I’ve always been a fan of architecture and history. So when I was near the Meiji shrine, I wanted to visit. When I arrived at the gate to the temple I noticed people bow before entering, so I did the same to show respect. Luckily, there was a Japanese student with us who explained to us that the reason for all these rituals and customs before entering the shrine is simple. It is a sacred place for Japanese people–although I could tell that just by the name. Emperor Meiji helped modernize the country so rapidly that in less than 40 years time, Japan would crush the Russian Navy at Tsushima and win a hard earned victory at Port Arthur essentially defeating the Russians. It was the first time in a long time that an Asian country had defeated a European country. Japan cannot decently mourn its military dead of the Second World War without bitter backlash from China, Korea, and the U.S. The bitterness about Japanese war crimes still lingers on in these countries as a result of controversial statements and denying or skirting around responsibility for these atrocities. Instead of going to the Yasakuni Shrine (the shrine that exonerates the 14 A-class war criminals and the Japanese military dead) some Japanese visit the Meiji Shrine instead.
When I entered the temple grounds we had to wash both our hands and our mouths with water. It started to dawn on me just how important this place is to Japan. People were quiet and talked in hushed tones. The faces of the Japanese were somber. Everything denoted that this place deserves everyone’s utmost respect. As for the grounds, It was beautiful. The grounds were covered in beautiful green scenery. We walked around for quite a bit observing the architecture and the grounds. After a couple of hours we left the Meiji shrine and I walked away with more respect for the Japanese. Everyone from the oldest down to the youngest did not need to be told this place was sacred and they should keep it as such. It also made me kind of sad. Where I go to school (Gettysburg), tourists do not show they same kind of quiet respect to the grounds they stand on. If you don’t honor those who fought and struggled for the people of your nation in turbulent times, then why be a nation at all?
When I arrived back in Koganei and started walking back towards my house, I heard music and drums. I followed the sound and I soon came across a small festival. Seeing as how I’d never been to a Japanese festival and I had heard so much about them, I decided to check it out. The food at the festival apparently is special. It’s similar to fair food in the fact that it’s mostly sold just at the festival (I might be wrong about this, but I have not seen the food anywhere else). It was a lot of fun watching people dance around the central tower. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I didn’t dance for fear of standing out too much. There was also calligraphy going on and people were writing things and posting them on a wall nearby. I assumed they were wished or dreams. I left after a couple hours and walked home in awe of what I witnessed that day.
Japanese temples and festivals are great places to go if you want to experience Japanese culture to the fullest. The temples are marvels of architecture and the festivals are just a lot of fun to go to. If you ever want to come to Japan to experience the culture, put these two things down on your “must do” list.