Jingu Gaien History

Public Domain File:1933 Meiji Jingu Sports Festival 01.jpg Created: 1 December 1933

A Slice of Jingu Gaien History

Tokyo Shimbun 30.5.2023

‘When I was cleaning out my wife’s parents’ house, I found a list of local donors who contributed to the construction of the outer gardens of Meiji Jingu Shrine.’ Mr Chiba Takashi (69), a former publisher in Nagareyama City, Chiba Prefecture, sent this message to News You Happen. The Meiji Shrine was built in memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Dowager Shoken, who promoted the modernisation of Japan, and while the inner garden, which houses the shrine buildings, was financed by the national government, the outer garden was built based on donations and labour from the public. The list makes you realise that the shrine was built with the thoughts and donations of people from all over the country,” he says. The Gaien was built based on donations and labour service from the people of the country. Eiichi Shibusawa and others set up an organisation and donated more than 7 million people. 

The family home of his wife, Keiko (64), is located in a farming village in Nirasaki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, overlooking Mt Yagatake. A large number of documents, including some dating back to the Edo period, were found in a storehouse built in the Meiji era. A local history research group who looked at the documents removed 20 cardboard boxes, but the list of names was found on a cardboard box that was not selected and “could not be fully loaded onto the truck”. The title ‘Meiji Jingu Housonkai donors’ caught Takashi’s attention, so he looked it up.

The Housonkai was a private organisation founded in the Taisho era by businessman Eiichi Shibusawa and others from the business world, who solicited donations from the public for the construction of the outer gardens. According to the Meiji Jingu Gaien Shi and other documents, the Bohonan-kai set up branches in each of the present-day prefectures. Each set its own target amount. Initially, the overall target was 4.5 million yen, but eventually reached 7,033,640 yen. The number of people who donated exceeded seven million. 

At the same time, a total of more than 100,000 young people from all over the country, including those from the inner garden, participated in the labour service. It was also a huge project in which tree donations were made. The list is believed to be part of the list of donors in the surrounding area, including the family home, with 96 names written on five sheets of Japanese paper. The names were addressed to the village head at the time and dated 1916. Donations ranged from 10 sen to 3 yen. At that time, a bowl of buckwheat noodles cost 4 sen. Ishihara Yasusaku, who is believed to have kept the list (in his later years, around 61 years old). Ishihara Yasusaku, who is believed to have kept the list of names, at the age of around 61 in his later years. 

A practitioner from the University of Tokyo kept the list?  

What kind of people donated the money? The name of Keiko’s great-grandfather, Yasusaku Ishihara, who died in 1922 at the age of 63, is on the list. He was a general practitioner from what is now the University of Tokyo. Compared to other documents from the same period that Takashi-san found, the list also included people who appeared to be peasant farmers. It is highly likely that a wide range of people, rich and poor, donated money. Takashi said: ‘In the fashion of the day, it would be crowdfunding by all the people. In that light, I think we should listen to the public’s opinions on the current redevelopment and tree felling as well”. Takashi was inspired to provide the information after reading an article in this newspaper by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who called for a review of tree felling and redevelopment. 

Meiji Jingu Gaien was completed in 1926. Aiming to create a western-style garden where people could gather, the garden includes the Seitoku Memorial Picture Gallery, which tells the story of Emperor Meiji’s life, as well as sports facilities. After its completion, the association responsible for its development requested the Jingu to preserve its aesthetics. Part of the area was designated as Japan’s first scenic area, and the designation was extended to the entire area after the war. The redevelopment is said to be the biggest project since the founding of the shrine, with the rugby and baseball grounds being replaced and reconstructed, and a skyscraper being built and commercial development taking place. Construction by Mitsui Fudosan, Jingu and others began in March and is scheduled for completion in 2036. 


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