Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan, has a beautiful five story pagoda, and several temple halls, plus a gorgeous garden just a few blocks from Tokyo SkyTree. Built in 645 and rebuilt after it was destroyed during World War II, Senso-Ji Temple is not only one of Japan’s largest and most popular temples, but it’s also a symbol of Japan’s national pride, determination, and the immutability of their history.
Name: Senso-Ji Temple
Location: Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City,
Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Hours: 6am – 5pm daily
Senso-Ji (also 浅草寺 or Sensōji) Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, is one of Japan’s largest temples. It is open 365 days a year and is a very popular place for Japanese to go for their first temple visit of the year, after the new year. The temple was built, according to legend, because in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy, out of a lake (or river), and although they tried time and time again to get rid of the statue by putting it back or destroying it, the statue would find its way back to them. This statue’s creepy persistence eventually inspired the two brothers and their families to build a temple to this relentless entity, which evidently satisfied Kannon, because she left them alone and now allegedly dwells at Senso-ji. Legend says that these two brothers were destined to find the statue because she knew that they wouldn’t rest until they built her a beautiful temple, which they certainly did (although, it seems to me it was more to get rid of a creepy stalker statue rather than out of devotion, but, what do I know?).
The large gates with the massive paper lanterns are called the Kaminarimon, aka the Thunder Gates) which can be found on souvenirs and trinkets all over Asakusa and Tokyo. On the left side of the photo is the beginning of Senso-Ji’s sprawling shopping complex, Nakamise, where souvenirs, talismans, and trinkets of all sorts can be found. If you’re into collecting pins (which is a very popular pastime in Japan, and a popular souvenir option), this is the only place in Japan where pins with the Kaminarimon and red paper lanterns can be purchased for roughly ¥200-500. You’ll also find clothing, delicious foods, lots of matcha-flavored snacks, teas, books, postcards, and so much more.
The main hall of the shrine is different from most shrines, because not only can shoes be worn inside the temple, but we see many people taking photographs inside as well, which is unusual considering most temples strictly prohibit photography inside. This alone makes it an awesome photo-op, and Senso-Ji’s opulent decor, golden interior shrine, and massive pillars are an incredible feat of architecture in and of themselves.
I loved the sense of happiness and wonder everyone here had here. We noticed that most people weren’t as somber at Senso-ji as at the temples, which is likely due to the temple’s more relaxed (merciful?) atmosphere. It was interesting to see some Japanese people dancing and singing at this temple with big smiles on their faces, and it seemed to be a very popular meeting place for young people who didn’t hesitate to express their joy at seeing their friends. We visited Senso-ji during the sakura (cherry blossom) season, and it was also a very popular spot for people to take photos in kimono with the blossoms that hung from the trees in the garden (pictured below). in fact, we also witnessed two weddings during our 2-3 hour-long visit to the temple complex, and random visitors joined in cheering and wishing blessings and happiness for the newlyweds, which was such a beautiful thing to experience.
If you’re looking for a unique, architecturally impressive temple and pagoda with lanterns and a rich history, Senso-ji is a perfect introduction to Japanese temples, especially if you’re a foreign visitor, because it is much more laid back than the temples. Plus, it’s located just a few blocks from Tokyo SkyTree, so if you plan well, you can see both before lunchtime and avoid the crowds. There is no admission fee to enter the temple, and if you don’t buy any of the souvenirs, it’s completely free.
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