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July 2012

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The Thunder Gate of the Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo Bookmark and Share

For our first night in Tokyo, we stayed at the very nice Palace Japan Hotel. The closest station was Minami-Senju, but it’s still within walking distance of Asakusa... without the crowds, and that’s a great advantage!

Nakamise-dori arcade in Tokyo

Asakusa is a very popular place, with Japanese people and tourists alike.

The main temples of the city are located in Asakusa, so this neighbourhood is often said to be the Spiritual heart of Tokyo.
Sensōji, the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, is located here.

The first gate of the temple is called Kaminarimon, which means Thunder Gates. That's a name that instantly inspires respect, and so does the huge paper lantern hanging in the middle.

Once we passed this gate, we found ourselves in Nakamise-dori, an endless commercial arcade with all kinds of shops. It’s hard to believe that we were entering a holy place, especially one that's not dedicated to some god of commerce.
There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from.

Several other shopping streets start on each side of the arcade, making this place a huge open air shopping centre. You can find anything from Buddhist scrolls, cell phone gadgets, comic books and Kimonos.
This is one of the places where the contrasts of Japanese society are best resented: spiritual but rational, crowded but organized, conventional but modern.

Crowds at Nakamise-dori shopping arcade in Asakusa
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The sandal O-Waraji, on a gate of Sensōji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

The shopping Arcade ends in front of the Hōzōmon, or Treasure House Gate, which is the main gate to the Sensōji Temple.

While the Niō guardians at each pillar certainly look threatening, something else catches the eye.

There’s a gigantic traditional straw sandal hanging at the gate. It’s called O-Waraji and it took one month to 800 citizens of Murayama to complete them.

The sandal is 4,5 meters high and weights 2500 kilos. It’s said that it’s a charm against evil, as it symbolises the power of Niō guardians.

You have to touch this O-Waraji if you wish to be a "goodwalker" and to get to the right path, or to remain on it. Tip: some will would probably be more useful.

Asakusa Kannon in Tokyo

On the other side of the Hōzōmon Gate there are no more shops. Actually, it feels quite calm, even if the noise is still here.
Here's where the Kannon Hall, the main building of the Sensōji Temple, stands.
By the way, because of this temple, the whole Sensōji complex is sometimes simply called Asakusa Kannon. The current building is a 1958 reconstructed version, as the original was burnt during an air raid in World War II.

One can't get in, but the doors are open so the interior can be seen.

The pagoda of Asakusa, Tokyo

Another holy building is the five-story Pagoda called Gojūnoto. It's said that among the relics contained here are some ashes of the Buddha.

There's a Japanase garden within the temple grounds. It's one of the most peaceful places in Tokyo, somewhere to be surrounded by temples, greenery and (almost) silence.

Asakusa Kannon Hall, Tokyo

We went to the area twice: once on a busy Saturday afternoon, and once at night. During the day, the whole area is very lively. The cool thing is that many Japanese people come here, so it didn’t feel like a “tourist trap”. But still, it can be very crowded.

At night, most shops were closed and we even had trouble finding a place to eat. But walking around the temples in silence, with only a handful of people around, one can feel this peaceful atmosphere. And that’s how a temple is meant to be!

Guardian dragons in Asakusa Temple Bookmark and Share

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