A Garden for John

Let it never be said that I am not responsive to my readers. It thrills me no end that you join my on my journeys, and when one faithful follower asked for a garden expose, I set out to see what I could do.

As you are probably aware, much of the time, Tokyo looks a good bit like this:

Cityscape Tokyo

The Edo-Tokyo Museum as seen from a JR platform at the Ryogoku Station

It’s a big big city with lots and lots of tall gray and white and mirrored building and miles and miles of transit systems and countless stores and restaurants and cars, to say nothing of millions of people. So when one finds a quiet green spot in the middle of all that, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Enter Meiji Jingu. One of the largest parks in Tokyo, located in the Shibuya area and home to some athletic facilities of the former (and future) Olympics, it is also the location of a popular Shinto shrine dedicated to “the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken.” Apparently 100,000 trees from all over Japan and the world were donated to create a forest in their honor after their respective deaths in 1912 and 1914, and this shrine and the park around it opened to the public in 1920.

Hidden *within* this park is a a slightly different green space, the Meiji Jingu Inner Garden (Gyoen), which significantly predates the 1920 park, having existed  in some form since the Edo period of the 17th century. With its own entrance and a modest entrance fee, this space of roughly one square kilometer with a (reconstructed) tea house, iris garden, azalea garden, fishing hole, and year-round well casts a bit of a magic spell on anyone who takes the extra time to enter.

Here’s a shot of one of the entrances to the “big” park:

Meiji Jinju entrance

The southern Torii (shrine gate), one of four in the park

Head up this path a block or so, and on the left you’ll see the entrance to the Gyoen. Here’s a map of what’s contained within the “park inside the park”:

MJ Inner Garden map

Once past the ticket hut, one heads down a flight of stairs away (and north in this picture) from the wide horizontal path seen above. This physical descent serves not only to lead one into the inner park’s distinct space, but also to muffle all sounds from the happy weekend visitors seen in the torii gate shot above. One feels as if one is entering, as the brochure suggests, the “traditional rural landscape of the Musashino,” a region which is now mostly a bedroom community to the west of the city proper.

In addition to being a labor of love for the 122nd Emperor and his consort (admirable individuals in their own right), this inner garden appears to be also an homage to the high esteem that the Emperor held personally for his wife. One of the first sights one sees is the fishing hole, “a quiet pond where swim carps, crucian carps, and killifishes, offsprings of fishes released to the pond by Emperor Mieji to please Empress Shoken:”

MJ fishing spot sign

Portraits show Shoken as a thin, reserved and somewhat severe woman, although she is considered to be the founder of the Japanese Red Cross and was dedicated to other worthy causes.  I love the image of her gleefully kicking off multiple layers of ceremonial robes and sneaking down to this little pond with pole in hand, ready for an afternoon of communion with nature:

MJ fishing spot

Carpe Carp

Further along the path, one finds the iris garden, whose glories I have clearly missed this trip:

MJ Iris garden

Sic transic gloria iridium

This patch of ground had been  training paddy field for the children of samurai families during the Edo period “to learn of the importance and the hardships involved in rice cultivation.” But again the Emperor’s care and concern for his wife led him in 1893 to propose that the field”be turned into a garden of irises for the pleasure of the Empress.” And so it was.

On the far side of the gazebo seen in the back of the picture above is found the Kiyomasa no Ido, or Kiyomasa’s Well. Interestingly, we’re told the water from the well maintains a constant temperature of around 15 C (60 Farenheit) year round “feeling warm in the winter and cool in the summer.”  Until recently, the water was used for tea ceremonies. Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down?

MJ well sign

In proper Japanese fashion, we all quietly and respectfully queued up for our chance to see and be seen at the well. Here’s the patient guard, documenting one couple’s visit:

MJ well documented

Say “chizu!”

But before you get any wild ideas, here’s the usual Japanese caveat:

MJ well verbotten

…because those irises can’t be too careful…

Okay, are you ready? Set? Here you go….ta DA! The well:

MJ well itself

My first well in Japan

The bucket is roughly 18 inches (half meter) across and less than that deep. We all looked at it gravely and started back up the path.

If you know me at all well you’ll know I’m not much of a nature girl. That being said, I really felt the sense of place that inhabits this spot. There is a very different feel here than in the rest of the park, clearly a strong effort on generations of caretakers from nobility on down to maintain the soul of this special little space. If you have the chance, I do recommend it. On the way back out of the Gyoen, here’s a last look at the gazebo seen in the iris garden shot above:

MJ gazebo

Checking the selfies

Leaving this “garden within a garden,” I headed further north in the complex to take a view of the Meiji Jingu shrine itself, dedicated to the deified spirits of the Emperor and Empress who spent so many happy hours, one hopes, in the garden I just visited. The graves themselves are not here; rather they are near Kyoto, but this shine was built in commemoration of their reigns and hard work, opening to the public in 1926. Although the original building was destroyed in World War II, this  newer version was in place by 1958.

A fitting memorial to a reign of service

A fitting memorial to a reign of service

All in all, a lovely park in which to spend an afternoon, a peaceful antidote to a busy city.

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2 Responses to A Garden for John

  1. John says:

    Thank You. Nice surprise.

  2. Rachel Drummond says:

    I learned so much about Meiji Jingu from this blog entry. I’m glad you found it and enjoyed your time here. Thank you for sharing!

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