Both Tokyo's largest and oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji is one of the city's must see sights. The streets leading to Senso-ji are filled with souvenir shops where you can find tapestries, kimonos, kitschy key chains, and finger foods. Surrounding the temple you'll also find yatai (food stalls) selling Japanese favorites like yakisoba (fried buckwheat noodles) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with a mix of ingredients including eggs, noodles, beef, octopus, squid, and green onion). Inside Senso-ji receive your omikuji (fortune) and if it's not to your liking leave it behind on the wall of bad fortunes. Take your time exploring the grounds around Senso-ji, which are rich in pristine Japanese landscape design.
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Finding Zen in Tokyo
One of the oldest shrines in Tokyo, the beautiful Sensoji temple sits in the middle of the lively town of Asakusa, an oddly familiar juxtaposition of the old against the new. People from all walks of life find time in their busy schedules to visit the shrine to seek blessings from the Kannon (also known as Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy). Approaching the entrance to the main inner shrine, one cannot help but be in awe of the luminosity and grandeur of Sensoji. The massive paper lanterns are gilded with gold paint, the towering five-tier pagoda glows as though on fire against the backdrop of the gray sky, the bold red paint symbolizing the expulsion of demons and evil.
No visit to Tokyo is complete without stepping into this sacred space at least once during your travels. Most people find it to be a calming and serene oasis in the middle of the humming city and you will too.
Low-rise buildings still outnumber neon-lit skyscrapers in Asakusa, a former pleasure district of Tokyo likened to Paris' Montmarte. Once the gastronomic, artistic and sensual playground of Tokyo shoguns, it retains a Zen vibe that offers respite from the human crush of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara and other highly congested districts.
Here, in the shadow of the world's tallest tower—the 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree—Sensō-ji attests to Tokyo's ancient roots. The city's oldest Buddhist temple attracts locals and visitors in traditional kimonos as well as Western garb, who come daily to eat, pray and shop. In a maze of vermillion shrines, stone pagodas, cleansing wells and smoking fire pits, they practice ancient Buddhist rituals alongside the contemporary art of shopping.
Enter the complex through the brilliant red Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) and wander through to Nakamise dōri, the temple's main shopping street, where vendors proffer everything from traditional sweets made with mochi (rice cake) filled with red bean paste to gaudy tourist trinkets and Edo-style crafts. Within, there's a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of Mercy, allegedly pulled from the sea by two fisherman in 628 AD.
Most of Sensō-ji's original buildings were burned during World War II air raids; the present structures are reconstructions dating from the 1950s.
In the shadow of the Tokyo Sky Tree—the world's tallest tower at 634 meters—Sensō-ji Temple harks back to an earlier era, when Asakusa was the cultural, artistic and gastronomic playground of Japanese shoguns.
Tokyo's oldest Buddhist shrine draws both residents and visitors, who come to eat, pray, shop, and occasionally indulge in the ancient practice of rickshaw-riding.
A trip down Tokyo’s historic temple, filled with tourists
The Asakusa Senso-ji is a historic buddhist temple that has magnificent architecture and street fair around the temple. Located just off the Asakusa Tokyo Metro (off the Ginza line), it is easily accessible and littered with many souvenir stores along the way to the temple.
Obviously, because of its religious significance, tourists from all around the world visit the temple to get their blessings and fortunes for the year. This also creates a mini scene of chaos as the place is packed with tourists with their big professional-grade SLR cameras.
Although there are many tourists, the architecture and murals are magnificent and the temple is still a worth a visit, but maybe at the earlier hours of the day to experience the sanctity of the temple grounds while avoiding the crowds.
Founded in the year 645, Sensoji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, and one of the most important. Upon entering the temple grounds, you pass first through Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), before walking down a long street lined with dozens of shops and vendors, selling everything from traditional kimonos to snacks to souvenirs. Be prepared for a bit of jostling here, as the crowds can become overwhelming. At the end of the street, the space opens up a bit and you come to another gate, the Hozomon. Beyond this stands the temple's main hall and a five-story pagoda, all decorated in the same bright red and gold. It doesn't take long to see everything, and is a perfect activity to combine with the Tokyo Sky Tree, which is only about a kilometer away by walking, or only a single stop on the Tobu Line.
To get here:
From Tokyo Station Take the JR Yamanote Line to Kanda Station (2 minutes, 140 yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 yen).
From Shinjuku Station Take the orange JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station (10 minutes, 170 yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 yen).