The Japanese for light shining or filtering through the trees. What better time to see it than late autumn/early winter. And what better place to see it than in the forest surrounding Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo.
The shrine, which sees various Shinto rituals throughout the year itself was established in 1920 to commemorate the virtues of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken who died in 1912 and 1914 respectively. The forest consists of about 100,000 trees donated from all over Japan and carefully planted by young people to form an eternal forest which recreates itself. Just over 100 years later it takes the form of a natural forest home to many endangered plants, animals and birds. Entering the grounds through the imposing torii gates you’ll often see the shrine’s staff sweeping up the fallen leaves from the public path ways and returning them to the forest as natural composting. Visitors are asked to keep to these pathways and not to disturb its natural form both for the sake of the forest and also because of the sacred nature of the ground; and not to climb the trees. Most visitors head straight for the main Shrine buildings to pray for health, happiness and good fortune, but another path to spiritual enlightenment is just to stroll through the forest paths, where permitted, to enjoy this natural oasis in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities
Or even just to sit in quiet contemplation for a while
One of my favourite routes is the path that runs from the main Harajuku entrance to Sangubashi as it’s little known and little used so perfect for walking in silence.
But even the main routes have their attractions
Whilst jogging, dog walking, or any form of sports activities are prohibited in the grounds of the shrine to preserve its sanctity, the same is not true for Yoyogi Park. It is free to enter and open 24 hours and many forms of activity take place from picnicking and partying to running clubs out for their weekly training, to a dedicated dog run. Only a simple fence separates it from Meiji Shrine but even though the atmosphere is completely different at the right time of year and day, it’s still possible to indulge in a little Komorebi.
But my favourite park, which does come with limited opening hours and an entrance fee given its status as a ‘royal park’ is Shinjuku Gyoen. It has an interesting history dating back to the 17th century when the area was the residence of Kiyonari Naito, a vassal of the Shogun of the time, Ieyasu Tokugawa . The Government bought part of that estate and surrounding area to create the Naito Shinjuku Experimental Farm which would later become the Imperial Garden and the teahouse from where the Emperor used to visit the gardens forms part of today’s park first opened to the public in 1949. The Naito dynasty lives on and part of the area close to the park which now consists mainly of high rise apartment buildings is still owned by one of his ancestors. I was fortunate enough to live from 2007-2010 in one of his houses overlooking the Park and my landlord, Mr Naito lived in the house next to me. Following a serious stroke in early 2009, as part of my rehabilitation I was encouraged to take a daily walk, and where better to do that in the neighbouring Shinjuku Gyoen, so it has particularly strong connections to my time in Japan, and I still try to get in there at least once a week pausing to talk to the trees giving thanks for my ability to enjoy this oasis just a few minutes’ walk from the world’s busiest railway station. Especially at this time of the year.
So, whenever one wants to escape from the troubles of the world or even of the mind, just taking time to enjoy light filtering through the trees, can lighten one’s mood, thanks to