On my first attempt to get to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, being a bit of an idiot I ended up 40 km away, in Nara. But I found my way to the shrine later that day. *
The distinctively orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari are paid for by companies or individuals — their names are etched on the back of the gate they donate. Torii gates in Shinto shrines usually mark the entrance to the shrine. In Fushimi Inari, there are two parallel rows of gates going uphill, a long procession of orange and black, shadow and sunlight. *
One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Samurai X, the English-language version of the beloved Japanese anime series Rurouni Kenshin. It takes place in the early Meiji era and follows the story of Kenshin Himura, a feared wartime assassin who tries to make up for the murders he once committed by traveling around the Japanese countryside and giving help to anyone who needed it. People who try to do the right thing all the time are always infinitely more interesting to me — self-absorbed people are so boring, self-gratification so ordinary — and Kenshin was the perfect embodiment of that ideal. He was someone who inwardly wrestled with darkness but always strived for goodness and peace and light, not just for himself but for the people around him, and he was also selfless enough to voluntarily relinquish his hard-won peace when required, such as when a powerful fellow assassin tried to bring down the Meiji government.
Which isn’t to say that all this passed through my mind as I strolled through the forest and grounds of the Meiji Shrine, or Meiji Jingu, in Tokyo last year. In fact, I only belatedly discovered its tenuous Samurai X connection when I tried to remember why the name “Meiji” rang vague bells in my mind. I mean, I’ve heard of the Meiji era, obviously, but I had a feeling there was something more……… So that’s what it was.
The Meiji shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. It’s a haven of green and silence in the middle of bustling Tokyo, and even though it attracts visitors from all over, it is still undoubtedly a shrine first and foremost. *
This imposing, elegant torii (gate) is just a few meters away from the JR Harajuku Station.