Why is a visit to Tokyo not complete without a visit to the Buddhist Asakusa Kannon Temple, or the Sensoji Temple (浅草寺)? Each year, millions of tourists come this beautiful red sanctuary and that’s totally understandable. It is the oldest temple in the city and is dedicated to a very mysterious golden statue. And did you know that the Sensoji Temple is involved in a miraculous cure? And that you can buy as many Japanese souvenirs as you want in the oldest street of the city?
Read here about 5 interesting facts you should know about before visiting Tokyo’s busiest attraction… The Sensoji Temple.
1. Sensoji Temple and the golden Kannon
In the year 628 A.D. the brothers Hamanari and Takenari Hinokuma were fishing in the nearby Sumida River east of the present temple. Suddenly they had a special catch: a golden statue of Kannon, the goddess of grace. But what were they supposed to do with it? They threw it back into the river.
But inexplicably the statue kept coming back to them. They decided to bring it with them and gave it to the village chief. Excited as he was, he built an altar next to his house. Now the rest of the village was able to worship this holy golden Kannon. It is believed that in 645 A.D. a first Sensoji Temple was built in honour of the goddess of grace, Kannon.
2. Sensoji Temple the oldest temple of Tokyo? Not exactly…
The Sensoji Temple have its origins from the year 645 A.D. But all the buildings have been demolished many times during the centuries. The biggest disaster happened during the Second World War. The complex was damaged to such an extent that only a few buildings survived the attacks, like the Asakusa Jinja sanctuary. This building from 1649 is dedicated to the two brothers who found the golden Kannon.
And then there’s the Nitenmon Gate. This gate was the former entrance to the Sensoji Temple and dates from 1618. Today, the Kaminarimon Gate is considered to be the entrance of the complex. And this gate was a special gift of one of the greatest businessman of Japan…
Festival: Every year on the third weekend of May the Sanja Matsuri Festival is held at the Sensoji Temple to honour the brothers Hinokuma. It can be pretty busy at the Sensoji Temple. Just so you know!
3. The Kaminarimon Gate as a gift for a healing
The best way to visit the Sensoji Temple is to start at the south entrance. Here you will find the Kaminarimon Gate, or thunder-gate. This gate was first built in 941, but has a history of rebuilding and destruction. From 1860 until 1960 there was nothing at this place at all. But a Japanese businessman made a difference. He donated the Kaminarimon Gate and did so because of a very special reason…
Konosuke Matshushita (1894-1989) was about 50 years old when doctors told him he was terminally ill. He went to the Sensoji Temple to pray and hope for a miracle. And indeed, Matshushita was cured of his incurable disease. To express his gratitude he decided to donate the Kaminarimon Gate.
The most striking part of this gate is the lantern. It is no less than 4 meters high and weighs more than 500 kilos. If you look closely, the lantern has the name Matshushita on it. Every ten years the heavy red object is replaced by the company Panasonic.
But why would Panasonic do that? The answer is simple. Konosuke Matshushita founded Matshushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing in 1918. And this company was later renamed Panasonic.
4. Nakamise-Dori: Souvenirs in Tokyo’s oldest shopping street
After the Kaminarimon Gate you will enter the Nakamise-Dori. A very touristic shopping street of 250 meters long with about 90 shops. Everything that has to do with Japan can be found here. From omamori (Japanese amulets), kimono’s, swords of the samurai to sushi, yakitori and noodles.
Already in the 18th century there were several shops here, making this street one of the oldest in Tokyo. But don’t be influenced by the many tourists. Take your time, because this is a great place to take a souvenir with you. At the end of the street you arrive at the two-storey Hozomon Gate.
History: Asakusa was Tokyo’s entertainment district until 1945. Because of the bombardments during the Second World War, many buildings in Asakusa are not older than 50 years.
5. Hozomon Gate and its treasury: important sutras
The big large lantern of the Hozomon Gate hangs in the entrance. And it is as heavy as the lantern in the Kaminarimon Gate. On both sides of the gate are the Nio, the guardians of Buddhism. At every temple in Japan you meet them and they keep watch.
On the second floor of the Hozomon Gate there is a treasury with a number of important sutras from the 14th century. A sutra consists of one or more aphorisms. Okay… these are statements that contain a message of wisdom. Clear?
Unfortunately, the treasury can’t be visited, but because of the sutras it is considered as an important cultural heritage. Finally, next to the Hozomon Gate, there is a five-storey pagoda. This pagoda has only a short history that started in 1973. It contains drawings and figurines, but is closed for public most of the year.
And where’s the golden Kannon?
The search for the Golden Kannon is about to begin. But don’t forget to inhale the incense before you enter the prayer hall. Good health will be ensured!
When entering the central hall of the Sensoji Temple, many things attract your attention. The interior is impressive, especially the golden altar to honour the Kannon. But where is the original golden statue from 628? It should be safely stored, if it does exist. It is, after all, the legend of the golden Kannon…
Hostel: During my trip in Tokyo I stayed at the Akihabara Hotel & Hostel. A bunkbed costs around €15 and it is situated 2 km south of the Sensoji Temple. The hostel is clean, the staff is nice and there is a café downstairs. Asakusa, where this temple is located, is in my opinion one of the nicest districts of Tokyo. Attractive, cozy and close to Museums in the Ueno Park. For a next time this area would be an interesting option for me to stay.
Planning a visit to the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo?
How to get there?
The Sensoji Temple is located in Asakusa, the historical neighbourhood of Tokyo. It is accessible by subway on the Ginza-line, station Asakusa in the south of the temple.
Adress: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Google Maps: Sensoji Temple Asakusa
Although you can visit the complex all day long, the main hall is open daily from 6am till 5pm. Entrance is free.
Read more about Tokyo!
- Tokyo Travel Guide | 10 historical attractions
- Edo-Tokyo Museum | 400 years of history in a special museum
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the road along the former Edo Castle
- Meiji Shrine, Tokyo | A tribute to emperor Meiji in a beautiful park
- Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko | The most loyal dog in the world?
- Zojoji Temple | Why the most important temple of Tokyo?
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