Sensoji, a Must-Visit Tokyo’s Oldest Temple

Asakusa is a district in Taito, which retains the vibe of the older Tokyo and is dotted with shopping and sightseeing spots. It is one of the most popular tourist neighborhoods in Tokyo, not only for foreigners but also Japanese people.

Located in Asakusa, Sensoji is a one of the TOP-10 visited temples all over the country. Here is our guide to the popular sight, looking at the history, design and local walks.

About Sensoji

History and Features

With a history going back 1,400 years, Sensoji is considered the oldest temple in Tokyo. Its history stretches back to the year 628, when two fishermen brothers found a Buddha statue in the nearby Sumida river and enshrined it in a small hall. Local chief Haji no Nakatomo recognized the statue as Kannon the goddess of mercy, and later on, became a priest and made his own home into a temple for the statue.

In 645, the Kannon Hall, where Kannon is enshrined, was rebuilt into a magnificent building. Since then, Sensoji became more and more widely known throughout Japan as a sacred Buddhist place. Among the powerful military rulers who recognized the temple's significance were Minamoto no Yoritomo and Ieyasu Tokugawa. Unfortunately, many of its buildings were destroyed by the fire during the air raids and were rebuilt after the war.

History

The main hall of Sensoji is devoted to granting wishes. In exchange for a little devotion, gods will grant any wish that you may have, instead of a specific request like matchmaking, success in business or study. In addition to the main hall, there are many other places in the temple grounds, where you can ask for a good match, warding off evil, family safety, success in business, safe delivery, and traffic safety.

Temple’s precincts

Let’s explore Sensoji temple grounds, starting from Kaminarimon!

Kaminari - mon (Thunder Gate)

Kaminari-mon, or the "Thunder Gate", is the entrance gate to the Sensoji. Measuring 3.9-meters high, 3.3-meters wide and weighing roughly 700 kilograms, its large vermillion lantern is an iconic symbol of Asakusa. Flanking the lantern are two statues that give the gate its name Furaijinmon, meaning ‘Gate of the Gods of Wind and Thunder’: the figure on the left is the God of Thunder, and on the right, the Wind God.

In 1865 the gate was gutted by fire but this time was not rebuilt for 95 years. The current gate structure dates from 1960 thanks to donations from Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita. The beautiful vermilion Kaminarimon is one of the most iconic symbols in Asakusa, crowded with tourists every day. Traditional shopping street Nakamise-dori extends 250m from Sensoji's Kaminari-mon to Hozo-mon Gate, with roughly 90 stalls lining the street. Scroll down to read more about it!

Hozo-mon Gate

Nakamise-dori leads to the magnificent Hozomon gate that houses Kongo-rikishi statues on each side. The second floor of Hozomon gate is closed for visitors.

Jokoro (incense burner)

Between the main hall of Sensoji and the Hozomon Gate, a huge incense burner jokoro is engulfing visitors with holy smoke. It is one of the Buddhist tools for purifying worshippers’ bodies, available to the public. You will notice that the people around the incense burner tend to cover themselves with smoke. This is based on the belief that engulfing your body part with a smoke helps to heal it. If you happen to visit Sensoji, please give it a try and purify yourself with a healing smoke.

Omizuya(Chozuya)

Before you enter the main hall, cleanse yourself at the water fountain omizuya on the right side. The fountain is adorned with a stone statue of Dragon god, who rules over water.

Read this article to learn how to use omizuya(chozuya).

Main hall

After passing the massive incense burner and chozuya, you will see the main Kannon Hall, devoted to the goddess of Kannon. Throw your money offering and pray to the deity, enshrined at the back of the hall. Sensoji advises visitors to place hands together in front of the chest and chant ‘Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu’. The main hall features a gorgeous interior, however taking photos is prohibited in several areas, and it is recommended to appreciate the temple’s beauty with your own eyes.

Yogodo Hall

Climb down the stairs on the west side of the main hall to visit Yogodo Hall, built in 1994. In Japanese, yogo symbolizes the appearance of gods and Buddhas in the human world. Buddhas yogoshu who save people and help the goddess of Kannon are enshrined here.

Goshuin (red stamp)

Yogodo hall also serves as a selling point for goshuin stamps. The seal on the left is for Daikokuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods worshipped at Yogodo. The one on the right is an iconic stamp of Sensoji that portrays the main deity of Sensoji, the Holy Kanzeon. Why not take one home as a reminder of your travels?

There are many other places to discover on Sensoji grounds, such as Yakushido and Bentenyama, but this article focuses on the most famous ones. Lastly, let's take a virtual tour to the Nakamise-dori between Kaminari - mon and Hozo - mon.

Nakamise-dori

Around 90 stores are lined up along the strip, transforming Nakamise-dori into a busy shopping street. Tourists are being asked to refrain from eating and walking so it is a good idea to enjoy your snack on the spot. Here are the most recommended stalls, starting from Kaminarimon.

Kazusaya

Established 95 years ago, Kasusaya sells kimono accessories. The store offers a wide range of products, from tapestries to decorate your home to kimono clothing and small gifts.

Kikuya

Must-visit place for those who want to try fresh Japanese sweets daifuku and dango made of rice flour. You can enjoy the snacks inside the store.

Fujiya

Fujiya sells haori, a short coat for formal kimono, t-shirts with Japanese characters, patterns, and anime designs, perfectly suited for souvenirs. With a little digging, you can find your favorite item!

Ginkado

Ginkado stocks a variety of Japanese accessories, such as fans and fake swords. It has a long history, doing business over 100 years.

Ichibanya

he store sells a variety of rice crackers senbei that are deliciously fresh and flavorful. Roundshaped snacks are made from a grain flour and grilled until a crispy thin outer rim is formed. In addition to rice crackers, Ichibanya offers kaminari-okoshi sweets that are believed to bring a good fortune for your household and make your name ring. The main ingredient is expanded rice, created by roasting rice grains, and enriched by a mix of sugar, millet jelly and peanuts.

Kameya

At Kameya, you can watch ningyo-yaki being baked through the glass. All products are handmade from high-quality ingredients. Ningyo-yaki are small cakes filled with sweet bean paste and coated with the sponge cake. The name ningyo stands for the Japanese word for doll, and therefore cakes are doll-shaped. Kameya's ningyo-yaki are famous for their extra-thin skin and lots of red bean paste filling.

Hirao-shoten

This shop boasts many Japanese-style accessories which are a perfect fit for souvenirs. If you liked Kaminarimon lanterns, we recommend you to purchase a small version for your memories.

Finally

This article didn’t cover all the sightseeing spots on Sensoji grounds. The temple itself and Nakamise-dori are the shining examples of the place where Japanese culture and history have remained intact. Don’t hesitate to stop by while visiting!

Access

Address 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Transportation By Train:
5 min walk from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line /Toei Asakusa Line / Tobu Skytree Line / Tsukuba Express
Official website https://www.senso-ji.jp/english/