The Best City Park
In the late 19th-century industrial revolution that bears his name,
Emperor Meiji initiated perhaps Japan's greatest phase of modernization
to date. Yet when he died in 1912, his grieving subjects honoured
him with the simple wonders of nature. The shrine to the emporor
is set within a lush 720,000-square-meter forest, former imperial
gardens made even thicker by trees sent from people around the country.
The 360-odd species of maple, oak, pine and other Japanese favorites
make surprisingly effective insulation from the frenetic metropolis
that is Tokyo.
Located in the trendy Harajuku district, the Meiji-jingu-gyoen Park
is just steps away from where the city's most outrageously dressed
teenagers compete for shock value. Yet inside its wooded grounds,
it is hard to believe that the complex is surrounded by bustling
traffic and neon-lit towers. Visitors enter the park via a broad,
pebbled avenue lined with twin rows of gingko trees, considered
by many to be one of the most beautiful sights in the capital, especially
in the autumn when golden leaves cover the path and in spring when
the trees turn a fresh green. Following the path leads to arguably
the most splendid Shinto shrine in Tokyo, a traditional building
constructed from Japanese cypress.
From the main avenue, a path leads to an ancient tea house that
the emperor frequented over a century ago. This wooden structure
sits conveniently on a slightly elevated area of the garden, giving
a superior vantage point of the water lily and carp-filled pond
it overlooks. Though the tea house is closed, visitors can enjoy
the Iris Garden, rumored to have been designed by the emperor himself.
In spring, the corner blossoms in all the colors of the rainbow.
This landscaped garden, which is said to have been ordered by his
imperial majesty as a gift to the Empress Shoken, contains more
than 100 varieties of the elegant iris.
The tranquil oasis is fitting legacy for a modernizer, who was also
known for his respect for nature and preference for the simple life.
By Suvendrini Kakuchi
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