I'm not a super religious person, and when it comes to religions other than my own, I am woefully lacking in knowledge. Sure, I can make a solid Jesus joke, but beyond that I can't even keep track of when the man was born/died/became a zombie. And Eastern religions? I'm basically hopeless. My knowledge there pretty much consists of an American bastardization of the concept of karma, any tidbits I've picked up in yoga class, and some dabbling I did in meditation...until I fell asleep. Literally.
But my favorite part of Tokyo (aside from the food, of course) were the shrines and temples we visited -- in particular, Senso-ji and Meiji Jingu. Senso-ji is a huge Buddhist temple and the oldest in Tokyo. You enter at the Thunder Gate and walk down a street called Nakamise-dori...or more accurately, you get pushed along in a massive crush of people. Nakamise-dori is lined with traditional shops and stalls for eating. Once you've survived Nakamise-dori, you arrive at the temple itself, and it's incredibly impressive. My photos don't do it justice.
To me, Senso-ji is really representative of Tokyo in a way. In the Tokyo episode of "I'll Have What Phil's Having," Phil described Tokyo as being like "New York times Los Angeles." Solid. After I went, I described it as like Times Square -- just as dense and crowded but 10 times bigger. It's sensory overload and I felt that way about Senso-ji, even though it was also beautiful and elegant in its own way.
On the flipside, Meiji Jingu is one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. OK, so for as little as I know about Buddhism, I know even less about Shinto, the majority religion of Japan. But I do know that nature plays a huge role in it, and this was very evident at Meiji Jingu. This Shinto shrine is in a forest right in the middle of Tokyo. You enter through the Shinto gate, and it's like you're in a completely different world. The forest and gardens that surround the shrine are intensely beautiful and, for lack of a better word, kind of fucking magical.
We visited Meiji twice -- once very early in the morning to witness the morning rituals, and again on Coming of Age Day when we got to see all the girls dressed in traditional garb and all the boys dressed...well, like Japanese businessmen. The early-morning visit was my favorite though. Ice sculptures were lining the pathway through the forest to the shrine. As were barrels of sake (I don't know why, but I like it). Once you're there, you purify your hands. You can write and leave prayers. Or you can chuck some yen at the gods and make a wish. Mine hasn't come true.