Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple and its religious heart. The temple was founded around 645 AD and enshrines a golden image of kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Sensoji Temple, is also sometimes referred to as Asakusa Kannon Temple.
What to See at Sensoji Temple
The Kaminarimon Gate
The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate serves as the entrance to the Sensoji Temple precinct and is the outer gate of the temple. It was originally built in 942 by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. The gate has two protector deities, Fujin, the god of wind is on the right, and Raijin, the god of thunder is on the left. The structure features a massive red and black paper lantern, dramatically painted to suggest thunderclouds and lightening and hence the name. The traditional lantern called chochin in Japanese is 3.9 meters high, 3.3 meters in diameter and 700 kg in weight. The original lantern burned down along with the Kaminarimon in the late Edo Period. It was rebuilt in 1960 and is renewed every decade with the current lantern dating from November 2013.
Nakamise-dori is the temple precincts famous shopping street and is lined with small shops selling souvenirs. It is located straight ahead from the Kaminarimon, and has over 80 stalls, is about 200 meters long, and sells just about everything. It is said to have been established in the early 18th Century. A must try here are the famous sembei (rice crackers). It is a good place to pick up a traditional Edo style Japanese souvenir such as a folding fan or yukata.
The Hozomon Gate
The Hozomon Gate is the gateway to the inner complex of Sensoji Temple and the temple’s inner gate. The second floor of the Hozomon Gate houses many of Sensoji’s treasures, including a copy of the Lotus Sutra, and the Issai-kyo scriptures. The first floor has two identical statues located on either side of the gate’s south face. They are Nio Guardians, the guardian deity of Buddha, and the gate was originally known as the Niomon. The first floor also features three large lanterns, and two large straw sandals called waraji. They were crafted by villagers in northern Yamagata Prefecture, and are meant to symbolize the Buddha’s power. It is believed that evil spirits will be scared off by the giant sandals. The Hozomon Gate was originally built in 942 AD with the present structure a 1964 reconstruction.
Five Storey Pagoda
Immediately to the left of the Hozomon gate is the Five Story Pagoda (Guju-no-To), which is said to contain some of the ashes of Buddha. The Pagoda is approximately 53 meters high and is especially picturesque at night when all lit up. The original was built in 942 with the current structure is a 1973 reconstruction. It is a national treasure and the second highest pagoda in Japan.
The Main Temple Compound
Nakamise-dori leads to the main temple compound. In front of the main temple is a large incense cauldron. It is custom for visitors to rub the smoke into their bodies through their clothes to bring good health.
The Hondo (Main Hall)
The Hondo Main Hall houses the Kannon image, which is away from view deep inside the hall. It is a national treasure and was originally built in 942, but later rebuilt by the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. The current building dates from 1958. A key feature of the Main Hall is its distinctive sloping roof that is quite tall, allowing it to be seen from a great distance.
Before entering the hall you can buy omikuji (paper fortune) that cost 100 yen. It is a lot of fun, simply drop 100 yen into the slots by the wooden drawers at either side of the approach to the hall. Pick up a silver canister, give it a shake, and take out a stick, which has a number in kanji on it. Replace the stick and find the corresponding drawer with your number on it. You can take your paper fortune out of the drawer and celebrate if you have found a lucky one. No matter if you haven’t, just tie the paper on the nearby rack, which is set up for accepting bad luck omikuji.
The Nitenmon Gate
The Nitenmon Gate is located on the East side of the Main Hall. It is named for the two protective Buddhist deities (known as ten) that can be seen on its left and right side. They are called Zochoten and Jikokuten respectively. Hence Nitenmon in Japanese means “the gate of two ten”. It was originally built in 1618 and has been named an Important Cultural Property.
History of Sensoji Temple
According to legend, Sensoji Temple was said to have been created when a statue of Kannon was miraculously pulled out of the nearby Sumida River by two local fishermen in the year 628 AD. The brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari along with their village chief enshrined the Kannon and it has remained on the same spot ever since. Sensoji Temple was built to house and honour the statue. The first temple was built on the site in 645 AD and the present structure was rebuilt after the war in 1950.
The Main Hall is open from
6:00 am to 5:00 pm (April – September)
6:30 am to 5:00 pm (October – March)
The Temple Grounds are always open
Admission to the Temple is free
How to Get There
Take the Ginza Line to Asakusa and leave the station via exit 1. The temple is located very close to the station.
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
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Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Sensoji Temple is either dawn or dusk, to beat the crowds and see the temple at the best light. Each May the Sanja Matsuri is held at the nearby Asakusa Shrine to honour the two brothers who found the Kannon. The three day festival is arguably Tokyo’s best.
Tip: The main hall and its gates are illuminated every day from sunset until 11pm. The temple lights are amazing at sunset, and make for some great pictures.