The two-part Asakusa travel series features the tourist spots to visit in the area and the off-beat detours you could take, as per your schedule and interests.
Formerly the entertainment district during the Edo period (1603-1868), present-day Asakusa still carries itself with the kind of splendor and grace befitting its past status.
During peak times, it is near impossible to get stand-alone pictures of many structures and sights. You will probably have to wait in line to get yourself clicked because of the popularity of the area among tourists. So, early morning (and by that I mean really early) and late night are the only times you would probably be able to get that perfect shot for your travel blogs and social media pages.
The Kaminarimon Gate
Very close to the Asakusa Station exit (Exits A3 – A5), the Kaminarimon (雷門) gate is the perfect spot to start your tour of Asakusa. Originally built in 941 near Komagata and shifted to the current location in 1635, after being destroyed and reconstructed multiple times, the current structure of the gate was built in 1960. In the outer face, the gate houses the gods of wind and thunder, Fujin (風神, east) and Raijin (雷神, west) respectively. On the reverse face, the gate holds sculptures made by Hirakushi Denchu and Yasuo Sugawara of the dragon god Tenryu (天龍) and the dragon goddess Kinryu (金龍) respectively, installed in 1978. Fujin and Raijin were originally of the canonical Shinto pantheon, and later integrated seamlessly into the Buddhist spiritual system. Thus, the Kaminarimon verily reflects the complex symbiotic association of Buddhism and Shinto in Japan.
Nakamise shopping street
Walking through the Thunder gate, en route to the Hozomon (宝蔵門) gate, you have the Nakamise shopping street tempting you with the bright-coloured assortment of wares and the delectable fragrances that waft along with the warm barbecue smoke. Your short journey does not only appeal to your eyes and your nose, but also feeds your ears with the low-high chatter of the throng of people around you in myriad languages and dialects.
From samurai swords to daintily packaged sweets, from barbecued meat to matcha green tea, and even the quaintest postcards for your loved ones – the street offers something for everyone.
The Hozomon Gate
Also built in 942, this gate stands at the entrance to the inner complex of the temple even larger and grander than the Kaminarimon. The current structure was built in 1964, with its upper story being used to safely store the Sensoji’s valuable sutras. There are two guardian statues on either side of the gate; Nio (仁王) are the guardian deities of the Buddha, and have a wrathful and aggressive appearance. The gate also features three large lanterns and a pair of large waraji straw sandals that weigh around 400kg each.
The Sensoji Temple
Tokyo’s oldest temple dating back to 628, the Sensoji is dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu (観音菩薩), the Bodhisattva of compassion.
Beyond the grand architectural beauty of the temple, the spacious grounds also offer many delights – the five-storey pagoda, the shrine of Benzaiten (弁財天, the goddess of music, dance and fortune), the Yogodo (影向堂) hall, which was built in the honour of Ennin (円仁), the monk who revived Sensoji, the oldest stone bridge in Tokyo and a pretty koi pond under the bridge.
You should also visit Rokkakudo (六角堂), the oldest architecture in Sensoji dating back to 1618, a one-storey, hexagonal style quaint structure.
You would also come across a small shrine in the premises called Mitsumine Shrine (三峰神社), a branch of the main Mitsumine Shrine of Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture.
Do not forget to get a goshuin (御朱印) in your goshuincho.
Shuin is a red seal originally given to those who submitted transcriptions of Buddhist sutras. Over time, it was given as proof of visit and worship at Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines. It is a practice now open for both Japanese and non-Japanese tourists. Shuin can only be given in particular notebooks made for this purpose. You can buy these special notebooks from the temple itself. Price ranges from ¥1,000 to ¥1,500 at Sensoji. You can carry the notebook to all the shrines and temples you visit, and get them sealed. You will have to pay for each seal (¥300 to ¥1,000), and the seals will be unique in different temples and shrines.
What to better explain the unique interaction between Buddhism and Shinto than to uphold the example of the Shinto Asakusa Shrine. The shrine was established to honour the three founders of the Buddhist Sensoji Temple.
One of the three biggest festivals in Tokyo, the Sanja Matsuri (三社祭), happens in May every year in this complex to honour the three founders. The festival dates for 2019 are from Friday, May 17th to Sunday, May 19th.
We went to the Sensoji Temple complex in Asakusa during the day; the crisp air and the freshness of the morning did lend the visit a certain spiritual gravity. However, an evening trip when the lights are put on and the structures are aglow in the backdrop of midnight blue would be quite a riveting experience. And let’s not forget the glorious shots you could get!
Do keep a lookout for Part II of the Asakusa travels – the detours.
Sensoji Temple complex information
The temple buildings are open 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. (April – September) and 6:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (October – March). They remain open all days of the week. Stores in Nakamise Street close around 7 p.m.
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0032
The Sensoji Temple complex is a 5 minutes’ walk from Asakusa Station, via Exit A4. The Asakusa Station is served by the Toei Asakusa Line (A-18), Ginza Line (G-19) and Tobu Skytree Line (TS – 01).