at Senso-ji, but I am so glad we experienced both while touring Tokyo.

The building of Meiji Shrine have a more natural color palette of dark wood with white trim.

For cleansing your hands and mouth.

Prayers written on wooden plaques in all different languages. 

We found a fighting beetle in its natural habitat. 

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