Sensoji Temple- A half day history tour
I was looking for a great place to experience some Japanese history for a few hours without trekking all the way to Kamakura or Kyoto so I decided to stay in Tokyo and head over to Sensoji Temple, otherwise known as Asakusa Kannon Temple. The Temple is gorgeous and I could get some amazing shots especially at night. The temple area also has lots of traditional Japanese crafts and souvenirs as well as local shitamachi (downtown) culture that is also worth some extra time. I got there a little before sunset because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go inside the temple itself because it is only open until 5pm.
This is Tokyo’s oldest temple built in 628. Legend has it that while two brothers were fishing in the nearby Sumida river, they found a golden statue of the Budhist god Kannon. When they tried to put it back in the river it kept appearing again. They showed it to a local leader who recognized it and built the Senso temple to house it. It is said that it was so bright he buried it inside the main building. The Temple has always been a tourist spot first by visiting prominent Budhist leaders over a 1000 years ago who would return and tell their followers. Later during the 10th and 11 centuries the Minamoto and Taira clans would visit, then Ieyasu, the Tokugawa shogun made it one of his family temples during the Edo era.
The preferred way to enter the grounds is through the Kaminarimon Gate or the gate of the gods of wind and thunder. It's named after the gods Fujin and Raijin sama who guard the gate. There is a huge red chochin lantern hanging from the gate, a great spot for a quick photo. Once you are through the gate you enter Nakamise dori or “the inside road” which is lines with small shops, some of which are over 100 years old. Here you can pick up souvenirs at Tokyo’s largest souvenir market. If you'd like something a bit different you can get more unique gifts go to the end before the second gate where you can find like scrolls, amulets, incense burned in the temple or a calligraphy stamp with the date of your visit written by a temple priest.
The second gate is called Hozomon and has some giant sandles hanging from them. After you go through, to the left you will see the pagoda called Goju No To that holds the memorial tablets of families of dead relatives. to the left which was really beautiful all lit up. Most people go to the huge bronze incense burner in the center of the grounds and waft the smoke over any aching body part and it's said it gives some relief. Don't forget to do a ritual hand washing from the dragons mouth at the fountain to the right before entering the temple. As you climb the stairs you can drop a coin, usually 5 yen, into the slot and pray. Inside the temple is some great artwork and amazing architectural features. If you go out to the left is a beautiful garden and some more shops. But if you exit the right side there is Asakusa Jinja, a shinto shrine that houses brothers who found the Kannon statue are venerated. The shrine crest is three fishing nets.
Overall the Senso Temple is a must see while in Tokyo and was particularly good for me since I only had half a day. The area is packed with history, culture, souvenirs and photo opportunities. If you have time there is a great spot for a birds eye view a short walk back out the Kaminari gate, at the Culture Tourist Information Center.