Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s most venerable and most visited temple, attracting around 30 million worshippers each year. Founded in AD 628, it is also Tokyo’s oldest temple.
The temple is famous for its main Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), where a giant paper lantern hangs. The guardian statues of Fūjin (the god of wind) and Raijin (the god of thunder) stand on either side of the gate, which burned down in 1865 and was rebuilt in 1960s. As a result of the fire, the statues now have old heads on new bodies.
Through the gate is Nakamisa-dōri, an avenue full of traditional crafts and souvenir shops that sell everything from Edo-style wares to tourist trinkets. At the end of Nakamisa-dōri is the temple itself and to the left is the 55 metre-tall, Five Storey Pagoda. It is a 1973 recontruction of a pagoda built by Tokugawa Iemitsu and is the second tallest in Japan. The pagoda is currently under renovation until September 2017 and therefore closed to the public.
In front of the temple is a large incense cauldron, or jokoro, which is one of the main focal points. The smoke is said to bestow health and people bathe themselves in it, wafting it over their clothes before entering the temple.
Popularly known as Asakusa Kannon, the temple was built for a small gold statue of Kannon that two fishermen found in the nearby Sumida River. A shrine was built for the statue and then later, in 645, the holy man Shokai built a temple. As its fame and wealth grew, so did the temple.
The temple survived the 1923 earthquake but was destroyed in the World War II bombings. Its main buildings are therefore reconstructions that date from the 1950s, following the Edo-era layout. The temple has since served as a symbol of peace and rebirth to the Japanese people.
Inside the Kannon-do-Hall, the gold-plated main shrine houses the original Kannon image. After the statue was enshrined here it was decided that it should be hidden from people and this rule has remained in place until today. It is therefore a mystery as to whether or not an ancient image of Kannon actually exists, however 150 years after the statue was enshrined, a monk named Ennin made an identical replica, displaying it and allowing people to worship it.
To honour Ennin and commemorate the 1,200th anniversary of his birth, Yogodo Hall was built in 1994. Inside, statues of Bodhisattva Kannon, and of 12 protective Buddhas, each assigned to a particular year of the oriental zodiac cycle, are worshipped.
Many annual events take place at Sensō-ji, such as the meeting of the traditional end of winter, the Day of the 46,000 Blessings, and the Osame no Kannon festival to end the year. Each spring, the temple is also the focus of Tokyo’s largest and most popular festivals, Sanja Matsuri, which feature prominent parades, traditional music and dancing.
Within the temple grounds is the garden of Dembo-in, a tranquil stroll garden used as a training centre for monks. Visitors can also consult the oracle in the courtyard of the contemplative garden for answers to their most secret questions.
Sensō-ji Temple is located five minutes on foot from exit 1 of Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Lina. It is open 365 days from 6:00 to 17:00 (18:30 from October to March) and entrance is free.
- Tokyo Handy Guide
- DK Eyewitness Japan
- Lonely Planet Japan
- Wanderlust Pocket Guides Best of: Japan
- 2017 Spring Tokyo Guide
- JR East – Go Around Tokyo 2017