Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Dori

Sensoji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple and the major attraction in the Asakusa area.  This large Buddhist temple dates back to 645 AD and is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. There are also Shinto Shrines adjacent to the temple and the very popular Nakamise shopping street for traditional goods and souvenirs.  This shrine has over 30 million visitors every year and hosts Tokyo's most popular festival, the Sanja Matsuri in late spring.
Cherry blossoms with the five-story pagoda at Sensoji.
Visiting the temple is an experience that is different by night and day.  People are praying and burning incense from morning until evening.  During the day (after 11 AM) the area is bustling with shopping activity and tourists.  At night, when the shops close, it is very atmospheric and you can get a more intimate experience around the temple grounds.

Giant paper lantern or chochin at the Kaminarimon Gate.
Most people enter the temple areas from the south through the impressive Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate.  This gate has a massive paper lantern which everyone has their picture taken with.  This iconic symbol of Askakusa has the words for Kaminarimon written on it.  The lantern is huge with a height of  four metres, a width of over three metres, and a weight of almost 700 kilograms.  This lantern is replaced every ten years or so as it is made of paper and is even collapsible.  Do look for the dragon on the underside of the lantern too!

On either side of the lantern are two Shinto gods; Raijin, the god of thunder, is on the west side; Fujin, the god of wind is on the east side.  I have a real soft spot for these two gods as they are both imposing, impressive, and some of the first god statues I saw in Japan.  After passing through the gate you are on Nakamise-dori and run a block long gauntlet of shops and food stalls.  Even further along to the north, you then pass through Hozomon Gate to the main temple grounds.
TOP: Kaminarimon Gate with giant paper lantern.  Bottom: the Hozomon Gate or Treasure House Gate with three lanterns.
Raijin, God of Thunder with his drums.  This is a figure I bought in Akihabara - part of the Figma Lineup
Fujin, God of Wind with his big bag of wind.  This is a figure I bought in Akihabara - part of the Figma Lineup
Hozomon detail.
TOP: Hozomon  BOTTOM: Main temple building.
Main temple grounds and the main temple building.

Wandering around the grounds of the temple at night is very atmospheric and you can get some great photos of the lit up buildings.  It is usually quite quiet and peaceful here.  You can get your fortune here by drawing sticks or omikuji.  I've drawn bad luck a lot here so I've tied off the bad luck and pretty much stopped drawing here after a couple of different visits.
Skytree from the temple grounds.  Hozomon on the right.
Main temple building.
Paper lanterns and vending machines.
Five-story pagoda on the temple grounds.

The temple is well worth a visit, and Nakamise-dori is an amazing shopping street that gets piles of Japanese tourists as well as foreign tourists.  You'll find everything from traditional crafts, food souvenirs, and even anime goods for sale here.  There are many food stalls here too and you can get grilled rice crackers, takoyaki, etc.  Nearby the temple, the area is surrounded by shopping streets.  You can get first class curry pan (curry bread), taiyaki (fish shaped pastries filled with red bean, chocolate, etc.).  This is a fun place to wander and shop.
TOP:Nakamise-dori shopping street.  BOTTOM:A shopping street just off the temple grounds going west.
Wind chimes for sale.
Taiyaki pastries.
Souvenirs for sale.
Grilled sembei crackers.
Buddhas and the Skytree
Covered shopping arcade in the area.
A vending machine for drinks if everything is closed at night!

Asakusa Visitors Center right across the street from the Kaminarimon Gate.  Do visit here for information or to enjoy the view from their top floor viewing deck (it is free).
View from the visitors center viewing deck of Sensoji and Nakamise-dori.
View of Tokyo Skytree from viewing deck.

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