Eleonora Gorini

Tokyo’s grandest Shintō shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. Constructed in 1920, the shrine was destroyed in WWII air raids and rebuilt in 1958; however, unlike so many of Japan’s postwar reconstructions, Meiji-jingū has an authentic feel. The towering 12m wooden torii gate that marks the entrance was created from a 1500-year-old Taiwanese cyprus. Note that Meiji-jingū is currently undergoing renovations bit by bit in preparation for its 100th anniversary, but will remain open.

Time your visit for 8am or 2pm to catch the twice daily nikkusai, the ceremonial offering of food and prayers to the gods. Before approaching the main hall it's customary for visitors to purify themselves by pouring water over their hands at the temizuya (font). To make an offering, toss a five-yen coin in the box, bow twice, clap your hands twice and then bow again. To the right of the main shrine, you'll see kiosks selling ema (wooden plaques on which prayers are written) and omamori (charms).

The shrine itself occupies only a small fraction of the sprawling forested grounds. Meiji-jingū Gyoen was once imperial land; the Meiji emperor himself designed the iris garden here to please the empress. The garden is most impressive when the irises bloom in June.