Sensoji Temple 浅草寺
Sensoji Temple (AKA Asakusa Kannon Temple) in Asakusa is the headquarters of the Sho-Kannon sect and Tokyo's oldest temple, having been founded in 628 A.D.
The massive, red Kaminarimon ("Thunder and Lightning Gate") is the famous outermost gate of Sensoji Temple, and the Asakusa district's most famous landmark. Kaminarimon is every tourist's first stop in Asakusa, and is the district's most photographed spot. The gate is especially distinctive for the huge red chochin lantern hanging inside it.
Kaminarimon dates from the 10th century, built about 300 years after the temple was established.
The size of the average Japanese house, Kaminarimon is almost as wide (11.4 m, 37 ft) as it is high (11.7 m, 38 ft).
In the gate's left alcove is a fearsome statue of the god of thunder and lightning, Raijin; on the right is his counterpart, the god of wind, Fujin: both Shinto rather than Buddhist deities, two of which can be found on the other side.
Kaminarimon has been rebuilt several times due to fire, the last rebuilding being in 1960.
Enter through Kaminarimon, and you are in the always bustling and crowded shopping street leading up to the temple, Nakamise dori, lined with souvenir, snack and Edo-style craft shops. Nakamise-dori leads up to the second gate, the Hozonmon Gate.
The gigantic Hozomon Gate (or "Niomon Gate") stands at the end of Nakamise-dori just in front of the main temple hall, or Kannondo. At 21.7 meters (71 feet) high and 21.1 meters (69 feet) wide, Hozomon is almost double the size of the Kaminarimon Gate. Like Kaminarimon it also has a huge paper lantern. On its rear hang two huge waraji (straw sandals) belonging to the guardian deity Nio that the gate is named after and which are supposed to convey Nio's fearsome size and strength.
The red and white Kannondo Hall, just past Hozonmon Gate, is Sensoji Temple's main building. The Kannondo was first built in 1651, destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in 1958. The hall is said to hold a golden image of the Goddess of Mercy (kannon) discovered by three fishermen in the 7th century. In front of the temple building is a large cauldron of incense, smoke from which is believed to bestow good health. Look out for people wafting the incense fumes over their bodies.
To the left is a five-story, 48m (157 ft) high Goju-no-To (five-story pagoda), rebuilt in 1973 and modeled after a similar structure at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. Near the pagoda is Dembo-in - a picturesque tea garden built in the 17th century by noted landscape gardener, Enshu Kobori (1579-1647). Although the garden is closed to the public, it may be possible to arrange a viewing by calling in advance at the temple's main office.
To the right of the temple is the Asakusa Shrine, which miraculously escaped war-time bombs. The shrine was built on the orders of the third shogun Iemitsu in memory of the three fishermen and is the home shrine of the Sanja Matsuri held in May: Tokyo's biggest and loudest festival.
Free admission to the temple and shrine grounds, which are open 24 hours a day.
Sensoji Access - how to get to Sensoji Temple
Ginza subway line, Asakusa subway line, and Tobu Isesaki line.
Tel: 03 3842 0181
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Google Map to Sensoji Temple
A visit to Sensoji Temple can be combined with a walk along the Sumida River to Sumida Koen, and a tour of the interesting shops and restaurants in the many arcades in Asakusa. Many backpackers choose to stay in the Asakusa district at one of several cheap guesthouses in the area. Smaller temples nearby include Banryu-ji and Tokyo Hongan-ji.
Access to Sensoji Temple is from any of the four stations that call themselves Asakusa Station: on the Tsukuba Express Line, the Tobu Skytree Line, the Toei Asakusa Line and the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line.