Meiji Shrine Forest

 150-Year Project of Meiji Shrine Forest


In the heart of Tokyo, there is a shrine forest with 70 ha in the area located on the site of Meiji Shrine. The Shrine was completed and dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken in 1920. This shrine forest was created about 100 years ago as a project with a150 year vision, using theories based on the natural sciences as well as on the Japanese view of nature inherited from ancient times.


First, the creation of a shrine forest has its basis in traditional Japanese thought and concepts of nature.  Since ancient times, Japanese people believed that spirits of deities dwell in plants, trees, stones, water, and other natural objects. We built Shinto shrines to offer respect and veneration to these deities. The sacred forests surrounding these shrines have been protected over long periods of time..


Second, several experts in forestry and landscape architecture launched the shrine forest project. The project team discussed which tree species should be planted as the dominant components of the forest, in order to create a setting appropriate for the shrine.  Because most of the site planned for the forest consisted of farms, grasslands, and marshes. One of the roles of the forest was to protect the shrine from dust carried by strong winds blowing off nearby military drill court, and smoke pollution caused by steam locomotives of the Yamanote Line.


The project team set out the following conditions; the dominant trees should be adapted to the climate and the soil type, resistant to smoke pollution, and able to grow naturally without maintenance. The trees should look natural and appropriate for the shrine.


They zoned the site into five main sections with surrounding areas according to usage and underlying landscape.  They envisioned four 50-year stages in the naturally changing form and conditions of the forest.  In 150 years, the forest was supposed to be composed entirely of evergreen broad-leaved trees such as oak, chinquapin, and camphor.


For the first stage of the forest, tall indigenous trees such as red pines and black pines were designated as the main trees. In addition, cypress, cedar, and fir were planted as under-story trees, and evergreen broad-leaf trees such as oak, chinquapin, and camphor were planted as the lower under-story trees.


The pine trees were expected to gradually wither over the next 50 years, as the cypress grew taller.  This would allow sunlight to reach the evergreen broadleaf trees and help them grow vigorously, ushering in the second-stage forest.


The forest was to enter its third stage about 100 years after its creation.  The main trees expected to flourish in this stage were evergreen broadleaf trees such as oak, chinquapin, and camphor.  In addition, tall old trees such as cedar, cypress, and fir as well as zelkova and ginko would be seen here and there in the forest of evergreen broadleaf trees.


In another 50 years, conifers were expected to disappear, the forest to mainly consist of large old oak, chinquapin, and camphor trees. Finally, the tree species composing the forest are expected to stabilize in the fourth stage of the forest. At this stage, the forest will no longer need to be tended, becoming an eternal, naturally growing forest.


Thus the Meiji Shrine forest plan took into consideration both the growing and withering of trees.  The cedars and pines that were the dominant trees during the first stage have already disappeared, and the forest is now mainly composed of oak and chinquapin. The forest project foresaw this natural selection process.


Third, shrine forests provide valuable green spaces for citizens and play a significant role as an oasis of relaxation and helping protect the environment. A thick forest is thought to absorb at least 100 times more carbon dioxide than a lawn, which greatly contributes to alleviating global warming.