Sensoji temple is one of the great cultural and religious icons of Tokyo. Its history dates back to 628 A.D. when, according to popular lore, two brothers who were fishing in the nearby Sumida river caught the catch of their lives - a small gold statue of Bodhisattva Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness.
The temple was erected in her honor, and that statue is still housed here. Over the centuries people have flocked there seeking favors of Kannon. The temple was destroyed during World War Two, but present structure was rebuilt with donations.
Located in Asakusa, Taito ward, and draws around 30 million visitors each year. The complex is extremely large with several gates, temples and halls, a pagoda, the shopping street and a shrine (Asakusa Shrine, strictly speaking though, it isn`t a part of Sensoji, even though it is extremely close).
The majority of visitors to the temple enter via Kaminarimon (or Thunder gate) which was built by Taira no Kinmasa in 942, but in a different location to where it stands today. Today that gate is a major tourist attraction itself, with a constant stream of people taking group photos and selfies in front and under it. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait to get a break in the crowd to get your own picture.
Beyond Thunder Gate is Nakamise-dori (or Nakamise street), the famous 200-meter long shopping street. It has everything a Japanophile could want, from senbei (rice crackers, that will be freshly cooked), chopsticks, fans, decorations, swords, handbags through to ninja suits for kids. This place can be incredibly packed with people at times, and you might well find yourself walking at a snail’s pace to get through it especially during festival days.
After Nakamise, it is all great photo opportunities so make sure to bring a camera. Most people seem to make straight for the main hall after passing through the huge Hozomon (or Hozo gate, which is at the end of Nakamise). Before entering the hall, you can buy "omikuji" which are strips of paper with fortunes written on them (and they cost 100 yen). If you get one with any kind of bad luck written on it, tie it to one of the "trees" (racks set up for the purpose of accepting bad luck omikuji). There is also a large pot just before the steps containing incense which is continuously burnt. Grab some of the smoke to spiritually cleanse or heal yourself, and some people say by rubbing it your head it will make you intelligent!
The main hall at Sensoji is very compelling as it is the centre of the complex, plus it has that huge and distinctive roof, so the crowds are thickest there. You`ll see worshippers and visitors, people of many different nationalities and even a great many school kids on excursions all around you.
And that isn’t even the end of Sensoji. There is also Awashimado Hall, Bentendo, Chingodo, the five storey Pagoda, Yogodo Hall, Yakushido Hall, Nitenmon Gate and Komagatado Hall. The other halls on the grounds of Sensoji are much smaller than the main of course, but they are all very beautiful. You can even find a very small but nice garden and waterfall. Next door there is also an old amusement park, Hanayashiki, but don’t expect it to be like Disneyland though.
If you are visiting Tokyo during May, you could also attend the Sanja Matsuri (or Sanja Festival). This festival is actually more connected with Asakusa shrine but it is held in honour of the men who established and founded Sensoji. It is amazing to see the omikoshi (portable shrines) carried around the temple area. Huge crowds are in attendance and it is something that shouldn’t be missed. New Year’s is another great event, and it also brings enormous crowds.
And if you want to avoid those crowds, or not a crowd person, you could always visit at night. When all the crowds have gone, Sensoji is very different. It’s a very quiet, serene place. It is lit up until 11 pm and you will find yourself with a lot more space. A great time to get some fantastic photos.
And if you are wondering about where to see that golden statue at Sensoji, unfortunately … it’s never shown to the public. You can see the temple’s website here.
How to get to Sensoji
You can get to Sensoji by the Ginza, Toei Asakusa City Subway and Tobu Isesaki lines.
We have a Google map here to show you:
The temple itself is free, but you will need to pay for omikuji or good luck amulets.
The grounds are always open, but the main hall is only open from 6 am (6:30 am from October to March) to 5 pm.
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Hibiya Park - take a walk near the Imperial Palace in this awesome park
Myohoji - a little temple in suburban Tokyo
Seaside Top - located in the World Trade Center, this observatory has some great views of Tokyo
Yanaka Cemetery - the resting place of Japan's last shogun