Asakusa is a part of Tokyo‘s downtown Taito district best known for its many temples, particularly Sensoji.
Sensoji, also known as Asakusa Kannon, is Tokyo’s largest Buddhist temple and a major attraction for Japanese and foreigners alike. Take the Sensoji exit of the subway and follow the crowds.
Every year, many tourists from Japan and around the world visit Sensoji Temple. In the immediate vicinity of the temple, there are many traditional shops and restaurants offering authentic Japanese food such as handmade noodles, sushi and tempura.
Consider to visit the temple at night, until 23:00 it is beautifully lit.
What to know about Sensoji
Admission to the temple grounds and sites is generally free. However, certain areas have different opening and closing times.
Kaminarimon – Thunder Gate
Up first is the Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate“, featuring a much-photographed giant lantern and statues of guardian gods Raijin (god of thunder) and Fujin (god of wind). First built in 942, the gate has been destroyed numerous times and the current incarnation dates to only 1950.
The gate has a giant lantern and four guards in the archway. The gate is an important symbol of Asakusa and all of Tokyo.
The Nakamise shopping arcade leading up to the temple starts after the gate (see below).
Nakamise – Shopping and Souvenir Street
Behind the Kaminarimon is the lively Nakamise Street, a shopping mile full of souvenir shops and colorful hustle and bustle. These shops are an important part of the historical tradition of selling to pilgrims on their way to Sensoji Temple.
It is lined with small shops selling souvenirs such as fans, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), kimonos, and Buddhist scrolls. You can also find traditional Japanese sweets, as well as Star Wars toys, T-shirts, and smartphone and iPad cases. For centuries, it has been a popular place to buy authentic Japanese souvenirs such as yukata clothes, fans or local sweets to take home.
At nightfall, this street is transformed into a sea of lights that enchants visitors.
At the end of the arcade is the main gate Hozomon, notable for a giant straw sandal (waraji) hung up on one side. The two gigantic straw sandals (waraji) weighing an impressive 400-500 kg. These are donated by the city of Maruyama every 10 years and were last renewed in 2018.
The Hozomon Gate houses two guardians adorned with three imposing lanterns. The central lantern in bright red weighs more than 400 kg, while the other two are made of copper and weigh about 1000 kg each!
Gojonoto – Five-Story Pagoda
Right next to the Hozomon Gate and to the west is the beautiful five-story pagoda Gojonoto, which has an impressive length of over 53 meters. Inside you can admire artistic images of Buddha and precious relics. The top of the pagoda symbolically represents the sacred grave of the Buddha, reputedly containing some of the ashes of the Buddha. Unfortunately, it is not possible to explore this majestic pagoda from the inside.
Hondo (Main Hall)
The main hall of the Hondo building is the heart of the place. It has been destroyed by fire several times over the years, most recently during an air raid in World War II. In front of the main building are small buildings with drawers where you can have your fortune told in English and Japanese using omikuji slips.
To the right of the main hall is Asakusa-jinja, a small Shinto shrine. Japanese weddings are often held here on weekends. The shrine is dedicated to the memory of three men: two brothers and a village headman who were instrumental in the construction of Sensoji Temple. Interestingly, three fishing nets are the symbol of this shrine – all three men were fishermen.
Standing next to the shrine, you can see the Nitenmon Gate. It was built in 1618 and is the oldest building on the grounds of Sensoji Temple. This impressive gate often attracts many tourists, especially from China, so it can get quite crowded at peak times.
The perennially busy Kannondo (Kannon Hall) is behind the gate, with a steady stream of worshippers wafting incense over themselves and trooping up the steps to pray and donate. According to legend, the hall was originally built in 628 to house a statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, fished out of the Sumida River by two brothers.
History of the Sensoji Temple
The temple is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara). According to legend, a statue of Kannon was discovered in the Sumida River in 628 AD by brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, two fishermen. Their village chief, Hajino Nakamoto, recognized the sacredness of this statue and had it converted into a small temple in his own house in Asakusa so that the villagers could worship the Kannon.
In 645 AD, very early during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate, the first temple was founded – making it the oldest temple in Tokyo anywhere! At that time, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu appointed Senso-ji as the protective temple of his clan. The Nishinomiya Inari Shrine is also located on the grounds of Senso-ji; a torii solemnly marks the entrance to the sacred grounds of this shrine.
A bronze plaque on this archway names the people who contributed to the construction of this torii, which was built in 1727 (Kyoho 12, month 11). During the Second World War, bombs fell on this temple and destroyed it completely – but later it was rebuilt.
Today it serves as a symbol of new life and peace within the Japanese population. In the courtyard of the temple rises a tree, which was hit by a bomb; nevertheless, it continued to grow and has kept its roots in the old trunk.
The temple has a fascinating history. It is said that two fishermen discovered a golden image of the merciful, nirvana-reaching Kannon in what is now the Sumida River.
Despite several attempts to return the statue to the water, it kept coming back to them. Because of its recognition as Kannon, it was finally brought to the temple.
Although Sensoji Temple was founded in 628, the current crimson building is much more modern and was built after it was destroyed during World War II.
Expect curious and interested looks. The experience is a door opener to interacting with the locals and it’s really a lot of fun!
Rent a kimono here and explore Asakusa the traditional way.
Look forward to exploring Asakusa while wearing a beautiful traditional Japanese kimono from Kimono Miyabi. At Kimono Miyabi, you will find a variety of kimono sets to choose from to make your experience as relaxing as possible.
The knowledgeable staff at Kimono Miyabi will be happy to assist you in finding the perfect outfit.
Explore Tokyo’s highlights in a private tour
Not feeling like staying long in Tokyo, the capital of Japan and the world’s most populous metropolis?
Then you should look for a way to see all the top sights at once!
This great tour does just that.
First, you’ll visit the world-famous Asakusa district, where you’ll see the colorful Senso-ji Temple and stroll along the impressive Kaminari-mon Gate and Nakamise Avenue.
Then head to Sumida Park on the banks of the Sumida River – a perfect place to view the cherry blossoms in spring or the breathtaking fireworks in summer.
After a delicious lunch, you’ll cross one of Japan’s most famous intersections – Shibuya Crossing.
Other highlights of this tour include Hachiko, Takeshita Street and the Omotesando Meiji Shrine.
With this tour you can easily explore both the old and modern sides of Tokyo!
Price: €112 per group (1-8 persons)
Good to know: This tour is Muslim and vegetarian tourists friendly. During the tour, the group will travel on public transport
The tour includes:
- Professional Guide
- English speaking guide
- Operator insurance
- Train tour ticket
- The guide will meet you at the hotel without a car (walking tour)