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Sake barrels at the gravel road entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Sake barrels at the gravel road entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine

Yoyogi Park - Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan


These sake barrels are displayed as a decoration and placed at the shrine entrance in honor and offer to a multitude of gods and the souls of the deceased Emperor Meiji[1] and his deceased wife Empress Shoken, enshrined at Meiji Jingu Shrine. The barrels are donated to this Shinto shrine by Japanese sake brewers to be used for ceremonies and festivals. Although empty of sake, barrels are full of spiritual significance, a powerful symbol uniting the brewers with their gods. Shinto, which originated in Japan, is its oldest religion. Founded in 660 b.c., it is practiced in public shrines devoted to worshiping a multitude of gods (kami). Meiji Jingu is the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Initially built in 1920, the shrine was destroyed in the Allied aerial bombardment in 1945 and rebuilt with private donations in 1958.

Traditionally, Japanese people have had a long-standing association between deities and liquor (sake). Sake has always been a vehicle to bring people and their gods together. In some of the older religious texts, the word for Sake is Miki (or Omiki). When written, it is formed by the combination of the symbol for god and liquor. Drinking liquor brings happiness and allows people to feel closer to their gods and enshrined personalities. Therefore, the Meiji Jingu Shrine sake barrels become a spiritual connection, a symbol of happiness, prosperity, and success.

The sign next to the sake barrels say:

“During the Meiji Era, Emperor Meiji, whose divine soul is enshrined here at Meiji Jingu, led the industrial growth and modernization of Japan by encouraging various industries and supporting technological development. Due to their grace and virtue, Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken, the beloved mother of our nation whose soul is also enshrined here, are held in the highest esteem by the Japanese people. These sake barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Zenkoku Shuzo Keishinkai (Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association) including the Kotokai, which has made offerings of sake for generations, as well as other sake brewers around Japan wishing to show their deep respect for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. In addition to stating our humble gratitude to all of the brewers who have so graciously donated their sake, we also pray for the continuous prosperity of the sake brewing industry and all the other industries maintaining Japan's traditional culture.”


[1] The Meiji era (1868-1912) corresponds with Emperor Mutsuhito’s reign, who died in 1912 and is now known as Emperor Meiji. His wife, Empress Shoken, died in 1914. The shrine is dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Each New Year’s holiday, as many as three million people come to visit this shrine to make wishes and buy good luck charms for the coming new year. This shrine attracts the most significant number of worshipers for this occasion in all of Japan. The 170,000 trees found in the Meiji Shrine complex are not a natural forest; but instead, donations from all over Japan are dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan, a contrast with the feudal past. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 at the age of 14. The emperor was restored to power in place of the existing shogunate, and Japan rapidly westernized and modernized to catch up with the west. Sources:

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