For those of you who are traveling in Tokyo or are thinking about coming to the capital of Japan, you’ve probably either heard of, been to, or plan on going to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku. Being one of the oldest of most renowned shrines in Tokyo.
The Meiji Jingu was built in (big surprise) the Meiji Era as a token of dedication and honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken for their tremendous contributions to the Meiji Restoration.
Today the shrine is a symbol of respect to the Japanese imperial family and is THE most visited shrine in Japan during the Japanese tradition of Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, which is usually done on the night of the last day of the year (Dec 31st). Usually on this night there’s a GIGANTIC line of people trying to get into the shrine for Hatsumode that can last up to several hours from nightfall till dawn.
Many people choose to spend their Toshikoshi, which means literally “crossing over to the new year” and another tradition on New Year’s Eve crossing over to New Year’s Day, here in the company of family, friends, loved ones, and a couple dozen hundred strangers.
Though the shrine is mostly well-known for its cultural importance, deep historical roots and architectural design, a side that is often left untouched is the species of wildlife and nature that resides within and around the area of the shrine.
As such, today I’m proud to be able to bring you a different and possibly very unexpected side of Meiji Jingu and the precious little ecosystem that has developed in this small piece of tranquility in one of the most pop-modern parts of the city of Tokyo.
Being surrounded by a small but thriving patch of forestry and greenery, the environment in and around Meiji Jingu is a nice, quiet piece of sanctuary for local wildlife to take refuge from the crazy metropolitan of Tokyo city. While some are quite common in similar areas in Japan, some might come as a surprise to some of you who are reading this.
Firstly, due to the small but steady bodies of water within the grounds, Meiji Jingu is home to common water dwellers such as koi,
and water birds.
Now before you start thinking or saying that turtles are boring, while that’s typically true due to the fact that they need three seconds just to blink, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t still do some extraordinary things (for turtles).
For example, this trio thought it would be a good idea to go sunbathing, and to this day I still haven’t the faintest clue of how they managed to get up there, or how they plan on getting down…
Occasionally you might also see softshells running, or I guess crawling, around the pond. These turtles tend to be more comfortable being on dry land than their more recognizable cousin and I found this one as it dragged itself lazily out of a bush and made its way towards the water.
In terms of flying species, apart from your typical sparrows, crows and the occasional swallows, you may also see kingfishers diving into the pond hunting for smaller fish.
When I saw this one the lense on my camera wouldn’t stretch far enough for me to get a very clear shot, but it was still the first kingfisher I’d ever seen in real life and that had been quite an inner-spazzing moment for me~
I also watched it make several dives into the river before finally coming up with a catch clamped in its beak.
And perhaps the most unexpected species you’ll find residing in the Meiji Jingu is the Japanese raccoon dog, or Tanuki as the locals call them. Since ancient times, the tanuki has been an important part of Japanese mythology and folklore, more than often portrayed as devious, conniving and mischievous shapeshifters with a love for creating mayhem.
Though in real life they’re actually quite timid but also very friendly. Several of them have been known to be spotted in the vicinities of the shrine and if you’re lucky you may come across one of them while strolling through the garden grounds.
I had the pleasure of running into this one little guy who seemed pretty comfortable with humans and allowed me to get close enough for me to feed it!~ Although it bit me slightly in the process (no blood was spilled), I was so glad to not have finished my breakfast that morning so that I could share it! XD
Though they’re not very commonly found in the city, the Meiji Jingu provides a safe and luxurious environment for these little critters. There’s plenty of insects, birds, reptiles and smaller mammals to prey on along with the occasional offerings from visitors.
There are very few natural predators around to hunt them and because of the strict wildlife protection laws set in Japan, humans aren’t much of a cause of threat to them either.
As such, they live a pretty relaxed life and will not be afraid to approach people they can smell food from. If you ever do come across one of these little guys don’t be shy to say hi to them!
In terms of vegetation, one of the more special things at Meiji Jingu is the Iris garden that’s part of the Meiji Jingu’s inner gardens. There’s a 500 yen entrance fee to the gardens around this time of year which is more than worth it for seeing a pond full of irises in full bloom!
The season for viewing irises is generally around the mid-June and in the middle of the Tsuyu (rainy) season. Though the rain does make taking photos a little complicated, there is a subtle but definite beauty about the crystal droplets peppered along the flower petals~
And that concludes our little tour of the nature and wildlife of Meiji Jingu Shrine! I hope that when you make your visit there you’ll find a special little piece of nature to enjoy as well! 🙂
Blog by Amy