In Search of Help From a Higher Power

Disclaimer: This post has very little to do with actual baseball.

With the Swallows on the mother of all losing skids, and very little hope on the horizon, now seemed to be as good a time as any to turn to a higher power for help. So where does a desperate Swallows fan go to pray for divine intervention? Harajuku of course…

Harajuku, known to many as a fashionable shopping district, is also home to Meiji Jingu (明治神宮). In a baseball context, Meiji Jingu refers to Meiji Jingu Stadium, the Swallows’ home stadium. But in a more general context, Meiji Jingu refers to the Shinto shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor and his wife. The stadium is actually considered to be part of the outer precinct of the Shrine. So Meiji Jingu seems like the natural place to pray for good fortune for the team. In fact Swallows’ players are known for praying at Jingu prior to the season’s start. What follows is a illustrated guide on how to pray for good fortune for our team!

A short walk from the station takes you to the first torii (鳥居) leading to Meiji Jingu. Whenever you pass through a torii, bow once before passing.

The first torii

You’ll notice the Chrysanthemum crests on the torii, symbolizing the Shrine’s connection to the Japanese Imperial family. After passing through the torii, you follow a long gravel pathway flanked by trees. The peaceful tranquility contrasts with the hustle and bustle of Harajuku that you left only moments ago.

Halfway along the path, you find casks of wine and sake that have been donated to the Shrine.

Offerings of sake.

Continue along the path and eventually you will pass through another torii.

The second torii

After some more walking you will finally see the final torii leading to the main shrine.

The final torii

But before you go through the torii, you must cleanse your hands with water at the font located outside the gate.

Using a dipper, rinse your left hand, then your right hand. Pour some water onto your left hand, and use that water to rinse your mouth. Finally, rinse your left hand again, and rinse the dipper by letting the remaining water to run down its handle. Never let your lips directly touch the dipper. Now, you are ready to go through the torii and the front gate to enter the grounds. Approach the main building pictured below.

The main shrine.

You can place a monetary offering in the offertory box. 5-yen coins are popular, as they are a symbol of good luck and harmony. Once you’ve made your offering, bow twice, clap twice, make a wish, and bow once again.

To make an even more direct appeal to the deities, you can write out your wishes or words of gratitude on an ema (絵馬), votive tablet.

These tablets can be purchased for 500 yen, and wishes can be written on the back, in any language. Writing utensils and tables are provided. This being a Tokyo Swallows’ site, appeals for the teams success like the one below would be greatly appreciated.

In my chicken scratch I have asked for the Swallows to win again, and for world peace.

After writing out your ema you may take it home, or you may choose to leave it hanging at the shrine on the provided hooks.

Obviously, if you’re going to leave your ema hanging, be careful not to get too personal. If you’re a voyeuristic type, take a look to see what others have written. You may find an ema written by someone famous. I’ve seen ema left by Swallows’ players.

So next time you have some time time to kill before the game, the stadium is a 20-30 minute walk from the shrine, consider going to the shrine to pray for our team. The points of etiquette described in this article generally apply to all Shinto shrines.

Final note: Those of you who have taken a closer look at my ema will notice that it is dated May 21. Obviously the deities have not yet answered my wishes...

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he’s not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • SFBird

    Great article Kozo! I will pray for home runs at Meiji Jingu Shrine today before the game.