Translated by MATCHA
Asakusa Sensōji Temple: An Introduction To Japanese Buddhism
Written by OsawaKimie
Sensōji Temple found in Asakusa, is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, and is dedicated to the goddess Kannon. Let's learn a little about Japanese Buddhism.
Sensōji Temple is the heart of Asakusa and finds itself visited by a steady stream of travelers both international and domestic every day of the year. Sensōji Temple is also known as Asakusa Kannon, who is worshiped at this temple by thousands.
But, have you heard of Kannon-sama before? It may sound like a familiar term to some, but there are many that visit Sensōji Temple and have no idea as to what 'Kannon' refers to.
The Meaning of Kannon
After passing Kaminarimon and walking through the busy shopping street, you will find yourself standing out front of the main temple building. The area in which Kannon-sama is enshrined often has a long line of worshipers waiting to pay their respects and pray outside it.
Kannon-sama or Kannon Boddhisattva in Buddhist terminology, is the goddess of compassion and benevolence; Kannon-sama is said to take away your suffering and aid in recovery from strife.
From the outer sanctum of the main temple you can see the gokūten or august palace where Kannon-sama is enshrined. This image of Kannon-sama is known as a gohibutsu, which is a Buddhist image that is normally withheld from the public for reasons far too numerous to mention in one article.
At Sensōji Temple, once you have finished making your offering and prayers, it is customary to clasp your hands in front of your chest and say "Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu" (南無観世音菩薩), which is the Japanese Buddhist form of saying "Amen to Kannon Boddhisattva". "Namu" is simply the Japanese version of the sacred sound 'Om'.
The Differences between Buddha, Kannon-sama & Nyorai
Photo by: Wally Gobetz
Kannon-sama is a Bosatsu or Boddhisattva - but what does that exactly mean?
In the simplest terms, a Buddha and Bosatsu are practically the same thing. A Bosatsu or Boddhisattva is a deity that has vowed to save all beings before officially becoming a Buddha. It is said that this state was modeled after the Buddha during his ascetic practices.
For reference, in this picture you can see the form of Kannon Bosatsu as depicted at Sensōji Temple.The long flowing robe, necklace and other ornaments that wrap around the figure are what have given many the impression that Kannon-sama is female, though it is not explicitly said that Kannon-sama is either male or female. Kannon-sama is generally accepted to be female however, and is overtly depicted that way in most works found in Japan.
This is the 1.8 m tall Amida Nyoraizō statue found at Yōkō temple within the Sensōji Temple complex. Comparing this statue to that of Kannon Bosatsu you can soon see that this has fewer ornamentations; it is more simplistic in appearance.
Nyorai are also like both Bosatsu and Buddha; Nyorai are depicted similarly to the Buddha after he had attained enlightenment. Nyorai is the Japanese term for those figures who have attained enlightenment, known as Tathagata in Sanskrit or Pali.
Incidentally, the characteristic hairstyle these statues have is known as rahotsu in Japanese; for each figure, each strand of hair is individually wrapped from the right to create this style.
There is far more to Japanese Buddhism and Buddhism in general than could ever be covered in a single article. That being said, having a rudimentary understanding or awareness of the religion will make a visit to Asakusa's Sensōji Temple all the more special.
When visiting Kannon-sama at Sensōji Temple, please keep what you have learned here in mind.
For more on Asakusa and Japanese Buddhism, check these links:
One Of The Largest In Japan – The Great Buddha Of Shōhōji, Gifu
5 Attractions For 1,000 Yen?! Exploring Asakusa On A Budget
Find Zen And Beauty At Kenninji, Kyoto's Oldest Zen Temple
5000 Yen Plan For An Asakusa Stroll – Kimono and Sake Included!
Address: Tokyo, Taitō, Asakusa 2-3-1
Other Languages: English, Chinese, Korean
Nearest Station: Asakusa Station (浅草駅), Ginza, Tōbu Skytree, Tsukuba Express & Toei Asakusa lines
Access: 5 minute walk from Asakusa station on all lines
Phone Number: 03-3842-0181
Website: Sensōji Temple