Sensoji Temple: The Oldest Temple in Tokyo

Religion is among the greatest factors that affect the lives of people. It is a spiritual belief and varies depending on a lot of things such as the environment, the country, the upbringing, and the culture of the person. Every type of religion has its own kind of belief system and own way of practicing. There are also organizations and institutions that are based on religion. Various studies, researches, and anecdotes have been made that were also based on religion and its authenticity. Wars and peace have also broken out due to religion. Truly, the effects of religion and the way people interpret their belief systems have molded and changed the world as it is today.

Every country has its own predominant religion that most people follow. It can vary from Christianity and Buddhism to Islam and Judaism. Specifically in Japan, the two most dominant religions that the majority of its population practice are the Shinto religion and Buddhism. Multitudes of shrines and temples have been built in the country throughout its history and until today, these shrines and temples are still being kept and maintained for the followers of these religions. Some of these structures are also considered as tourist attractions for other people who are interested in discovering how the religion came to be and how it is practiced in Japan.

Facts About Sensoji Temple: Coordinates, Map, and History

Among the many temples built all across Japan, the Sensoji Temple is probably one of the most popular not just among the Japanese but also among tourists. Sensoji Temple is considered as the main attraction in the heart of shitamachi, also translated to “low city” in English, a district in Tokyo. Located at Asakusa, Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple that embodies the atmosphere of the past decade in Tokyo, having been built in the 7th century, along with the other areas in Asakusa.

With the coordinates of Sensoji Temple at 35.7148° North and 139.7967° East, it can be easily accessed either by public transportation like the subway or by private vehicle. Fret not for people who are not familiar with the area as they can just search the Maps application and input the coordinates to navigate going to Sensoji Temple. It is also the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and welcomes more than 30 million visitors every single year, which makes Sensoji Temple the most generally visited spiritual location in the world.

There is indeed a rich history behind Sensoji Temple, which makes it all the more enticing to visitors who are looking for that ancient feel that the temple has to offer. It was said to be devoted to the bodhisattva Kannon or Avalokiteśva. There was also a legend behind the construction of Sensoji Temple. It was believed that two brothers who are work as fishermen by the name of Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari found a statue of the Kannon in the Sumida River back in the year 628. Upon recognizing the sanctity of the statue, the chief of the village who is known as Hajino Nakamoto preserved the statue. He did this by reconstructing his own home to build a small temple wherein the other villagers can visit to worship Kannon.

This temple in Asakusa was established in 645 A.D., which ultimately makes it the oldest temple not just in Asakusa but in all of Tokyo. The Sensoji Temple was also designated as the tutelary temple of the Tokugawa clan by the Tokugawa shogunate known as Tokugawa Ieyasu during his time. The entry to the shrine is identified by a tori built in the year 1727 while a bronze plaque was placed on the gateway. This plaque lists the people who have attributed to the building of the torri. A shrine is also located inside the precincts of Sensoji Temple known as the Nishinomiya Inari Shrine.

Unfortunately, the temple came to its destruction after it was bombed during the Second World War. Still relentless, the temple was reconstructed later on. It now serves as a symbol of rebirth and peace to the people of Japan. To further emphasize on the symbolism of the temple, a tree that was bombed and destroyed during the Second World War had now regrown in the husk of the old tree.

Starting at the Kaminarimon Gate and the Red Lantern

One of the most well-known parts of going to Sensoji Temple is passing by the Kaminarimon or the Kaminari Gate. It is the outermost gate of Sensoji Temple and the most famous landmark in Asakusa district. Also known as “Thunder and Lightning Gate,” the Kaminarimon features a bright red chochin paper lantern with its name written in black, the tones symbolizing thunderclouds and lightning. This red lantern is probably the most notable part of the Kaminarimon. The gate itself was constructed in the 10th century, just 300 years after the temple was founded.

Standing at 11.7 meters or 38 feet high with a width of almost 11.4 meters or 37 feet, the gate is guarded by two statues on each side. The statue on the left alcove is the deity known as Fujin or the god of thunder while the statue on the right alcove is the deity known as Raijin or the god of wind. Incidentally, the “rai” word can also be read as “kaminari,” which is the other name of the gate. While Sensoji is a Buddhist temple, both deities guarding the Kaminarimon are both Shinto gods. Just above the lantern hangs a green plate with the words “Kinryuzan,” which is the official name of Sensoji Temple and directly translates to “Golden Dragon Mountain.” The Kaminarimon itself was destroyed several times due to fire, with the last reconstruction in the year 1960.

After passing through a shopping street, people would be welcomed by the second gate or the main gate of Sensoji Temple known as the Hozomon Gate. Also known as Niomon Gate or “Treasure House Gate,” the Hozomon Gate is located just in front of the main temple hall called the Kannondo. Standing at 21.7 meters or 71 feet high with a width of 21.1 meters or 69 feet, the size of the Hozomon Gate is almost twice the size of the Kaminarimon. Similar to the Kaminari Gate, the Hozomon Gate also features a big paper lantern. Hanging on the left and right side of the gate is a huge pair of waraji or straw sandals, believed to belong to the guardian deity Nio.

The main structure of Sensoji Temple is the Kannondo Hall. Painted in red and white, Kannondo Hall was first constructed in the year 1651. However, it was destroyed during the Second World War, along with the other parts of the temple. On the other hand, it was rebuilt in the year 1958. Many people believe that Kannondo Hall houses a golden image of the Kannon, also known as the goddess of mercy. In front of the structure stands a cauldron of incense. It is believed that the smoke coming from this cauldron brings good health. Hence, several people stand in front of the cauldron and waft the smoke from the incense all over their bodies.

On the left side of the Kannondo Hall is the Goju-no-To. Standing at 48 meters or 157 feet high, the Goju-no-To is a five-storey pagoda. Reconstructed in the year 1973, it was designed to look similar to a structure located at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. A tea garden known as Dembo-in is situated near Goju-no-To and is quite a beautiful view. Designed by landscape gardener Enshu Kobori, the Dembo-in is generally closed to the public although a viewing may be arranged by calling the main office of Sensoji Temple in advance. On the right side of the temple, on the other hand, stands the Asakusa Shrine. Many people believe that it is a holy site due to it miraculously avoiding bombs during the Second World War. It was constructed in dedication to the fishermen who first found the statues of Kannon. The Asakusa Shrine is also considered the home shrine of one of the largest and probably also the loudest festivals in the Tokyo Prefecture known as the Sanja Matsuri. This festival is held every May of the year.

Visiting Sensoji Temple: Operating Hours and Admission Fee

With all the great attractions and significance of the Sensoji Temple, it is surprisingly free of charge to visit. Admission to the temple and shrine grounds is free while the temple is open everyday for 24 hours. Hence, anyone can visit the temple during the day or at night. This is especially great for people who already have something scheduled for the day as they can still opt to visit Sensoji Temple at nighttime. The place itself is lit with lanterns and red lights, giving it a traditional and homey feel in the evening. It would also be especially romantic to walk around the temple at night.

As for accessibility, Sensoji Temple is easily accessible via the Ginza subway line, the Tobu Isesaki line, and the Asakusa subway line. Located at 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, it can also be accessed from any Asakusa Station, namely on the Tobu Skytree Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tsukuba Express Line, and the Toei Asakusa Line. There are also JR lines that can be taken to Asakusa from either Tokyo or Shinjuku Station. Because of the vast popularity of Asakusa, several tourists travel from various parts of the world just to see the temple. There are also information centers in the area that are more than willing to guide tourists to their destination. Hotels are also available for people who would be staying the night after strolling around Sensoji Temple.

Strolling at Night: Charms Being Sold at Markets Nearby

Approaching Sensoji Temple is a shopping street known as Nakamise dori, wherein visitors of the temple are able to buy charms, both local and traditional snacks, and other souvenirs from various shops. Ground cherry pods are also being sold on the temple grounds. Directly translating to “inside street,” the Nakamise dori is more than 200 meters long. It is a way that leads from the Kaminarimon to the Hozomon Gate. The usual Japanese souvenirs like folding fans and yukata can also be bought from the shops that line the shopping street. Even the Nakamise dori has a rich history behind it. Some of the shops in the street are actually more than a hundred years old.

Shops in Nakamise dori began opening back in the 18th century when neighbors of the temple were granted permission to sell things on the street approaching the main hall of the temple. On the other hand, the government of Tokyo prohibited shop owners to sell their things in the area in May of the year 1885 although it was allowed again after some time. In that same year, the street was also rebuilt in brick to look similar to the style of the West in December. Shops in the area were destroyed during the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake and during the Second World War but were reconstructed after some time. Currently, Nakamise dori has about 89 shops. Hence, even in Sensoji Temple, shopping is encouraged and appreciated by the local folks.

Official Sensoji merchandise is sold only at the last part of the journey. Omamori amulets, books about Sensoji, scrolls, omikuji fortunes, and even incense to be burned in the cauldron are sold in this last stretch. Goshuin calligraphy with the red stamp of the temple along with the date of the visit can also be purchased in this area for only 500 yen, which is already affordable considering that it is especially written by the priests themselves of the temple.

Truly, Sensoji Temple is not just any ordinary temple. It has various special features that attract visitors from all over the world. The experience of being able to go there and seeing how the locals practice their faith is unlike any other. The minute that one steps on the temple grounds of Sensoji, the feeling is just different. Spending a day or night in Sensoji Temple would definitely be an unforgettable experience.