Translated by Shinji Takaramura
Sensoji Temple In Asakusa - A Complete Guide
Sensoji, the oldest temple inJapan's capital, is located in Asakusa, Tokyo's most popular sightseeing area. This article introduces the highlights of the temple, access details, and other useful information.
Written by Mayu
Asakusa's Sensoji Temple
Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, boasting over 1300 years of history. Located in the popular sightseeing area of Asakusa, this temple is especially famous for its large red lantern hanging at the entrance gate called Kaminarimon.
Nakamise Dori, the oldest shopping street in Japan, is located beyond the Kaminarimon Gate and is always bustling with visitors to the temple. The street stretches for 250 meters and has almost 180 shops, mostly handling souvenirs and Japanese confectioneries. Snacks such as the Asakusa specialty imo yokan (sweet potato jelly) and ningyo yaki (doll-shaped cookies), along with Japanese accessories, can be found here, so this is also an ideal place to look for souvenirs.
Walk along the Nakamise Dori, and Sensoji comes into view. Visitors are engulfed in the smoke from the jokoro, which is set in front of the temple.
The Kannon Boddhisattva is the Buddhist deity enshrined in the main hall. The Kannon is a merciful deity who is believed to take away the people's suffering and make their wishes come true.
In this article, we introduce the features and highlights of Asakusa's famous temple, along with information on how to get to Sensoji and how to enjoy it through guided tours.
History and Features of Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple is said to have been established about 1350 years ago. During that time the Asakusa area was a fishing village. Two brothers gone fishing in the Sumida River caught in their fishing nets a statue of the Kannon Boddhisatva. When they presented it to the head of the village, the miraculous finding of the Kannon statue was considered an auspicious omen. It was decided that a temple should be built in order to enshrine the statue. The temple, located close to the place where the statue had been found, was named Sensoji.
Because many people's prayers were answered at Sensoji, the temple received the support of leaders and wealthy people and prospered into the majestic facility it is today.
In the proximity of the main hall of the temple, a shrine was built to honor the two brothers and the head of the village from ancient times who made the establishment of the temple possible. This shrine is Asakusa Shrine and is famous for its annual three-day Sanja Festival that unfolds on the streets of Asakusa.
If you visit the shrine grounds you'll notice that its symbol is an engraving of three fishing nets. They symbolize the three people who founded Sensoji Temple.
The Highlights of Sensoji Temple
The huge red lantern hanging from the Kaminarimon Gate has become the symbol of Asakusa. It is 3.9 meters in height, 3.3 meters in diameter and weighs approximately 700 kilograms. The original lantern was made in 1971 by Takahashi Chochin, a company located in Kyoto, and a new lantern is made every ten years.
For details on the gate and its magnificent lantern, please refer to the following article:
Nakamise Dori - A Traditional Shopping Street
Nakamise Dori is lined with Japanese confectionery shops. Try the kibi dango (millet dumplings) of Azuma, a re-creation of the Edo Period (1603-1868) confectionery, the ningyo yaki (doll cookies) of Kimuraya, the oldest of its kind in Asakusa, and the imo yokan (sweet bean jelly) of Funawa.
The other shops on this street handle kimonos, colorful woodblock prints, Japanese crafts, and many other types of souvenirs. Many of them are very reasonably priced.
To learn more about Nakamise Dori, please refer to the article below.
Jokoro - Good-Luck Bringing Incense
A large incense burner is placed in front of the main hall of Sensoji Temple. The smoke is said to have a healing effect, so most of the visitors make sure to inspire the sacred amoke before visiting the temple itself.
To learn more about this smoke, please refer to the following article:
The Five-Storied Pagoda
The majestic five-storied pagoda of Sensoji catches the eyes of every visitor. This pagoda is said to have been built in 942 AD. After being burned down during an air raid in World War II, it was rebuilt at a new location on the grounds. There is a monument at the former location of the pagoda as well.
The Main Hall of Sensoji Temple
Be sure to take a look at the Gokyuden, the room inside the main prayer hall. This is a special room for the Kannon Bodhisattva, with a gorgeous interior filled with gold-plated, elaborate sculptures.
When you visit the area where everyone offers their prayers, lift your eyes to the ceiling. It is adorned with beautiful paintings of angels and scenes from the Buddhist paradise.
The Deities Enshrined at Sensoji Temple
Besides the Kannon Bodhisattva, several deities are worshiped at this temple. If some part of your body hurts, touch the same part of the Nadebotoke (Pindola) statue first, and then touch your own injured part. It is said that this act will help the healing process.
Kuzuryu Gongen, a deity that is said to control rain, is also enshrined here.
In order to learn more about the deities of Sensoji, please refer to the article below.
Statues of Anime Characters
There are also some unique statues on the grounds of Sensoji. Yokai (monsters from Japanese folklore) such as Kitaro, Medama no Oyaji and Konaki Jijii, which all appear in the Japanese manga "Gegege no Kitaro," as well as Ultraman, are lined up along the road that connects the main hall and Kototoi Dori, so be sure to look for them.
For further information, take a look at the following article.
Try the Luck Divining Paper Slips (Omikuji)!
At Sensoji, visitors can buy omikuji (fortune divining papers) for 100 yen a piece. The rumor goes that there are more kyo (bad luck) omikuji here compared to other temples or shrines, but many visitors still buy them. If you hope to buy a daikichi (very good luck) omikuji at a temple said to be filled with kyo, or want to find out if most of the omikuji are really kyo, give it a try.
To learn more about luck divining papers availabe at Sensoji, take a look at the follwoing article.
Asakusa Jinja, is located right next to Sensoji. While Sensoji is a Buddhist temple, Asakusa Jinja is a Shinto shrine. Visitors come to this shrine to pray for the happiness of their families, protection against car accidents, good luck in business ventures, illness prevention, good health and also for academic success.
As we already mentioned above, Asakusa Shrine was built in honor of the three founders of Sensoji Temple. Sanja Matsuri, the largest festival in Asakusa and held each year in May at the Asakusa Shrine, is a three-day event involving large parades of people who carry the three gorgeous mikoshi (portable shrines) of Asakusa Shrine around the city.
For further information, please refer to the following articles:
Sensoji Temple at Night
From 2015, the main hall, pagoda, Hozomon Gate and Kaminarimon Gate are illuminated from sundown until 23:00. The main hall will be closed, but the temple grounds are open to visitors. They have a quiet, calm atmosphere at night, which is different from the daytime atmosphere and its throngs of visitors. It is perfect for a leisurely stroll.
The following article explains in detail the highlights of Sensoji Temple at night.
Events at Sensoji Temple
There are various events at Sensoji throughout the year, such as the Setsubun Festival in February, the Hozuki Ichi (ground cherry market) held on July 10th, and the Hagoita Ichi, held from December 17th to 19th. Visitors can enjoy the Japanese atmosphere at all these ceremonies.
Sensoji also hosts dance performances called Sensoji Teramai every season. Kinryu no Mai (golden dragon dance) is performed on March 18th (Jigen-e) and October 18th. Shirasagi no Mai (the white heron dance) is performed on the second Sunday of April, at Sanja Matsuri in May and on November 3rd. Fukuju no Mai (dance of the seven lucky gods) is performed at the Setsubun Festival (February 3rd) and on May 5th. If you have the chance, don't miss these events.
To learn more about the various events, please check the following articles:
Souvenirs from Sensoji Temple
The local sweets made in Asakusa are some of the best souvenirs from Sensoji Temple!
Ningyo yaki (doll cookies) of Kimuraya, imo yokan (sweet bean jelly) of Funawa and agemanju (deep-fried manju) of Asakusa-kokonoe are famous Asakusa confectionaries. The agemanju have a short shelf life, so please be careful if you are thinking of taking some back home.
The talismans of Sensoji can be bought only at the temple, so they should also make for nice souvenirs too.
For further information, please check the following articles.
Sensoji Temple - Guided Tours
For those who want to join a guided tour of Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Dori, check out the the free guided walking tour of Asakusa, provided by the volunteer group Tokyo SGG Club. There is no need for a reservation; participants are asked to come to the first floor lobby of the Asakusa Tourist Information Center at least 10 minutes before the tour starts. A Japanese guide will explain about the history of Kaminarimon Gate and Sensoji in English.
For further information, please read Japanese Guided tour of Asakusa, in English... for Free!.
MATCHA also organizes exciting tours of Sensoji and the Asakusa area. Details here: Explore Asakusa And Tokyo Culture - Join MATCHA For A Walking Tour!
Access to Asakusa and Sensoji Temple
From Tokyo/Ueno to Asakusa Station
To reach Asakusa from Tokyo Station, head for Ueno Station on the Yamanote Line, and switch to the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line at Ueno. Asakusa is the third stop from Ueno, after Inaricho and Tawaramachi. The ride from Ueno takes about five minutes. For a detailed route, please read Going from Ueno to Asakusa by Train.
From Haneda Airport
Get on the Keikyu Line from the international terminal. The Airport Limited Express bound for Narita Airport will take you directly to the Asakusa Station. The fare is 620 yen, and the ride takes about 40 minutes.
From Narita Airport
Get on the Keisei Line from terminal 2, which will take you directly to Asakusa Station. If you board the Access Express of the Keisei Narita Sky Access Line, bound for Keikyu-Kurihama, the ride will take about an hour, and the fare is 1290 yen.
From Asakusa Station to Sensoji
From Tokyo Skytree to Sensoji
From Oshiage Station on the Toei Asakusa Line, it is a 3-minute ride to Asakusa Station, and the fare is 180 yen. From the Tokyo Skytree Station Iriguchi bus stop, get on the Toei Bus ("To-08," bound for Nippori-ekimae), and get off at the Tobu-Asakusa Station bus stop. The ride takes fifteen minutes, and the fare is 210 yen.
Walking to Sensoji from Tokyo Skytree will take 15 to 20 minutes.
Asakusa - Other Recommended Sightseeing Spots
Hanayashiki, which is said to be the oldest amusement park in Japan, and Asakusa Kingyo, a unique store where visitors can also enjoy goldfish scooping, are both located near Sensoji Temple. Please check the links listed below.
The articles below offer information on other charming places to visit in Asakusa.