As the days of this dream sequence (a phrase I have fondly used to refer to this trip) are passing by, I was learning more and more about myself. This is the first time I have been alone for days in a different country, and I am experiencing lots of new things, and thus learning a lot also about myself. Maybe this is the reason why folks say that you should experience traveling solo at least once in your life.
One great advantage of traveling alone, as I see it now, is that you get to really experience the new environment because you are totally immersed. You are more open to interact with people and experience things. More importantly, all these are done at your own pace. It’s a very wonderful feeling. This is different with traveling in a group because you have a boundary between the new environment and yourselves within that group. Thus, the interaction is somewhat almost limited within each other — it’s as if you remain as an audience of the new environment. For me, I think traveling alone is better, especially if your goal is total culture immersion, because you have minimal distractions and you are more open to talking to new people (both locals and fellow solo travelers) and establishing a connection with them.
I am now on day three of the trip, and I must say, I’m relieved to see that I was doing way way better than I thought I would be. Before the trip began, I downloaded the Headspace app, while I was the airport waiting for departure, in case I would need it to calm my nerves during the trip. Fortunately, I didn’t actually need it. Japan calmed my soul in ways that any meditation app won’t be able to do. And for this day, I really felt pure tranquility. And this is one important day in my life — this is the destined day that would change my life – a mark of a new beginning.
Waking up too late
I planned to really utilize time during the trip. I have scheduled to leave the hotel everyday before 8AM. Well guess what, for this day I woke at 8AM 😅. I felt a bit stressed as I began preparing for the day. But then I stopped and thought more about what I was feeling at the moment. Why the rush? Why am feeling stressed? This is a vacation so I just need to chill, relax, and take things slowly. I wasn’t catching up any appointment this morning with anyone anyway. With that train of thought, my feeling lightened and I got on a cheerier mode.
There was a light shower when I finally got outside. I had my cap on, but after a few seconds I realized that that won’t do — I needed an umbrella LOL. And so I went to Lawson and bought one of those cute transparent umbrellas. 🌂👍
At the Meiji Shrine
After a few detours (you really can’t rely 100% on Google Maps 😂), I finally arrived at the entrance of this famous tourist spot — The Meiji Shrine.
I know that this place is really famous among tourists, but I was relieved to see that not much tourists were there that day. Maybe it just looked like that because the place is huge? Or did the light rain discourage most people onto pushing their itinerary to this place? Whatever reason it was, I would be forever thankful, because the environment inside the shrine was just perfect for me to do some soul-cleansing and reflecting.
Before the first tori gate, there was this guy who was creating music via tapping some pans. I liked the melody that he was creating. It was my first time to see something like that. I created a mental note to pass him some coins on my way back.
The Meiji shrine is dedicated for the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, his wife. Compared to the other shrines that I have visited in Tokyo, this is the biggest one. It would take you at least 10 minutes to walk from the entrance near Harajuku station to the main praying hall.
I knew I had limited time to explore the shrine because I had to be in another part of Shibuya at 3PM for my tattoo session. I calculated that I could stay here for 2 hours. I have to be on my way back to the train station by 12:30PM. Still I reminded myself to just relax and enjoy each step of my journey inside the shrine.
The Meiji Gardens
Before going to the main hall, I did a detour and turned left onto this pathway that leads to the other areas of the shrine. Based on the signage around the place, these gardens were frequented by the Emperor and Empress when they were still alive.
The place is so quiet and peaceful — I can’t believe that I was still actually within a busy city. The light drizzling has stopped even before I entered the shrine. It was still cloudy though, but it just made the place dreamier and more magical because of the cool dew in the air.
While walking around, I did some more self-reflection. Lots of thought-pondering queries popped into my mind, and I had conversations with myself. This is one of those rare moments where I heard myself think. I also had this thought that maybe those questions that were coming to me were from the spirits of the forest — questioning my heart’s intention in visiting the shrine. Whatever it was, what I knew was that I felt totally at peace during those moments. I paused and smelled the flowers.
I was mostly alone following the garden paths. I would occasionally meet fellow tourists along the way, and we would just proceed quietly on our own paths. I saw one elderly Japanese man taking photos of birds. He was standing so still while trying to take a shot of this bird on the ground. When I realized what he was doing, I slowly walked into a stop so as to not make noise that could startle the bird and make it fly away. When he was finished, I continued to walk passed him and mumbled a very quiet ‘Sumimasen’, then the man looked at me and we smiled at each other. I would have wanted to do some small talk with him (what birds are you taking photos of?) but meh my Japanese sucked, so I just went on walking.
The Prayer Hall
Again, I had this ‘pay respect firsts, then be a tourist second’ mindset for this shrine visit. After passing the tori gate, I proceeded to the main hall. This shrine obviously caters foreign visitors because there were lots of multilingual signs and pamphlets all around. I was finally able to learn through one pamphlet the correct way of praying in a shrine — cleansing your hands and mouth at a Chozuya should come first before going to the main hall! Apparently I was doing the steps in the wrong order, but fortunately I am now correctly informed. 😆
Amulets For Sale
Their amulet office really got my attention. So there were different kinds of amulets being sold here, each with a specific purpose — there’s one for divine protection, for studies, good fortune, safe childbirth delivery, matrimonial happiness, finding a good partner, and well-being of the family (which was the most expensive I think). There were two kinds of love amulets available there — the first one comes in pairs, so I guessed this is for couples who wanted their relationship to get better and stronger. The other one is a white amulet specifically if you want to find a good partner. Of course I knew which one was appropriate for me. 😘
There was also one other amulet that caught my eye — the one for safe child delivery. I wanted to get it for a dear friend who I knew needed it. And so I bought those two amulets. I was a bit self-conscious because the combination of these two amulets is a bit unusual. People might get the wrong ideas. 😅
I then went to this section wherein you can write your prayers on paper and slip it into a wooden box. It was written there that the papers will be included in the next shrine ceremony. I wrote my heart’s deepest desires, a lengthy one, on one of those papers. Then I went back to the amulet office to buy one votive tablet and wrote again my prayers to offer to the shrine.
After writing another lengthy message on my votive tablet, I hanged it alongside the other tablets from the other visitors of the shrine. Satisfied with my offering, I then walked and looked around to read what’s written on the other tablets. It’s amusing to see what people were praying for, and it’s humbling to realize that we’re all somehow aiming for just the same things in this life. Some were serious messages of their deepest desires in life, while the others were one short sentence only (“Hope the children don’t get dogged”).
There’s just one set of tablets that moved me. Although one of them was written in Filipino, it was obvious that the other tablets were connected with it. The one written in Filipino had the words in huge block letters: To Kuya [insert name]. The author of that tablet was praying for his brother’s safe journey in the afterlife. Meanwhile on the nearby tablet, written were the words (and I am rephrasing because I can’t remember it in verbatim) “May this trip help our family heal as we process this loss.”
Upon reading these messages, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I teared up. I couldn’t read the other tablets anymore. I can’t imagine the pain that this family is going through at that point. Healing process can be different for each person. I just hope these people come through with this challenge in their life journey.
Towards the Tori Gates
I felt it’s time to wrap up and continue my own journey. I left the main hall with a heart full of gratitude. As I walked to one of the tori gates, this is where I saw what some people were doing passing through — they were bowing back towards the shrine. And so I followed that for each of the tori gates I went through towards the exit.
I turned to another path as I searched for the exit (I just followed where Google Maps pointed me to). There were only a handful of us walking on that path (I am 90% sure we were all using the same app for directions 😂). If I continued through this path until the exit, I would be skipping the last tori gate. And so when I came to the path where most of the people were, I walked back to get to the last supposed tori gate. When I reached it, I walked at the side then turned around and entered the path within the tori gate (uh were you able to picture out my actions? 😅). I’ve learned somewhere (for sure it’s from an anime) that a tori gate is a marker that divides the outside world from the sacred grounds of the shrine. Since I passed three tori gates, I should pass back the same tori gates towards the exit. I actually saw an elderly man bow also at the tori gates after me. I was happy because even though I am a tourist, I was able to show him that I respect their sacred places like they do.
I am very glad that I was able to schedule my visit to the Meiji shrine before doing this life-changing activity later on that day. It really helped me to prepare my soul for it. As I passed the guy with the pans music, I grabbed a handful of coins from my purse (at this point I had so many!) and tossed it to one of his pans. He bowed a little and said ‘arigatou gozaimasou!’. I smiled in return and sighed happily as I walked back to the train station.
I knew I left a part of me in the Meiji shrine.