Japanese Scenery (III): Senso-ji Temple
Senso-ji Temple, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo. It is one of the oldest and most popular temples in Tokyo. With over 30 million annual visitors, it is the most visited spiritual site in the world. It has an extensive complex, including the main temple, a five-story pagoda, and a shopping street.
About Senso-ji Temple
Tokyo is a city of temples, of which Senso-ji Temple is the oldest, with a history of over 1300 years. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. The Kannon Hall (main hall) is dedicated to the Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy. In addition to the main hall, the charm of Senso-ji Temple lies in the surrounding buildings. The temple complex has several magnificent gatehouses and ancient buildings. In addition, it features the largest shotengai in Tokyo.
Senso-ji Temple is suitable for sightseeing all year round. In spring, cherry blossoms are in full bloom, attracting many people here to enjoy them and take photos. On April 4, which is Hana Matsuri, people celebrate the Buddha's birthday with colorful flowers and sweet tea made of hydrangeas. In the summer, Senso-ji Temple hosts one of Tokyo's largest and most popular festivals, the Sanja Matsuri. This festival is held in late spring and lasts for 3 to 4 days. At the festival, people dressed in Edo-period costumes parade with "mikoshi" (palanquin). When September arrives, Senso-ji Temple is decorated with red maple and golden ginkgo, presenting a different face. In winter, Osame-no-Kannon Goennichi (the last festival of the year) is held from December 17 to 19. During this event, the Hagoita (battledores) market is held near halls and gates of the temple.
History of Senso-ji Temple
In 628, two fishermen, Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari found a Kannon statue in the Sumida River. Although they put the Kannon statue back into the river, it kept returning to them. Recognizing the sacredness of the Kannon statue, Nakamoto Hashino, the chief of the village, redesigned his house to make a small temple that would house the statue. Later, Senso-ji Temple was founded for the Kannon statue and completed in 645.
During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the shogun showed great devotion to Senso-ji Temple. Other prominent figures followed the example and the temple's importance increased. During the Edo period (1603-1868), it received strong support from the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1590, Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Tokugawa shogun, designated Senso-ji Temple as a temple where prayers of the shogunate would be offered. Since then, successive Tokugawa shogunate have frequently visited the Senso-ji Temple and the popularity of Senso-ji Temple spread among the people. With the rapid development of the Asakusa area, this temple became increasingly popular among citizens as a center for entertainment.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, Senso-ji received visits from influential samurai warlords who decided to rebuild and expand the temple. It was during this period that the famous Kaminarimon and Hozomon Gates were completed. The famous torii gate was erected in 1727. During World War II, much of the Senso-ji complex was destroyed because of the air raids in Tokyo. Later, the temple was fully reconstructed.
What to See
Kanimarimon: Kaminarimon is the outer gate of Senso-ji Temple. It features the giant red chochin lantern, which weighs around 700 kg. The front of the lantern displays “Kaminarimon” (thunder gate) and the back shows Furaijinmon, the gate’s official name. Kaminarimon gate is guarded by two statues, who represent two Japanese deities: Fujin-sama, the god of wind, and Raijin-sama, the god of thunder and lightning.
Nakamise Dori: Nakamise Dori is a 200-meter-long inside shopping street that connects Kanimarimon and Hozomon, the second gate of the temple. The history of Nakamise Dori as a commercial center dates back to the Edo period. Various Japanese souvenirs and numerous traditional local snacks are sold along the street.
Hozomon: Hozomon is Senso-ji’s main gate. Inside the gate, there is a giant jokoro (incense burner), whose smoke is said to have the power of healing.
Pagoda: Next to the Hozomon is the five-storied pagoda. It is a sacred memorial site and is closed to visitors.
The Main Hall: Behind the Jokoro is the Main Hall of Senso-ji Temple. It is said that the Kannon statue discovered by the fishermen centuries ago is contained in the Main Hall. However, the statue has remained unveiled for centuries.