Translated by Miki Takeshita
"Kaminarimon", the Unchanged Symbol of Asakusa
Written by Shiori Nakajima
Lantern with the Scent of History
This is the must-to-see at Asakusa area, the "Kaminari-mon(Thunder-gate)" of "Sensou-ji" temple. You might have been familiar with it on guidebooks or tourism information. It was once completely burned in a fire in 1835, but was rebuilt on 1960. The appearance has never changed since then.
浅草の会(Asakusa Association). "写真にみる昭和浅草傳(Pictures of Asakusa from Showa era)" , 25/11/1978.
The formal name of this gate is "Fu-Rai-jin-mon(風雷神門=Gate for Gods of Wind and Thunder)", eventually shortened into "Kaminari-mon(雷門)". Although it is not very clear on the picture above, but there is a Fu-jin(God of Wind) on the right and Rai-jin(God of Thunder) on the left side standing proudly at this gate. As you see, the most eye-catching feature of "Kaminari-mon" is its huge red paper lantern. Its size and colors are very attractive, but please carefully examine the dragon sculpture at the bottom too. Papers and frames of the lantern are newly replaced every ten years, but this sculpture has always been here since the reconstruction of 1960. You can look at this elaborate piece of work very closely, or even touch it with your fingers (NEVER try to damage it, of course).
Century-gazers beside the lantern
Behind Fu-jin and Rai-jin, there reside sculptures of Kinryu-zou(金龍像=Golden Dragon Goddess) and Tenryu-zou(天龍像=Heavenly Dragon God). Both of them are the God of water, as this Sensou-ji temple is dedicated to the Kannon(Goddess of Mercy) with its principle image taken from Sumida river. Did you know that dragons are deeply related with image of water in Japan?
Kinryu-zou, a Goddess.
Tenryu-zou, a God.
Wind, Thunder, and Water(=Rain) - the sculptures of these Gods show how people felt fear against natural disasters, and hence worshiped them. The gate leads you to crowded main street of Asakusa, the "Nakamise street(仲見世)". Going straight up this "Nakamise" is the formal route to visit this temple for prayers. I should mention that when entering the gate, be careful not to step your feet on the rectangular-shaped rock on the ground. That is said to be a sacred rock, generally related to a symbol of God or Buddha, or even your dearest parents' head.
Start Asakusa-walk from here
The annual festival of Sensou-ji temple "Sanja-matsuri(三社祭)" is held on every May. On such occasions, the lantern is usually folded up to avoid crash with Mikoshi(a portable shrine carried on shoulders).
You can see the lantern folded up on rainy or windy days as well. It's not a perfect form of this "Chouchin", but the opportunity to see it is in fact rarer.
Looking around, there are these "Kaminari-okoshi" confectionery stores. This "Kaminari-okoshi" sweet is a kind of sweetened cereal bar made of puffed rice and are very crunchy. It's related to good-luck as well hence it is suitable for souvenirs.
In front of the gate stands a police office, and also the Asakusa Cultural Tourism Information Center available in English and other languages. Come visit if you need any help or want to ask about this neighborhood.
To start your Asakusa area sight-seeing, why not go "Kaminari-mon" first?
:Address 1-3-2 Asakusa, Taito Ward, TOKYO :Access TOBU Skytree line/Tokyo Metro Ginza line/Tsukuba Express/Metro Asakusa line Asakusa St. 5minutes walk