Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s Throbbing Heart of Japanese Buddhism
Tokyo is a modern city, yet it is also a very historic place and it is especially renowned for its temples. One of the most famous temples in Tokyo is the Sensoji Temple. This is the oldest in the city and has played a very important role in the history of the city and in the development of Japanese Buddhism. Today, it is very popular with locals and visitors alike.
The history of Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
This temple was first built sometime in the 7 th century AD when Buddhism was still regarded as a foreign religion in Japan. According to legend, it was founded to honor a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteśvara). A bodhisattva is someone who is on the path to becoming a buddha and seeks to help humans to secure salvation. The legend states that the statue was found by two brothers and when they brought it to their home village Asakusa, a shrine was built to house the deity. Over the years the shrine became a temple as Buddhism became more popular and Asakusa became a town.
Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate of Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. (Tak1701d / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate was first built in 941 AD and it has been rebuilt many times down the years. The following year the Hōzōmon or inner gate was built by the head of the Taira Samuari clan. In the 17 th century the Shogun Ieyasu, (1543-1616) made it one of his family’s temples.
During the Tokugawa period of Edo (later renamed Tokyo), the temple became very popular and was patronized by many members of the elite. In the 19 th century, the temple had to be rebuilt because of fire and earthquake. During WWII the temple was destroyed during an American bombing raid on Tokyo. The temple was rebuilt in its entirety and in a way that was faithful to the original. The reconstruction of the temple is seen by the Japanese as a symbol of the nations’ revival after WWII.
Today, the temple is one of the most visited religious sites in the world and remains one of the centers of Japanese Buddhism.
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Description of Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
At the main entrance of the temple is the Kaminarimon Gate, which is painted in red and is roofed with a zinc roof. There are four statues at the gate, and they include the gods of wind and thunder, in two alcoves. There is a massive red lantern hanging from the entrance of the gate and according to local folklore, a dragon lives in it.
Upon entering the temple, there are a great many shops. This is not a modern phenomenon but one that dates back to the 17h century. Many of the kiosks, vividly painted in red, sell religious souvenirs.
The Denpoin Temple is near the busy shopping area, this is a temple with a pagoda, and it has some 2.5 acres of gardens, which are in a classical Japanese style. There are a great many precious artworks and Buddhist scriptures held in the temple. However, this area can only be accessed for a few days during March every year. This is because the temple is still home to a number of monks and the gardens are owned by the abbot.
Asakusa, Tokyo at Sensoji Temple's Hozomon Gate, Japan. Cezary Wojtkowski/ Adobe Stock
After the Denpoin temple is the monumental Hozomon, gate, which is a massive gateway that is painted red and is roofed. Here are deposited countless memorial tables of the dead. There is a five-story pagoda in a traditional Japanese style to the right of this gate. There are two Nio statues in the precinct and they are regarded as the protectors of the temple.
Beyond this lies the heart of the temple complex the Hondo or Kannon-do, where reputedly is buried the statue of the bodhisattva Kannon, that was recovered from a river, 1500 years ago. There are also a number of souvenir shops and they sell incense and scrolls used in Buddhist ceremonies. There is a huge incense burner before the temple for offerings. The temple is accessed by a stair and it contains many priceless works of art.
Seeing Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
The temple is in the heart of the Asakusa, area of Tokyo, Japan. There are a number of metro stations near the Buddhist complex and there is plenty of accommodation to be had, which are suitable for all budgets. Every year there is a major religious festival celebrated on the grounds of the temple. The temple is opened during the daytime, but visitors need to remember that this area is not just a tourist attraction but a deeply sacred place and it is possible to witness ceremonies in the temple.
Top image: Heavy snow blizzard in Tokyo - Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Japan. Source: martinhosmat083 / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
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