Sensoji Temple Asakusa – One of the highlights of our recent trip to Japan was a visit to Tokyo’s oldest and probably the most famous of temples. The Sensoji is located in the north-eastern part of the city and was about a half hour train ride from where we were staying in Ikebukuro. We had been contemplating taking the bus so we could see the streets as opposed to taking the metro all the time. A little research confirmed that it was possible to get to Asakusa via a forty minute scenic ride on one of the tour boats, so that was exactly what we did.
After our initial impressions of the city, we felt a bit more comfortable at making our way around town. We went to the closest station using the Yamanote metro line. From there, it was a further half mile walk to the Hinode Pier , a nice walk that takes you partially through the greenery of the Hama-Rikyu Gardens. Always nice to see open space amidst the big shiny buildings.
Once at the pier, we paid our fee, which was about $8 a person. We only had to wait a few minutes before the boat arrived. It was a very enjoyable trip that takes you under 12 bridges.You get to feel the expanse of the city, and we were lucky to have a very nice day. The commentary is in English, even though it was hard to hear, so we missed the names of the various buildings and bridges that were pointed out. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ride, which drops you off close to the Asahi beer building with its weird gold plop :-) . I think it’s supposed to be beer foam ;-) . A short walk brings you to the Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple Asakusa:
The Sensoji Temple Asakusa is also known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple. It is a Buddhist temple that was built in 645 A.D. Legend has it that two brothers had unwittingly fished out a statue of Kannon, who is the goddess of mercy from the Sumida river. All attempts to return it failed as the statue always found its way back to them. They therefore decided to build a temple for the goddess. Construction began in 628 and finished in 645. Although Asakusa boasts lots of temples, this one became the most famous of all.
The Kaminarimon (Thunder gate) is the outer gate from which most enter. It is also the symbol of Asakusa. The god of thunder and the god of wind guard the entrance. Beyond the outer gate, there is a really long street called Nakamise Dori. This street is filled on both sides with vendors selling all sorts of tourist souvenirs like tee-shirts (we bought a couple) , postcards, kimonos and lots of sweet stuff like green tea ice cream and puff pastries. The aroma was quite intoxicating, caramel mixed with nuts, sweet honey and mint smells. I totally wished we had our beagle with us as there was one particular pastry smell that we tried to follow with our noses, no luck . He would have found it in a New York minute ;-) . I recommend buying all that stuff here. Other sections of the city do not really have touristy items as such, so fair warning.
Past the Thunder Gate and the vendors, you come to the inner gate called the Hozomon. This section has more stores, some selling traditional clothing called Yukata. There were also lots of beautiful, hand-made fans. It wasn’t as full of tchotchkes like the outer part. There were also a few food places that sold local snacks.
Continuing on from the Hozomon, you come to the actual Sensoji Temple, and Kannon-do Hall, with its five-story pagoda. There is a strong smell of incense in the air, thanks to the big cauldron just before the entrance. We saw lots of Japanese people blowing the smoke over their bodies. We later found out why. It’s supposed to bring good luck. Inside of the hall, there is an immense golden shrine to the goddess herself. There were a lot of worshipers praying feverishly. It occurred to me, as it always does, looking at some of the faces how disrespectful we tourists tend to be. :-( . There were so many tourists jostling for space trying to capture the best image before moving on to the next touristy spot without giving a thought to the fact that this was a place of worship. They were blissfully unaware of the fact that they were elbowing worshipers. I always feel the same way when visiting the cathedrals and l see people praying while everyone rushes about. We try to tread softly and wait till there is a shot, even if it means waiting several minutes (not always patiently :-) ). It was only now, while editing the images, that l realized there was a small “no photography” sign. I think they gave up, as there were hundreds of people taking photographs.
Coming out of the Kannon-do Hall, you see a gorgeous garden below you that just beckons to be explored further. Most people turned around and left, but we couldn’t help checking it out. Therefore we pretty much had the garden to ourselves, save for a few locals. We observed that the people would say a prayer and put in some coins at every small shrine in the garden. It was cool that just a few yards away at the Sensoji Temple, there were thousands of people, yet in that garden, it felt so peaceful and quiet.
We ended our day with some Udon noodle soup and Gyoza, the Japanese dumplings. It was a perfect way to spend a few hours in lovely Asakusa. Despite the fact that this is the oldest temple in Tokyo, it is worth noting that quite a bit of was destroyed in WWII, so many parts are reconstructions. I definitely recommend the water ferry as a way to see Tokyo from a different vantage point.
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Do you enjoy learning about other religions? What do you think of the Sensoji Temple Asakusa? Does it look interesting to you? Would you care to visit or would you give it a pass ?