An outstanding feature of Meiji Shrine, one of the most important shrines and temples in Japan, is the 700,000 square meters of forest that encompass the inner and outer gardens. Nowadays, the Meiji Shrine forests are loved and enjoyed as a sanctuary of nature within the city, but what is not widely known is that they were actually planted by hand, one hundred years ago. Using the latest ideas in forestry, landscape design and city planning of the time, the forests were planted by young volunteers from across the country, as a model of sustainable nature in the city.
Work on the Meiji Jingu Forest began in 1915, with a grand plan to create an “Eternal Forest”. Messages came from across the country and overseas that people wished to donate trees, and in total approximately 100,000 trees of more than 350 different species were donated and planted with the volunteer aid of 110,000 youths. And so a forest was born in the heart of Yoyogi. The scale of the project make it the only such endeavor ever to have been attempted in Japan, and the unique ecosystem it has created is a much loved natural resource in the heart of the city.
Cerasus３ (2020) by Mariko ASAYAMA(photographer)Meiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
On a fine day in spring.
Sparrows (2020) by Mariko ASAYAMA(photographer)Meiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
A survey in 2013 found the forest today holds 36,000 trees of 234 different species. In addition, approximately 3,000 species of organisms including new species, endangered species and plants and animals rare in Tokyo have also been reported.
Snow day (2020) by Mariko ASAYAMA(photographer)Meiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
Forest in the snow.
GyoenMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
The site in Yoyogi was chosen for the shrine because it was the spot were Emperor Meiji had constructed a garden for Empress Shokei when she was unwell. The blue iris gardens in the inner shrine are a popular spot to this day.
FlowerMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
In our Yoyogi Village,
Is so very still,
It gives us the feeling
Of leaving the capital.
Poem composed by Emperor Meiji
The Eternal Forest
The best forestry experts and garden specialists of the day gathered to create an “Eternal Forest” at the shrine of the emperor and empress. Entrusted with the task, Seiroku Honda, Takanori Hongo, Keiji Uehara and other specialists formulated a plan to pant broad-level evergreens such as beech and black oak as the foundation of the forest. The reason was that even in that period they saw pollution was damaging trees in the city, and realized only broad-leaved evergreens would survive. Approximately 100,000 trees of more than 350 different species were donated and planted with the volunteer aid of 110,000 youths.
Creating a magnificent forest
The planting plan created by specialists of the day reached the fourth stage 90 years after it was initiated. The spirit and wisdom from a century ago still imbues the forest today.1st stage: Red and black pines were planted to create the forest, and fast growing conifers were planted beneath them, along with broad-leafed evergreens such as black oak which would become the major trees in the future.2nd stage: Around 50 years later, the other conifers overshadowed the red and black pines, which gradually died off.3rd stage: Approximately 100 years after the 1st stage, the beech, black oak and other broad-leafed evergreens became the central trees of the forest.4th stage: As the beech and black oaks grew, they fostered the next generation of trees that would continue to build this rich natural expanse.
Meiji Jingu mapMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
WastelandMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
The site was essentially fields and grasslands with a few pine trees and small grove of mixed trees.
Northwest view from near the Jingu KaikanMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
The site prior to the construction of Meiji Jingu.
Tree donationMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
The forest of Meiji Jingu grew from about 100,000 trees donated by the people.
Jingu no MoriMeiji Jingu Forest - Festival of Art
More than 110,000 young people volunteered from around the country to plant trees in the shrine precincts and build its pathways.
Nature and the Japanese
More than 110,000 young people from around the country planted more than 100,000 trees. Each one of them is a symbol of the Japanese way of viewing nature, a philosophy of respect, knowledge and learning that our ancestors learnt from being a part of nature itself. The traditional way the Japanese view nature is to see spirits and gods within the forest and the mountains, and to pray to them in gratitude for what they give. You could say that Meiji Jingu Forest was built by the devotion of our ancestors. When you come into this forest, think about the relation between man and nature and the gods, and feel how you are connected to a bigger life, and are kept alive within the divine protection of the gods. For the first hundred years, and for a thousand more, what should we tell the generations to come? While going about our daily rites, we will endeavor to protect this shrine, to grow, to pray, to open our hearts and to learn.
After 100 years, Meiji Jingu's forest today.