Dorothy Detabali (Philippines)
Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies
As the year 2020 nears its end, many people are in dire need of a mental health break from isolating and being cooped up at home. When ICC announced that it was organizing a field trip to Meiji Jingū in Shibuya, I signed up to have a much-needed change of pace.
It turned out to be a refreshing experience to join outdoor activities and meet new friends in the “new normal.” To ease any worries about the coronavirus, we were required to submit health check forms, take our body temperature, wear masks at all times, and disinfect our hands regularly. The open grounds of Meiji Jingū also made it very easy for everyone to practice social distancing.
We were welcomed by our tour guide outside Harajuku station on a bright Saturday morning. He was a Shinto priest who graduated from Waseda University. We learned about the basics of Shinto not as a religion, but as a way of life. Meiji Jingū is a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken in 1920. The major political, economic, and social changes during the Meiji period resulted in Japan’s modernization, so it was only fitting that the Japanese people wanted to honor Their Imperial Majesties’ spirit or kami in the capital. As a sign of national solidarity, about 100,000 trees from all over the country were donated to create an “eternal forest” surrounding the shrine.
Our guide explained the proper etiquette for visiting a Shinto shrine, such as bowing in front of the torii, cleansing our hands, and praying at the Shrine. One of the highlights of the trip was writing down our aspirations and gratitude on wooden tablets called ema, which some participants did in their own languages.
Our visit was also serendipitous because Meiji Jingū just celebrated its centennial festival in November 2020. We were gifted with a commemorative bottled tea that was made exclusively for this fete. It was truly amazing to stand in a sacred space that has witnessed and endured a great deal of history, while continuing to be a cultural treasure a hundred years later. Even in a pandemic, the Shrine welcomed droves of people who came to visit, pray, and celebrate life’s milestones. As much as the Shrine venerates the divine, it also celebrates our humanity. I left Meiji Jingū with a deeper appreciation and respect for Japanese culture, and a renewed sense of hope and calm despite the current situation.