Senso-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple. Located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, it is the oldest and arguably most important temple in the city. With more than 30 millions visitors a year, Senso-ji is also one of Japan’s top attractions. A definite must-see item on any Tokyo agenda, here are few tips on making the most of your visit to this serene (if extremely popular and ever bustling) place of contemplation.
Quick History Lesson
The temple was completed in 645, allegedly by two fisherman brothers who’d found a statue of Kannon, goddess of mercy, in the nearby Sumida River. Bombing during World War II destroyed most of the temple. After the war, it was rebuilt as a symbol of rebirth and peace for the Japanese people. In the courtyard there is a tree that was hit by a bomb in the air raids, and it had regrown in the husk of the old tree and is a similar symbol to the temple itself.
More about the history of Senso-ji can, of course, be found online and at your local bookstore. Another great resource is the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center situated next door to the temple’s main entrance.
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
Across from the outer gate of Senso-ji is the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. In addition to a nice cafe and gift shop, tourist information in English and clean public restrooms, the architecturally interesting center has an open roof terrace atop its seventh floor offering excellent panoramic views of the temple and its grounds along with frenetic street action of the Asakusa area and vistas of the Sumida River.
From the outer gate to the temple itself, visitors walk the 250 meter street known as Nakamise-dori. Lined with almost 100 different shops and food vending stalls, the street is a great place to pick up souvenirs (from authentic samurai swords to Pokemon dolls and virtually everything in between), sample some local treats (the freshly made pancakes are especially tasty) and check out what’s trendy and tacky on the Tokyo scene (and soon to wash up on American shores?).
Inside the temple grounds as well as within the temple itself are omikuji stalls where for a suggested donation of 100 yen (about $1.20), you can consult an oracle with a quandry. You’ll find your (divinely sourced or random?) answer in one of the hundreds of small drawers (kind of like a post office boxes) housing a variety of possible responses.
Close to Senso-ji is the famous “restaurant street” of Kappabashi where you can check out a considerably less authentic but still quintessentially Japanese phenomenon: plastic sushi! You know those incredibly realistic plastic samples of menu items you see in the window of Japanese and east Asian restaurants? Well, there’s a street in Tokyo where the shops specialise in them, along with pretty much everything else imaginable you’d need to run a restaurant. For quirky souvenir shopping accompanied by plenty of laughs, Kappabashi rocked.
Hanayashiki, a small amusement park, is also close at hand, and purportedly the oldest in Japan. The neighborhood around the temple and the park is home a number of theatres specializing in classic Japanese film and comedy.
Take the Water Bus
A short walk from the Sumida River, a scenic way to access Senso-ji is via water bus river cruise to/from Asakusa and the ancient shogun garden of Hamarikyu located at the mouth of the river.
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Photo: Chris Osburn