comscore In bustling Tokyo lies a forest retreat | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

In bustling Tokyo lies a forest retreat

TOKYO >> Just steps from one of the busiest, most modern parts of Tokyo, it’s a soothing surprise to feel like you’re in the heart of a primeval forest. It’s maybe a bigger surprise to learn that the trees are not at all as ancient as they feel.

Slip out of the crowds in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood and head into the grounds of Meiji Jingu shrine and you’ll immediately find yourself walking through a woodland of enormous trees. At first the raucous bird cries and the sound of the wind in the branches compete with noise from the nearby Yamanote Line train station.

Gradually, though, the sounds of the modern world fade as you walk along the path. With lots of broadleaf evergreens, there’s green here even in cold seasons. If this forest doesn’t convert you to the ancient Japanese belief that spirits dwell in features of nature like large trees, at least you’ll understand why they felt that way.

Meiji Jingu shrine is no secret as a tourist attraction, but the history of the grounds is less well known. It’s hard to imagine it when looking at the huge mature trees, but a hundred or so years ago, this was all essentially bare ground. It was planted carefully by experts to give a natural succession of tree species and is now a functioning ecosystem, home to birds and other animals and native plants.

The shrine itself, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who died in 1912 and 1914, is not so much serene as solemn. It’s also quite full of people. If the mood doesn’t suit, move along, because what we’re really here for are the grounds.

The site is not a place where you sit and contemplate so much as a place where you walk and meditate. There are some benches in the shrine precincts but generally not along the paths. There are also places to sit and rest in the small inner garden, a more typically manicured Japanese garden with a pond, for an admission fee of 500 yen. The pond has water lilies, and the garden is famous for irises that bloom in early summer.

If all of that walking leaves you calm but too hungry to make it all the way back to Harajuku, sustenance is available on your way out at a full-service restaurant and a small food court.

Note that shrine visits are traditional on certain Japanese holidays, and these days are probably not a good time to visit unless your idea of serenity includes crowds like what you’d find in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.



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