A few days ago the Winter Olympics in Vancouver ended, and it was quite a spectacle. But do you remember where the Summer Olympics were held in 1964? Yes, they were in Tokyo, and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium was one of the facilities built for those Olympic Games. That striking structure (picture here) was within comfortable walking distance from where our family lived when we first went to Japan, just two years after the Olympics.
Harajuku Station is the train station closest to the National Gymnasium, and you can see a picture and read about that well-known station here. Departing from the station, it is only a minute’s walk to the huge torii (the “gate” that marks the entrance into sacred space) in front of Meiji Shrine, the most important and most popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo.
Several years ago, some missionaries and other Christians in Japan announced that there was going to be prayer-walking in front of Meiji Shrine. That was being planned, of course, because Shinto was seen as a rival to Christianity and the devotion of the Japanese people going there was thought to be idol worship.
Hearing about the planned prayer-walking, I remarked that it was my opinion that the youth culture so prominent on the other side of Harajuku Station was the real opponent to Christianity and that attention ought to be focused there rather than on Meiji Shrine.
The youth culture of Harajuku seems to be unmitigated hedonism. And in Japan the word idol is regularly used to refer to cute young women in their teens and early twenties who appear regularly in the mass media. Probably few “idols” actually go to Harajuku, but most of the young women who go there would very much like to be idols.
While I would be surprised if most or even many of the Japanese who visit Meiji Shrine actually experience God there, I would not be surprised if some of them do. By contrast, it seems to me that the hedonistic young people who frequent the streets of Harajuku are quite unlikely to experience God there—or anywhere. So, I am far more concerned about the “idolatry” of Harajuku, and the hedonism of the young people of Japan in general, than about the perceived idolatry of Meiji Shrine.
The torii (sacred gate) at Meiji Shrine near Harajuku Station in Tokyo.