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4 Temples, 1 City: Discovering Four Faces of Spirituality in Tokyo

I am back! First things first, an apology for last week’s hiatus. As part of my college work experience, I have been working in a student-made film festival for the past year. The festival (check it out here!) took place last week and it was work, work, work. Now that the festival is over, I took the time this weekend to finally review all the photographs from my travels in Japan, and without further ado, let’s get started:

When I first started thinking about the best way to write about Japan, and more specifically Tokyo, I couldn’t figure out how to divvy it all up. I made endless lists, but none of them seemed right or seemed to make any justice to my experience there. I visited many streets, many shrines, many markets, and many temples, but it didn’t feel right to just bunch them all up in one post and that’s when I figured out what I wanted my first post (after the Sumo tournament post, of course) to be.

Tokyo is a marvel. It has so many different things and so much diversity it’s almost too much to take in. Just like its city’s vibrance, the temples themselves are so different from one another, but there were four temples that really struck me in the different ways that they express centuries of tradition, history, and spirituality. Each of these temples/shrines has a life of its own, and one unlike any other I encountered in Tokyo:

Meiji Jingu

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Meiji Jingu is a gorgeous shrine belonging to the Shinto tradition. Located in the heart of a beautiful forest, its deep aura of tranquility and serenity make it a striking encounter after a stroll through the forest.

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A tall Torii gate made out of ancient Taiwanese wood marks the entrance to this realm of peace, the golden hour light of the evening making everything look softer. Despite being built by man, the distinct lack of bright reds or oranges that are present in a lot of other temples and instead the keeping of its wood’s original tones keep it in tune with the surrounding nature.

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The temple is silent as the people walk about, some taking pictures, some paying their respects. In the courtyard, around a beautiful old tree, there are small wooden tablets hanging on boards, with messages of hope scrawled upon them by visitors. The solemnity of this place alongside the vibrant greens and the sense of having escaped the city are what makes this one of the most beautiful places I visited in Japan.

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Toshogushaden Karamonmae

This shrine was actually an unplanned discovery while I was walking Ueno Park. It is enveloped in the same solemnity of Meiji Jingu, but creates a completely different atmosphere; one of former glory, current sleep, and great power. The calls of circling crows overhead as you walk the copper lantern-lined Sando (the approach to the temple) create a surreal experience.

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Not a lot of people know of this place. At the end of the Sando, strong and powerful, stands the shrine, an intimidating and intricately ornamented structure covered in gold.

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You can almost picture this same place centuries ago, quiet figures strolling the Sando and entering the Shrine in complete silence, the only sound being the coos of the crows.

Hie-jinja

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Located in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, Hie-jinja is Tokyo’s most urban temple. It was once part of Edo Castle before it was relocated to central Tokyo. A sliver of spirituality remaining in the heart of this busy area of the city, it sits atop a hill and many locals still visit to pay their respects.

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But its most distinctive feature are its famous Torii gates, which also lead to the shrine from the back, lining a path of stairs in bright reds.

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Although distinctly new, what makes Hie Shrine special is the show of evolution and remaining tradition amongst modern society. The mixture between these two elements have created a unique temple that many would call a ‘tourist trap’ in comparison to ancient temples, but I believe it’s a beautiful honouring of Japan’s past, of the times before war ravaged the country and destroyed many of its original temples, as well as an honouring to the future and the passing of time.

Senso-ji

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Without a doubt Tokyo’s most frequented temple, Senso-ji is vibrant in colour as well as in crowds. Every day masses of tourists and locals alike flock to explore this incredible temple in Asakusa. It is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of the Sumida river and it is Tokyo’s oldest temple.

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Leading up to the temple is Nakamise-dori, a shopping street led by the Kaminarimon gate, symbol of Tokyo and Asakusa, and ending at the temple’s main gate Hozomon. This street has a rich history and you can find all sorts of things, from souvenirs to art.

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And it’s not just the temple that you can admire, there are many things to be found in the surrounding areas.

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What’s amazing about Senso-ji is that despite the crowds and how touristic it has become, it still remains an important symbol of spirituality, with thousands of people paying their respects every day and visiting the pagoda where only registered believers can practice. In the midst of commercialisation, you’d think this place has lost its significance and true meaning, and yet it still remains.

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These four temples were just some of many that I visited in Tokyo, but were definitely the ones most memorable and those that I’d like to visit again, and never forget. Tokyo is a lot of things, but one thing it is not is dull. Daily life, travel, and spirituality conjoin in places like these, each bringing them together in their own way and allowing you to explore the many sides to Tokyo, right down to its core.

Have you ever visited a place that made you feel this way? Tell me about it in a comment below!

4 Comments

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