For Community Engagement criteria, I will talk about a volunteer work I do for an organization called Pips Tokyo in which we go around Meiji Shrine with foreign tourists and guide them through different attractions.
Deep inside Meiji Jingu Shrine, 170,000 trees engulf us, absorbing the chaotic noise of Tokyo. Every weekend I lead groups of foreign visitors through one of Japan’s most important shrines, like this Australian family, visiting Japan during their daughter’s spring break. The shrine was built in 1920, in commemoration of the Meiji Emperor.
We walk past the entrance of a garden that leads to a natural well, which was built by a feudal lord and is one of the shrine’s power spots. The walls on either side of the path that leads to the shrine’s entrance are lined with sake barrels. When I tell the family that the barrels are empty, they jokingly cry out in disappointment. Before approaching the main building, we cleanse ourselves at small fountain following strict handwashing rules. At the offering box in front of the worship hall, where the shrine’s god rests, we toss in money and pray. The last torii signifies the end of the tour and I say my goodbyes to the family.
As a volunteer, I only share an hour and a half with tourists that come to Meiji Jingu, but that’s enough time to become acquaintances to know a little about each other’s cultures.
Due to the government’s efforts, the number of tourists visiting Japan is increasing every year. However, only a small percentage of Japanese people speak English, and the tourists I meet often tell me how relieved they are to meet someone who can answer a few of their questions. By giving them a tour of this sacred site, I hope to leave them with something that, unlike an empty sake barrel, they can take home with them: a positive impression of Japan.
Through this activity, I think I have left a positive impact on this community by giving the tourists chances to familiarize with Japanese customs and traditions. I am also able to reconnect with my own community by recognizing them and finding different opinions about Japan each time I meet with new tourists.