Asakusa, Tokyo

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  • Five storey pagoda
    Five storey pagoda
    by toonsarah
  • Picture: fishing the Kannon from the river
    Picture: fishing the Kannon from the...
    by toonsarah
  • On a stall
    On a stall
    by toonsarah
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    Senso-ji: main shrine and surrounds

    by toonsarah Updated Nov 24, 2013

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    As you pass through Hozomon you will see the Five Storey Pagoda to your left. This, like other buildings in the complex, dates originally from 942 but has been many times destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Most recently, fires from the World War Two Tokyo air raids razed it to the ground, and it was rebuilt through donations made by faithful Buddhists from all over the country. In 1973, the pagoda was further restored to include additional facilities such as a room for mortuary tablets. Relics of the Buddha are kept on the top floor.

    In the area in front of the main shrine you’ll see a large incense burner. This is where worshippers "wash" themselves in the smoke to ward off or help cure illness. Either side of this are the fortune telling drawers. For 100¥ you can shake one of the wooden boxes until a bamboo stick slides out of the hole. The stick will have a Japanese number on it, which corresponds to one of the numbers on the set of drawers. You then take the fortune, written in both English and Japanese, from the drawer of that number. I had read that the English translations were pretty obtuse so we didn’t try our fortune. In any case, if you don't like the fortune you get, you can conveniently cancel it out it by tying it to one of the wires provided for this purpose nearby!

    Beyond the fortune telling are some stalls selling prayer cards and amulets. And then you arrive at the shrine itself, Kannondo Hall. This too is a 1950s reconstruction of an older building lost in the March 1945 Tokyo air raids. Though it mirrors the original style, the current building features a solid reinforced concrete structure with titanium roof tiles – the Japanese are rightly taking no more chances.

    According to legend, the hall was originally built in 628 to house a statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, fished out of the nearby Sumida River by two brothers. At the heart of the inner shrine or naijin is the gokuden which houses this statue, or so the believers say – it is never ever seen and cynics might question its existence. It also houses a duplicate statue and this is seen on occasion – once a year to be accurate, on December 13 when it is taken out for public viewing. Either side of the gokuden are the Buddhist protector deities Bonten and Taishakuten. You can’t enter this inner shrine but you can approach to view it through a grille, taking off your shoes to do so. I couldn’t see any signs prohibiting photography so I took one, respectful, picture.

    Now, let us explore yet more of the complex

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    Senso-ji: the approach

    by toonsarah Written Nov 17, 2013

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    On our first afternoon in Tokyo we decided to explore somewhere close to our hotel in Asakusa - and the Senso-ji Temple was the obvious choice. This is the city’s oldest temple and our visit here was a great introduction to Japan. We had a fascinating couple of hours of wandering here and in the vicinity, despite the inevitable tiredness that comes with an eleven hour overnight flight plus eight hours’ worth of jet-lag!

    Senso-ji was founded in the 7th century and is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. According to legend, the temple was founded after two fishermen pulled a golden statue of Kannon from the Sumida River right by this spot. The sacred statue is apparently still housed in the temple, carefully preserved inside three boxes, but never displayed.

    The approach to the temple is an experience itself. You enter through the huge Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate. Unfortunately for us, this was under renovation when we visited and largely obscured by scaffolding and hoardings, so I didn’t get a good look or a chance to take photos of it. The gate was originally built in 942 in a different location south of Asakusa in Komagata and was moved here during the Kamakura period (1192-1333). It has been destroyed numerous times, most recently by fire in 1865. It was only 95 years later that it was finally reconstructed by Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic (who are now sponsoring the renovation work, I noticed).

    The gate is guarded on each side by fierce statues of the guardian gods Raijin (the god of thunder) and Fujin (the god of wind), and has a massive red lantern hanging above the entrance. The gods are there to guard the temple and people would pray to them to protect it against natural disasters such as typhoons, floods and fire. Over time however people came to pray for their own needs too – a bountiful harvest, good health and for peace in the world.

    From here you proceed along a street lined with shops, Namaste Dori (see my separate tip) to reach the main area of the temple which you enter through another gate, Hozomon, the Treasury Gate or sanmon, the gate that stands immediately before a temple. This also has its ferocious guardian gods and red lantern, and on its far (northern) side, a pair of huge straw sandals (O-Waraji) which should be taken as belonging to one of these gods, showing their great size. A sign on the gate explains:
    “This pair of huge straw sandals called O-Waraji had been made by 800 citizens of Murayama City in a month and devoted to Senso-ji. O-Waraji is made of straw and 2500 kilograms in weight, 4.5 metres high.
    They are the charm against evils because they are symbolic of the power of Ni-Ou. Wishing for being goodwalkers, many people will touch this O-Waraji.”

    At the top of the gate are storerooms, complete with modern disaster-prevention equipment, to hold Senso-ji's treasures and Buddhist objects.

    Hozomon, like Kaminarimon, is thought to date from 942, and also like Kaminarimon has been destroyed many times by fire and rebuilt. The current design reflects its 1649 incarnation which had stood for 250 years until being burned down again in the Tokyo air raids of World War Two. This version is an exact copy of that, and very impressive – probably more so for us as we had not been able to see Kaminarimon and this was our first Japanese temple gate!

    Beyond Hozomon you arrive at the main part of the temple complex

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    Senso-ji: Asakusa Jinja

    by toonsarah Written Nov 17, 2013

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    Asakusa Jinja
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    You can easily spend quite some time wandering around the grounds of Senso-ji, as we did, as there is so much to see here. To the north east of the main shrine is another, known as the Asakusa Jinja or Sanja Sama (Shrine of the Three Guardians). Unlike Senso-ji, which is a Buddhist temple, this one is Shinto and their proximity to each other mirrors the way in which these two religions coexist peacefully in Japan and often interact. In this case, the Shinto shrine serves as protection for the Buddhist temple.

    It was built in 1649 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third Tokugawa shogun, to commemorate the two fishermen who found the statue of Kannon in the Sumida River, Hamanari and Takenari Hinokuma, and to their village chief, Hajino Nakatomo. According to the story of the discovery, it was the latter who realised the importance of the statue and who built the first temple on this site to house it. The three men seen as the founders of Senso-ji and indeed of Asakusa are themselves now worshipped here. The shrine is built in the architectural style known as Gongen-zukuri, which we were to see two weeks later in Nikko at the Toshogu Shrine. This is one of the few original structures in the complex, having survived the numerous fires and the air raids of World War Two.

    Near here is the Nitenmon gate, named for the two Buddhist deities (known as ten) that flank it. Like the Jinja Shrine, this gate is an original structure. It dates from 1618 although the deities are a more recent replacement for two that were desecrated in the late 19th century when Buddhism and Shintoism did not live so harmoniously together. The present statues were taken from the grave of Tokugwa Ietsuna, the fourth Edo shogun at Ueno Park. For some reason I seem to have omitted to take any photos of this gate – possibly because it started raining as we reached this point in our explorations.

    Meanwhile to the west of the main temple is a lovely garden area with some smaller shrines, statues of the Buddha, attractive planting and a stream with some large carp. There are a number of quiet corners and great photo opportunities. There’s also a small refreshment stall between Hozomon and Nitenmon if you need a break.

    When you’ve seen all you can here (which could take some hours!) it’s time for the more earthly pleasures of Nakamise Dori.

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    Nakamise Dori

    by toonsarah Written Nov 17, 2013

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    The street leading from Kaminarimon to Senso-ji is lined on both sides with small shops. Indeed, Nakamise means "inside shops" and I assume takes its name from the fact that the stalls are inside the temple grounds. There have been vendors selling their wares here since the late 17th century, and many of the stalls have been owned by the same family for generations. But just because you’re inside a temple’s precincts, don’t expect the items on sale to have any religious significance. This is consumerism living side by side with worship in a way that everyone seems comfortable with here, perhaps because religious practice seems so integrated with daily life.

    So the stalls sell a range of items that just shout "you're in Japan"! Super-cute dolls, lucky cats, fans of all descriptions, hair ornaments, cheap polyester kimonos, parasols, chopsticks ... Nothing is very expensive and some of it looks as cheap as it costs, but there are also plenty of eminently purchasable souvenirs and, on our very first day in the country, I had to resist the temptation to buy!

    There are also some selling edible treats at very reasonable prices. We snacked on some soy bean jam buns (one with pork which was good, one with sweet potato which was less so, being a little too sweet for my taste) which cost just 170¥ each, bought from some very friendly ladies (see photo 2).

    And there is more to see in this area, including the small but atmospheric Chingodo Temple

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    Asakusa... Historic side of Tokyo

    by hebaemam Written May 18, 2012

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    If you are not able to visit Kyoto the mother of temples in japan, then Go to asakusa and you will get little of kyoto's atmosphere. visit the temple Sensoji, it's nice but for sure NOT like those in kyoto, specially considering the landscaping.
    their is a lot of souvenier shops and just go out of the temple and head toward the river to take nice photos with the world tallest tower "sky tree".

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    Sensoji Temple

    by Rabbityama Written Jan 5, 2012

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    Sensoji Temple
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    Sensoji Temple is believed to be the first temple ever built in the Tokyo area and was originally founded by a fisherman, Haji Nakatomo, who is said to have built the temple after finding a statue of Kannon in one of his fishing nets.

    Most of the temple's structures were destroyed in WWII with the exception of the garden, Asakusa Shrine, and the Nitenmon Gate. The main hall was last built in 1958. Although the current structures may not be that old, Sensoji is still well worth the visit! It's both beautiful and iconic with its large gate lantern being one of the most famous symbols of Tokyo.

    The temple grounds are large and bustling, as the walkway leading up to the main hall is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. Although there are definitely a lot of touristy items, there are also unique items to be found in many of the stores so it's worth browsing even if the store appears to have the same things as all the others. The atmosphere is lively and fun, in my opinion. Sensoji often makes itself to the top of traveler's lists of favorite Tokyo sites and I certainly think it was among mine!

    The temple grounds are free, so it's a good budget option if you can manage not to buy souvenirs!

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    The Asahi Turd Building

    by charlottespencer Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Uncle Yasu was unimpressed

    This really is a must see for anyone with a puerile sense of humour. The Asahi beer building is designed to look like a giant beer, the golden beverage with white foam on top. Next to it, the company planned to erect a giant flame sculpture to symbolise their employees' passion to deliver high-quality beer to the Japanese nation. Unfortunately, the architects got the logistics wrong and found that having got the flame up there, they were completely unable to erect it upwards. My Japanese uncle Yasu took one look at it and said (in Japanese), "it looks like a giant turd".

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    First, run the gauntlet of shops

    by Bunsch Updated Oct 6, 2010

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    Swords, anyone?
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    You know you've gotten to the temple complex when you see the so-called Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon), which is the icon of Asakusa with its massive red lantern. Once past the gate, you're on a shopping street called Nakamise, which leads to the temple's second gate, the Hozomon. I can't imagine how crowded it must be on a sunny day. With all the rain, the several blocks leading to the shrine were crammed with people wielding a dangerous assortment of umbrellas. There is a narrow walkway running between booth after booth of mostly tourist junk, although here and there was a purveyor of slightly better quality goods -- a parasol maker, a sword shop, an emporium where you could spent hundreds of dollars on chopsticks! There are also booths with traditional Japanese snacks (rice crackers, bean-paste cakes). Once on the temple precincts, the commerce doesn't stop; it just changes character. There were seven or eight different vendors of the charms. None of the booths had English explanations (and each of the salespeople whom I asked merely shook their heads), so I just randomly pointed out things that looked interesting. I continue to believe that charms from the individual temples and shrines make much more original (and welcome) mementos for the folks back home.

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    Admire the grounds at Senso-ji

    by Bunsch Written Oct 6, 2010

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    Monks' quarters?
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    In stark contrast to the massive temple and all the vendors on Nakamise, there were some adjacent buildings which I took to be monks' quarters, very simple, with plain raked gardens and a few sakura -- with the rain, petals had indeed begun to fall.

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    Senso-ji's Main Hall

    by Bunsch Written Oct 6, 2010

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    Entry to the main hall
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    This immense structure includes a very large hall in which one can find temple workers selling charms and the fortunes I mentioned in another tip. What interested me were the stations where calligraphers sat. The price list suggested that you could have something written for sums running from Y3000 to Y10000. Jay later told me that pilgrims come and have the name and seal of the temple inscribed to verify that the pilgrimage has taken place.

    Senso-ji iwas originally built in 645 (no, I didn't omit the "1"), though it has often succumbed to fire and the most recent reincarnation was in 1958. Another reconstruction has just, or is about to, take place. The temple is sacred to Kannon, whose story I shall have to look up -- I think s/he was a human being who attained nirvana but declined godhead and elected to remain a bodhisattva. There are Kannon statues all over the place.

    Behind the main hall is the shrine proper. I'm afraid my photograph isn't especially good, and after the fact I learned that I wasn't supposed to have taken it at all. So I won't make it the main photo for this tip.

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    At Senso-ji, find your fortune!

    by Bunsch Updated Oct 6, 2010

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    The tiny drawers containing fortunes

    The fortune-selling arrangement at Asakusa was more elaborate than at the Shinto shrines: a six-sided metal box containing long sticks was shaken, and eventually one of the sticks, bearing a kanji character, would fall out. Then the fortune-seeker would find a tiny drawer marked with that character and remove from it a piece of paper bearing the fortune -- though like the Shinto shrines, if you didn't like what you got, you could leave it behind on wires strategically placed for the purpose. Unfortunately, my kanji-fluent guides were staying home sick the day of my visit, so I never found out what was supposed to happen to me!

    In the photo, you can see the metal box in the background as the fortune-seeker looks for the proper drawer.

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    What a intresting place

    by jlanza29 Updated Aug 1, 2010

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    The shops leading up to the Temple

    The main attraction here is the Senso-ji Temple that is presently being renovated, there is no admission price and there is a series of shops that line the pedestrian street leading up to the main temple. The shops itself are one of the few places where you can buy souvenirs to take back home...The best part of Tokyo is that the shop keepers don't hound you like they do in China. The prices are fair, not cheap and not expensive. Also bargainning isn't done in Japan, so the price is the price on it. As for the temple there is a series of building around the main one. As much as it seemed that it's crowded the place is sooo big that you can walk around exploring the other building almost alone, or at least it seemed that way. Highly recommend it... It's one of the top tourist attraction in Tokyo.

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    Original temples

    by clareabee Written Dec 14, 2009

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    Ok so here you will find some genuine temples....but you will also find about a zillion tourists and for some reason loved up couples!

    I don't know but it seemed a bit tacky to me and some folk didn't seem too respectful of these places which are still used. There are lots of stalls nearby selling plenty of tourist type gifts but I personally didn't think they fit with the area.

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    Sensoji Pagoda

    by machomikemd Written Nov 9, 2009

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    the pagoda
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    the pagoda is an East Asian Style of Buddhist wordhip and is known for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common in Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia. The modern pagoda is an evolution of the Ancient Indian stupa, a tomb-like structure where sacred relics could be kept safe and venerated. The architectural structure of the stupa has spread across Asia, taking on many diverse forms as details specific to different regions are incorporated into the overall design. here in asakusa, the five story pagoda symbolizes the worship of budhhism and they say that some remnants of the buddha are found inside but unfortuately it was closed when we vivited it.

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    Asakusa Shinto Shrine

    by machomikemd Updated Nov 9, 2009

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    entrance
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    This is the Shinto Shrine beside the Asakusa Temple since there is a dichotomy in the religions of Japan between Buddhism and Shinto. The Asakusa Shrine Asakusa Jinja) is a Shinto shrine next to the temple Sensô-ji. It is dedicated to the three men who established Sensô-ji. Two of them, fishermen named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, found a statue of the bosatsu Kannon in the river Sumida in 628. The third, the village headman, Haji no Nakatomo, built the temple. The Asakusa Shrine, also known as Sanja-sama, was built during the Edo Period and survived the air raids of 1945. The shrine's festival, the Sanja Matsuri, is one of Tokyo's most spectacular and popular. It starts every year on the 3rd Friday of May and lasts for three days. Once a part of the Sensô-ji, Asakusa Jinja became separate during the Meiji period. Again the Asakusa Shrine was built in order to worship these men as deities. The shrine and its surrounding area and buildings have also been the site of many Shinto and Buddhist festivals for centuries. The most important and famous of these festivals is Sanja Matsuri, held in late May.

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