Introduction
History of Sensoji Temple
Sights to see around Sensoji Temple
Events at Sensoji Temple
Access
Conclusion
Nearby

Senso-ji, located in the heart of Asakusa, is the oldest temple in Tokyo. It has a long history of over 1400 years and is well known as the symbol of Shitamachi, the downtown area of Tokyo. More than 30 million people visit Senso-ji every year to experience the classic Edo atmosphere. This article will introduce Senso-ji with various appeals from different areas.

History of Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple: the Guardian of Tokyo's "Shitamachi"

In 628, Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught a Buddha statue in their net while fishing at Sumida River. Not knowing much about the Buddha statue, they released it back into the river, but the statue kept getting caught in their net. The brothers then brought it back home, since they believed it was something special. This story is the origin of Senso-ji, and the temple was erected in honor of the Buddha statue.


Sensoji's main prayer hall bustling with tourists and worshippers

Since the temple has such a long history, it was damaged continuously, for example by earthquake, fire and air strike during the war. The temple re-built in 1649 was undamaged for 300 years, which was the longest record, but it was completely destroyed by the second World War. The temple was rebuilt six years later and is the one we see today.

Asakusa: Tokyo's Center of Commerce & Commoners' Culture


Denboin Street, Asakusa, recreates the townscape of the Edo period

From the Edo era (around 1603 to 1850), Shitamachi was the driving force of culture and commerce, and Asakusa was one of the most prosperous cities. At the time, the warriors, called bushi, were paid in rice, and the rice granaries were built in Asakusa. The granaries supplied both the rice for currency and for food. With merchants and traders in Asakusa dealing rice, there were more people and money in town, which accelerated the economy. In addition, public amusement facilities, such as Mizucha-ya (Japanese tea café) and Misemono-goya (show tent), helped Asakusa to become one of the busiest areas in Edo.

Sights to see around Sensoji Temple

Kaminarimon Gate - An Icon of Asakusa


The great lantern of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate

Kaminarimon will come into view as soon as you turn around the corner from Asakusa station. It is a symbol of Asakusa, and also the main gate of Senso-ji. The official name of the gate is “Fuu-rai-jin-mon”, with “Fuu” meaning wind, and “Rai” meaning lightning. On the right of the gate is the god of lightning, and on the left is the god of wind, and they are both worshipped at this temple. These two statues can be seen in Japanese temples very often. Take a closer look at the gate to see the sublime statues and the beautiful colors. The gate itself is 11.4 meters wide and 11.7 meters tall, and in the middle, there is the famous lantern, weighing 700 kilograms. The lantern is usually hung daily year round, but during Sanja-matsuri, Asakusa shrine’s main festival, it is rolled up and put away. Visiting during the festival may be a worthwhile experience!

The Ever-Energetic Asakusa Nakamise-dori Street


Asakusa Nakamise-dori Street

Passing through the Kaminarimon is a street straight up to the main temple. This street is called Nakamise-dori, known as the oldest shopping street in Tokyo. The word Nakamise indicates the traditional shopping street inside the temple grounds. In recent years, these kinds of shopping streets are losing its liveliness due to the appearance of large shopping malls. However, Nakamise-dori is still very much loved and appreciated as a traditional shopping street in the Shitamachi area. It is always full of tourists from all over the world, Japanese field trip students and locals. There are around 90 stores along the street and is a must for souvenir shopping.


Senbei (rice crackers)

The smell of ningyo-yaki (a small baked cake in the shape of a traditional doll filled with various paste) and senbei (rice crackers) and the beautiful colors and variations of tenugui (Japanese handkerchief) and sensu (Japanese folding fan) are constantly attracting many visitors. There are more and more exciting shops on the streets parallel to Nakamise-dori and on the street perpendicular to it called, Denpoin-dori. There are too many shops to go in to, and you will find yourself intrigued in every one of them! Nakamise-Dori also gives off a different feeling according to the season or festivity, so that is also something to look forward to.

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Hozomon - The Second Gate of Sensoji


The Pagoda and Hozomon Gate at Sensoji Temple

Walking through Nakamise-dori you will see another gate ahead, which is Hozomon. It is also called as Niomon, which literally means “the gate of two kings”. The “kings” refer to the two gods at the side of the gate, together called “A-Un”. It was rebuilt using reinforced concrete after the mass damage of the Second World War. The gate started to become referred to as Hozomon (literally translating to “treasure cellar”) since then, because of the descendent scriptures and precious resources that were stored inside the gate. It was open for entry during the Edo era, but is now closed to the public.

The Main Prayer Hall of Sensoji Temple


Sensoji Temple's main prayer hall

After passing through the second gate is finally the main and most important part of the temple, the Hondo. This is where the Buddha statue from the legend is placed. The Hondo rebuilt in 1649 was successfully undamaged for almost 300 years and designated as a National Treasure, but the bombings in 1945 completely destroyed it. This building is now built with reinforced concrete as well.

Goju-no-To - The 5-Storied Pagoda


The 5-storied Pagoda of Sensoji Temple

On the left of Hozomon, there is a tall building called Gojuu no tou. These types of buildings can be commonly found at many temples in Japan. This tower consists of five layers, which is why it is called Goju no to, literally meaning “tower of five layers”. The Busshari (the ashes of the Buddha) given from the Isurumuniya shrine in Sri Lanka is stored at the top of the tower.

Denpo-in & the Japanese Garden


Denpoin japanese garden in sensoji temple asakusa

On the left side of Nakamise-dori, there is the Denpo-in, where the monks of Senso-ji live. Unfortunately, it is closed to the public, but is sometimes opened during special events, and inside is a beautiful Japanese garden. In contrast to Nakamise-dori’s busy and crowded atmosphere, Denpo-in is calmer and almost gives you the feeling that time is passing slowly. If Denpo-in is open during your visit, you are quite lucky and have come at a great time!

Omikuji - Fortune telling Slips


Omikuji

You can draw Omikuji at most temples and shrines in Japan. Omikuji is a small paper with your fortune and advice about items such as romance, business and health. Japanese people have a custom of visiting shrines in the new years and drawing omikuji to test their fortune. Omikuji is available year round for just 100 yen, so you can test your fortune! Fun fact: there is a rumor that the chances of drawing Kyo (bad luck) at Senso-ji are relatively high compared to other shrines (although regardless of the many shrines I've been to, I have only ever drawn Kyo in my life.)

Shokoro - 小香炉


Shokoro

Between Hozomon and Hondo, there is a huge pot where people can offer incense sticks. This is for the visitors, so feel free to use. When you go up to the pot, you can see people putting the smoke of the stick near them. It is said that putting the smoke to the part of your body where there are any problems will help cure it in the future. It is also said that by going through the smoke, you can purify yourself before going into the Hondo.

Events at Sensoji Temple

Cherry Blossoms (March to April)


Sensoji Temple and Nakamise-dori Street in the Spring

Between March and April, Japan is gorgeous with, of course, cherry blossoms. Along Nakamise-dori, cherry blossoms bloom beautifully and you can also see the weeping cherry trees. Sumida River, which is a 5-minute walk from Senso-ji, is very famous for its breathtaking cherry blossoms. The area is famous for cherry blossoms, so taking a walk during the spring is recommended.

Ground Cherry Market (Summer)


Ground Cherry Market

On the 10th of July, Shiman-rokusen-nichi (literally meaning forty six thousand days) and hozuki (ground cherry) market is held every year. According to legend, you can receive forty six thousand days worth of grace if you go to the temple on this day. On the same day, brightly colored ground cherries are sold in the market. Wind-bells and some amulets are sold as well.


Ground Cherry

The Dance of the Golden Dragon (October)


The dance of the golden dragon at Sensoji Temple

In autumn, falling leaves color Japan with beautiful burnt reds and a dark oranges. Senso-ji is no exception, as the temple premises are famous for its beauty during the fall. The weather is also very comfortable at this time, so taking a walk in the area under the falling leaves is perfect. The Dance of the Golden Dragon (金竜の舞; kinryu-no-mai) is also held in October, which you can see in the photo.

Sanja-Matsuri (May)


Sanja festival

Just by Senso-ji is the Asakusa shrine. The three men who paid a great contribution to the building of Senso-ji are worshipped in this shrine. At most of the shrines in Japan, festivals are held mainly in the summer. Here at Asakusa shrine, Sanja festival is held on the third Friday, Saturday and Sunday in May. 1.5 million people visit every year, and they bring an unbelievable load of enthusiasm and vibrancy into town. Mikoshi (portable shrine) are carried out to the town of Asakusa, which is a very familiar sight in Japanese festivals. Enjoy the atmosphere of Sanja-matsuri, but beware of the massive crowds!

Hagoita Market (Dec. to Jan.)


New Year's Event at Sensoji

Senso-ji is very busy during the new years, but it is worth a visit as the year-end atmosphere is quite unique as well. On every 18th of the month during the winter, small festivals and markets will be held in Senso-ji. Since it is the last one of the year, the festivals and markets in December are very crowded with people looking for goods for the coming year. The best selling item is Hagoita, which is like a traditional Japanese badminton racket made of wood. From the Edo era, there was a custom of gifting Hagoita to the family of the newborn girl. From that custom, it is now perceived as a lucky charm and bought as one.

Access

Nearest station: Asakusa Station 浅草駅 (Tobu Skytree Line TS01/Tokyo Metro Ginza Line G19/Toei Asakusa Line A18/Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station)

From Shinjuku Station 新宿駅

【Shinjuku Sta.】JR Chuo Line Express / for Tokyo
→【Kanda Sta.】Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / for Asakusa
→【Asakusa Sta.】from Exit 6 → about a 5-minute walk

From Tokyo Station 東京駅

【Tokyo Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ueno
→【Kanda Sta.】Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / for Asakusa
→【Asakusa Sta.】from Exit 6 → about a 5-minute walk

From Narita Airport 成田空港

【Narita Airport Sta.】Keisei Narita Sky Access Line Access Express / for Shinagawa
→【Asakusa Sta.】from Exit A4 → about a 5-minute walk

From Haneda Airport 羽田空港

【Haneda Airport Sta.】Keikyu Line / for Shinagawa
→【Asakusa Sta.】from Exit A4 → about a 5-minute walk

Recommended: ride around the area on a rickshaw

How does Sensoji Temple sound? If Sensoji Temple is not enough for you, there are also famous landmarks such as the amusement park, "Hanayashiki" and the Tokyo Sky Tree. If your feet get tired, hopping on a rickshaw to complete the rest of your visit is a great idea as well! Get rid of the tiredness with the refreshing wind and delicious street foods near Asakusa.

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