The making of the eternal forest at Meiji Shrine

By Kirsty Kawano

As Meiji Shrine prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, we look at how this city oasis was born out of marshes and farmland.

Meiji Shrine is one of the most beloved spots in Tokyo, perhaps less for the shrine itself than for the forest that surrounds it. The garden’s vast expanse and sheer density of trees makes you think the shrine building was placed here among an existing forest, but in fact, it is manmade. Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the completion of the shrine, we look at how and why the Meiji forest was made.

The shrine, which was founded on November 1, 1920, honors Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his consort Empress Shoken (1850-1914). The emperor ruled Japan during one of its most tumultuous times—when it transformed from a feudal society closed to foreign countries and controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate, to a modern, constitutional government and international trading power. As Japan’s political, economic, and social systems were transfigured under what became known as the Meiji Restoration, the people looked to the emperor to provide leadership and stability.

Emperor Meiji, Empress Shoken and their family

Emperor Meiji is particularly remembered for encouraging the active adoption of Western technologies and knowledge while preserving Japanese identity and values. Among the many achievements during his reign, the shogunate-period social class system ended, a parliament was established, tax payment changed from rice to money, and a national school system was established. 

Empress Shouken was also beloved by the people. She was active in public life and supported women’s education and the establishment of the Japanese Red Cross Society. The Empress Shoken Fund that she created to support the International Red Cross continues today.

A place to honor the emperor

When the emperor died, at age 59, the public was deeply saddened. Born in Kyoto, the emperor was also buried there, and the people of the eastern capital yearned for a place where they could honor his memory. The government quickly agreed to public suggestions that a shrine be built for him. 

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© Savvy Tokyo

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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