The first weekend in Tokyo, I did a bit of walking around the Palace Hotel, where Wharton was holding its Tokyo alumni forum, and looked in from afar at the Imperial Palace grounds.
Then, Lucas and I tagged along with the Palms, a nice white family (Cuban-Swedish? Are they still white? They speak like eight languages. That’s not very white.) on a tour through Roppongi, Omotesando, and most importantly the Meiji Shrine.
Some interesting sights indeed. Despite the iconic torii arch towering over the park entrance, the first thing I noticed entering Meiji Shrine was the profusion of trees. Passing through the intense shades of green, our guide explained that in honor of Emperor Meiji and his Empress the forest had been carefully curated with some 100,000 trees culled from all over Japan and overseas.
We passed a gallery of sake containers, and came to the low-slung temple in the middle of the park. As with many of the well-trafficked public spaces in Japan, the grounds were very clean, but more notably (to me at least) it was peaceful and hushed, feeling more like a shrine as opposed to a tourist attraction. The only relative commotion was a (still very solemn and ceremonial) wedding procession through the temple grounds, one that attracted the flutters of camera lenses (mine included).
The shimenawa of twisted rope, hanging between these two trees on the shrine grounds, mark a sacred space, a place inhabited by spirits or a place of purity. A small visual reminder that despite the diversity or novelty of religious beliefs, a simple tradition can contain such fundamental, elegant concepts. That two trees side-by-side can be holy, without an immediate pretense of ceremony or requirement of worship. Just an acknowledgement of the presence of the divine. A nod, a tip of the hat, a smile.
I hope more cities, especially ones still in a higher-growth phase (ahem, looking at you, Chinese cities), create unique (and long-lasting) nature-centric destinations in central locations. I think it helps ground a city’s people, to remind them outside of whatever glass, steel, and cinder block existence confronts them on a day-to-day basis, there is a living, connected community that they can easily step into, and to which they on a larger scale already belong.