I’ll come clean: one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Japan in the first place was Lost in Translation. It’s my favorite film. I love it, utterly and totally. The casting is perfect, the cinematography is beautiful. The way the film captures the disorienting world of a traveller in a new country is utterly brilliant.
Sure, it wasn’t the only reason I came here. But it certainly played a huge part in sowing the seeds of my fascination with Japan.
In the film there is a scene where Charlotte, ably played by Scarlet Johansson, goes for a wander around a temple. If you come to Japan, you’re likely to similarly go wandering around all sorts of temples. Some are better than others. In the Tokyo district of Shibuya, we found one of the more beautiful ones – the Meiji Jingu shrine.
Shibuya itself is astonishing, yet another dazzling, dizzying Japanese neighborhood. It’s where we went to spend some time in the manga café.
And yet, given the overwhelming noise, energy and chaos of the surrounding area, the comparative calmness and serenity of the temple is stunning. The forest paths leading to it are cool, quiet and fresh. This feels like a place designed for calm reflection. Everything is ordered, neat, peaceful. Zen, if you will.
It is also completely free of charge for a visitor, which always goes down well in my book, and not only because I’m a tight arse. My theory is that if you have to pay to see something, you’re really only seeing a product which is presented for monetary gain. A temple or shrine is not, and should never be that. Thus I appreciated the complete lack of a ticket booth, souvenir shop or ice cream counter.
Of course there were other tourists there, but not in excessive numbers. There were no coach parties (maybe because there isn’t a coach park – my number one sign that a place is going to be shit is a coach park), but there were plenty of other people. Its always hard to appreciate something completely when there are other people there too. The dream of having one of these beautiful temples or shrines to oneself is indeed often little more than a dream.
And thus I did have to wonder exactly which shrine Scarlet Johansson visited in the film, since the scene in Lost in Translation shows what is really the same kind of temple, the same kind of beautiful court yards, the same trees and flowers. And yet, remarkably, there is absolutely not a tourist in sight (except for Scarlet Johansson, who is a tourist).
If you’re reading this, Scarlet Johansson, perhaps you can email me and let me know exactly where that temple is? I want to go.
Nonetheless, the shrine we visited, an oasis of calm in the middle of the beating madness of Tokyo, was an utterly lovely place to go. A place that urged a sense of contemplative reflection upon its visitors, and thus is absolutely worth a few hours of your time.
To get to the Meiji Jingu shrine, go to Harajuku subway station. Walk in the opposite direction to the Harajuku shopping street, into the forested area, and you’ll see the signs soon enough. Entrance is free.