A "thunder gate," pagoda and bustling street created for pilgrims evoke images of ancient Tokyo.
Senso-ji Temple is not only the most visited religious site in Japan but also one of the most visited religious sites worldwide, attracting more than 1.3 million visitors annually.
The ancient Buddhist site in Tokyo's Asakusa district is home to Tokyo’s oldest temple, dating from 645. It enshrines a golden statue of Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy), which legend says was discovered by two brothers fishing in the nearby Sumida River in 628. They tried to return the statue to the river multiple times but it always came back to them, prompting it to be recognised as Kannon. The local chief decided to build a small temple to house the statue, which became the site of Senso-ji.
Although the statue has never been displayed, millions of pilgrims and tourists have visited the site for centuries. Over time, the temple and grounds have expanded and changed. Today the complex includes many gates and ancillary buildings, many of which offer fascinating insights into the period in which they were built.
Exploring the grounds
The entrance to the temple complex is marked by the impressive Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate). This imposing Buddhist structure features a huge paper lantern painted in vivid red and black colours to suggest thunderclouds and lightning.
Carrying on through the gate, visitors will discover Nakamise-dori. This 250-metre, 18th century shopping street features more than 80 small shops selling souvenirs ranging from fans and ukiyo-e woodblock prints to kimono and local sweets. These shops represent part of the historic tradition of selling to pilgrims who made the journey to Senso-ji. Many visitors today continue the custom, buying a small token of their visit.
Hozomon (Treasure House Gate) is the entrance to the inner complex. Inside is the 55-metre high five-story pagoda and the main hall, devoted to Kannon.
Two parts of the complex date from 1618, making them the oldest. Nitenmon Gate is located on the right side of the main temple building and designated an Important Cultural Property. It offers a great viewpoint towards the main temple building and pagoda. The small hexagonal temple, Rokkaku-do, is the oldest remaining building.
Nearby, down a street marked by a large stone torii gate, lies Asakusa-jinja, a Shinto shrine established to honour the three men responsible for the creation of Senso-ji: the two brothers and the local chief. It is the setting of Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo's largest and most popular festival, which takes place in late spring and is marked by parades of about 100 portable shrines.
How to get there
Senso-ji is a short walk from Asakusa Station, located on the Toei Ginza and Asakusa lines and Tobu Railway.