Arif's Journeys » Travel and Photography Blog of Arif Iqball

Masthead header

Empress Shoken Memorial Ceremony – Meiji Jingu, Tokyo

Kuretake-no-Mai

We pray that people

Be just unassuming

Like the bamboo,

Which grows without pretension

Or unsightly gnarls

(People do not have to be distinguished in the world; they need only to stand straight like the bamboo and remain open, unblemished and honest.)

The Kuretake-no-Mai is a poem by the Empress Shoken, consort of the late Emperor Meiji.  The Empress played a critical role in supporting the Emperor’s efforts to “modernize” Japan and according to Donald Keene “From 1886, the Empress and her entourage wore only western style clothes in public and in 1887 she even issued a memorandum on the subject, contending that traditional Japanese dress was not only unsuited to modern life, but that in fact, western style dress was closer than the kimono to clothes worn by Japanese women in ancient times”.  The Empress was a major supporter of not only the Japanese Red Cross, but also the international Red Cross which administers the Empress Shoken Fund used for international welfare activities.

April 11 marks the day that the Empress Shoken passed away in 1914 and a ceremony is held in her honour at the Meiji Shrine (Meiji shrine is dedicated to the souls of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken) .  The ceremony is carried out according to ancient Shinto rites and includes recital of Shinto liturgy and the dance based on the poem Kuretake-no-mai is performed by the shrine maidens.

The formal ceremony itself is by invitation only.  The guests take undue advantage of this privilege to photograph inside the shrine which is not allowed to the general visitors.  Albeit disappointed in not being able to photograph the dance, I tried to make the most of my visit to one of my often frequented photography locations.

Entering Procession of Shinto Priests

Procession of Priests entering the Meiji Shrine

Shinto Priests prepare before the start of the Ceremony

Procession of Priests in front of the Main Hall of Meiji Shrine

Shrine maidens perform Shinto dance "Kuretake-no-mai"

Shrine maidens perform Shinto dance "Kuretake-no-mai"

Shrine maidens perform Shinto dance "Kuretake-no-mai"

Priests prepare sake for offering

Leaving Procession of Shinto Priests

Next week, I look forward to photographing Yabusame at Sumida Park in Asakusa which will be a new location for me to photograph horseback archery.