Senso-ji is the oldest temple in all of Tokyo and home to the most popular matsuri of the year: Sanja Matsuri. The founding of the Senso-ji temple has a rich story and really makes visiting this location even the more special. Interesting right next to the Senso-ji temple is Asakusa Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine. It is common when in Japan to see Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples side by side, sharing the same space and same patrons. Until the separation of religion and state, there was much mixing of these ideologies and many Japanese people will worship at both temples and shrines at different points of the year.
The temple was initially built in the 600 hundred, and legend says that a statue of Kannon was found in the Sumida River (just near to the current Senso-ji site) in 628 but a pair of fishermen. A chief in their village recognised the shrine and turned his own home into a temple so that Kannon could be worshipped! On the walk up to the temple itself, you will see a board on your left depicting the statues discovery to the building of the shrine itself, initially in 645. Sadly the temple was destroyed during the bombing of World War II but has been lovingly restored and even being a newer building does not detract from the stunning architecture.
If you visit the temple you will initially walk through the Kaminarimon gate (the Thunder Gate) which acts as the outer gate of Senso-ji temple. On either side, you will see two statues depicting some quite scary looking fellows: Fujin and Raijin. Fujin is the god of wind and is on the east side of the gate, Raijin is the god of thunder and is on the west side. The Kaminarimon was originally built in the 900’s, relocated in the 1600’s and sadly destroyed several times since then.
Once through the gates you will be in the hustle and bustle of the Nakamise, a shopping street that goes on for over 200 meters! Here you can purchase some beautiful souvenirs of Japan, such as yukata or folding fans or try delicious traditional local snacks. The shops are even worth a visit at night when the shutters come down depicting scenes from old Tokyo.
If temples and shrines aren’t enough of a draw for you the Senso-ji temple also has a 5 storied pagoda. The pagoda was originally built in 924 and was declared a National Treasure in 1911, sadly lost in World War II. However, the pagoda was rebuilt and even improved, with rooms to house tablets and relics within.
Whether you are lured by the food, shopping, temple or pagoda Asakusa and Senso-ji is a must see when in Tokyo. It is one of the best places to see the history of old Tokyo in of the busiest cities in the world!