The Sensoji Temple in Tokyo is special. Colourful, historical and full of surprises. When you visit Tokyo, this sanctuary should definitely not be missed.
The lively Asakusa (浅草) district is located north of the Imperial Palace. Here you’ll find one of Tokyo’s most important temples, the Sensoji Temple (浅草寺) or Asakusa Kannon Temple. Millions of tourists visit this colourful sanctuary every year. And with a good reason. And it all starts with the history of it. That’s why you should need to know these 5 historical facts before you visit 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. That’s why they decided to take it to the village. The head of the village reacted with great excitement! He built an altar next to his house so that the rest of the village could worship the golden Kannon. It is believed that in 645 A.D. a first Sensoji Temple was built in honour of the goddess Kannon. The golden Kannon will not be found in the temple and the question is whether the statue actually exists.
2. Sensoji Temple the oldest temple of Tokyo? Maybe…
The Sensoji Temple may have its origins in the year 645, but most of the buildings were built after the Second World War. The air raids hit Tokyo so hard that most of the complex was destroyed.
Behind the prayer hall you will find the Asakusa Jinja Sanctuary from 1649. This building is dedicated to the two brothers who found the golden Kannon. Also the Nitenmon dates back to 1618. It was the original entrance to the Sensoji Temple. Today, the Kaminarimon gate is considered to be the real entrance to the complex.
Festival: Every year on the third weekend of May the Sanja Matsuri Festival is held at the Sensoji Temple to honour the brothers Hinokuma. A lot of people will visit this place. Keep that in mind!
3. The Kaminarimon Gate as a gift for a miracle
Konosuke Matshushita (1894-1989) was around 50 years old when doctors told him he didn’t have long to live. He regularly decided to go to the Sensoji Temple to pray and hope for a miracle. And indeed, Matshushita recovered from his incurable illness. In return he donated the Kaminarimon gate to the Sensoji Temple.
The most striking part of this gate is the lantern. It is no less than 4 meters high and weighs more than 500 kilos. When you take a close look at it, you’ll see 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 after Panasonic.
4. Nakamise-Dori: buying souvenirs in Tokyo’s oldest shopping street
Another reason not to skip the Sensoji Temple. Here you will find the Nakamise-Dori. This is a very touristic shopping street of 250 meters long and has about 90 shops. Everything you need from Japan can be bought here. From omamori (Japanese amulets), kimonos, swords of the samurai to sushi, yakitori and noodles.
As early as the 18th century there were several shops here, making this street one of the oldest in Tokyo. But don’t let yourself be influenced by the number of tourists. Take your time, because this is a great place to buy souvenirs.
History: Until 1945 Asakusa was the entertainment district of Tokyo. Because of the air raids during the Second World War, many buildings in Asakusa are not older than 50 years.
5. The treasure room with valuable sutras
Finally, on the second floor of the Hozomon Gate, there is a Treasury containing a number of important sutras from the 14th century. A sutra consists of one or more aphorisms. And what is that again? Okay… these are statements that contain a message of wisdom. Clear?
Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the treasury, but it is considered as an important cultural heritage because of the sutras. Finally, next to the Hozomon gate, there is a five-storey pagoda. It has only a short history that began in 1973. It contains drawings and figurines, but is closed to the public for most of the year.
Accommodation: 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.
Click here for more pleasant accommodation in the district Asakusa. In this district you will find a number of typical Japanese hotels, called Ryokans. Maybe a good idea to stay at one of those places?
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.
Opening hours: Although you can visit the complex all day long, the main hall is open daily from 6am till 5pm. Entrance is free.
Would you like to read more about Tokyo in Japan!
- Tokyo Travel Guide | 12 historical attractions
- Edo-Tokyo Museum | 400 years of history in a special museum
- Hachiko | A special story about the most loyal dog in the world
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the road along the former Edo Castle
- Meiji Shrine, Tokyo | A tribute to emperor Meiji in a beautiful park
- Zojoji Temple | Why the most important temple of Tokyo?
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