Tokyo’s most visited temple20 December, 2010 by Chad
For many people, Tokyo’s Asakusa district is synonymous with Sensouji, a famous Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon (Guanyin). It is sometimes referred to as Asakusa Kannon or Asakusa Temple and is often the first touristy destination for those traveling to Tokyo.
Asakusa is part of the Taito Ward in the North East border of Tokyo. It is located along the Sumida River and there is a daily ferry service between Asakusa and Odaiba. However, most people should be traveling to Asakusa by train.
You will need to take the subway to get to Asakusa Station. The station is serviced by Metro’s Ginza (orange colored) subway line and Toei’s Asakusa (peach colored) line. Unless you are staying at a hotel along the fringe of Tokyo, the Metro should be the most commonly used means to access Asakusa. It will also be cheaper. Those staying at a centrally located hotel will benefit as the service starts from Shibuya station. Everyone else will need to make a transfer to get onto the line.
Unfortunately, the main Asakusa area is not covered by JR lines and the “nearest” JR station is Asakusabashi. We foolishly tried walking from Asakusabashi (Asakusa City) once. Don’t do it. Asakusabashi is really more part of Akihabara than it is Asakusa.
Asakusa is best known for Sensouji Temple and most of the area seems to had been developed around the landmark. Most tourists visiting the city will make Asakusa one of their stops, so you’ll find lots of gift and specialty shops en route to the temple.
Sensouji is of course Tokyo’s largest and most famous Buddhist temple. It is particular well known for it’s large gates and the enormous paper lanterns from it. You’re not a tourist if you haven’t had your picture taken under one of the lanterns.
Beyond the Kaminarimon, you’ll find the Nakamise shopping street, a stretch of touristy shops leading all the way up to the temple. Most of the shops here sell all manner of traditional snacks that are popular among the locals too. There are an assortment of bite sized confectioneries that you can get for 100 yen or less.
My advice is that you skip the generic mass produced stuff and head for some of the more original creations. Nakamise is home to lots of unique shops that make their treats by hand on the spot. You can spend a whole afternoon just going from shop to shop to sample their snacks.
One strange Japanese pet peeve is that if you purchase the snacks loose, you’ll have to eat it in front of the shop. The shops enforce this rule. They don’t want you littering the street with crumbs and it’s rude to walk and eat over there. In fact, it’s rude to do almost anything while walking in Japan and you won’t see people on their cellphones or smoking on the go.
If you must eat the snacks elsewhere, ask for it to go. Or purchase their gift packs.
You’ll also find the usual tourist goods shops slotted between food stalls in Asakusa. Maneki Nekos, wooden swords, tiny wooden geishas, yukatas, keychains and what not.
Perpendicular to Nakamise, is Shin-Nakamise where all the restaurants are eateries are. If you head off the main Nakamise street, you’ll find yourself in the Asakusa 1 and 2-chome areas where there are more normal shopping streets. There are lots of craft shops scattered around the Asakusa area.
If you go further off, you’ll find another interesting tourist destination, Kappabashi-dori which is where you’ll find all the plastic foods being made. Of course, if you look far enough in Asakusa, you might also stumble upon a place they don’t tell you about in Travel books, Yoshiwara, ancient Tokyo’s most established red light district. It’s still as shady as ever.
Stick to the main road though and you’ll come face to face with Houzoumon.
Houzoumon separates Sensouji’s shopping district from the main temple area. More giant lanterns here and also a famous pair of giant sandals. Apparently the sandals are there to ward away evil by fooling spirits into believing that a giant lives there.
Unfortunately, the main temple building has been undergoing repairs for some time now, so no photos of it here. If you really want, you can check out this post for photos from 2008 or our more recent 2010 visit.
In the center of the courtyard outside of the temple there’s a large incense stand with burnt offerings. It’s customary to bathe in the smoke to spiritually sanitize yourself. There’s also a Shinto style flowing fountain to do it the other way.
As with any other popular temple or shrine in Japan, the Sensouji temple has become incredibly commercialized. Sensouji sees a steady flow of tourists each day but there are also locals who come here to pray so be mindful and show some respect at the temple.
Most Japanese practice a mixed blend of Shinto and Buddhism, if any religion at all, so some Shinto traditions have been fused into this temple. You’ll find the usual giant offering box in front of the main alter for visitors to throw in their (monetary) donations and just next to the alter is a shop selling a variety of charms for different purposes. Proceeds go toward a good reason.
For a small donation, you can also get candles to put up in front of the alter.
Special thanks to Gabriel Kang for providing most of the photos for this post.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.