Tokyo's oldest temple, Sensō-ji, is not only one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Japan, but also a beloved tourist attraction. Sensō-ji is a great introduction to Japan's spirituality and way of life. It's a great place to observe Buddhist and Shinto customs and habits. Visiting Sensō-ji is one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
Table of Contents
Where is Senso-Ji?
Sensō-ji is located in Asakusa. It's mainly a subway ride away from wherever you find yourself in Tokyo. Because it's a popular tourist destination, you should plan your visit either first thing in the morning or late evening. The temple grounds are always open, however, the temple itself it's open 6:00 to 17:00 (from 6:30 from October to March). Asakusa is a great place to stay in Tokyo for budget travellers.
The approach to the temple, called Nakamise-dōri, is an 18th-century street, a quarter of a kilometre long and dotted with almost 90 shops. Once you reach Sensō-ji's entrance, you will notice an impressive Thunder Gate or Kaminari-mon.
There are several interesting features to be observed here. The huge coloured red paper lantern, also called a chōchin, two Shinto gods: Fū-jin, the god of wind, and Rai-jin, the god of thunder, as well as two Buddhist gods: Tenryū, the heavenly dragon god, and Kinryū, the golden dragon goddess.
Omikuji at Senso-Ji
Being the first temple we visited in Japan, it was the first time we came across Omikuji: the fortune telling paper strips. You can find them all around Sensō-ji's grounds.
Trying to find your fortune with an Omikuji can be great fun. Here's how to do it:
Pay the small fee and pick up the wooden box provided. Shake it well until a bamboo stick falls out of it. You will find Japanese characters engraved on the stick. Find the matching characters on the wooden drawers next to you. Open your corresponding drawer and grab your fortune paper.
If you get a good fortunate, you can keep the paper. If you get a bad fortunate, you can leave it behind at the temple grounds so the gods can take care of it on your behalf.
Here are some of the items you can find on your Omikuji:
(大吉, dai-kichi): great blessing
(中吉, chuu-kichi): middle blessing
(小吉, shou-kichi): small blessing
(吉, kichi) blessing
(半吉, han-kichi): half-blessing
(末吉, sue-kichi): future blessing
(末小吉, sue-shou-kichi): future small blessing
(凶, kyou): curse
(小凶, shou-kyou): small curse
(半凶, han-kyou): half-curse
(末凶, sue-kyou): future curse
(大凶, dai-kyou): great curse
Ema at Senso-Ji
Another great thing you can do whilst at Sensō-ji is buying an ema. An ema is a wooden wishing plaque. This is a Shinto custom and you can find them at most temples around Japan. You can usually buy an ema from a booth at the temple grounds. There are no strict rules about what to write on your ema, but this is seen as a prayer so you can ask for health, love, anything you want really. After you write on it, leave it behind at the temple grounds so the spirits can take care of your wish.
Meander around Asakusa
Once you thoroughly checked out the temple grounds, with its beautiful gardens and zen little river, I suggest making your way out of Sensō-ji and back on Nakamise-dōri. By now you will want to sample some of the Japanese food such as bean paste filled mochi (Japanese rice sweets), matcha tea sweets (confectionary with matcha tea in them), karē pan (Japanese curry bread) or menchi-katsu (mince cutlet). If you are not feeling very hungry, grab a Kaminari-okoshi, which is a type of sweet cereal bar made of puffed rice. It is meant to bring good luck to those who eat it, hence is a great Sensō-ji souvenir.
There is more to Asakusa than the mighty Sensō-ji temple. Asakusa has a wonderful collection of intricate streets full of affordable shops which feature fantastic souvenirs and Japanese goods. We walked around Asakusa for hours and it still didn't feel like enough time to thoroughly explore it. We found (and bought) amazing chopsticks and chopstick holders, wooden ramen bowls, miso soup bowls, a beautiful noren (noren is the decoration canvas curtain you find at the entrance of a restaurant in Japan) and countless other wonders.
In conclusion, visiting Sensō- ji and wondering through Asakusa's streets is something which each traveller should experience at least once in their lifetime. Whether you go there to take beautiful pictures, eat great street food or try your luck with an Omikuji, don't miss the opportunity to see this beautiful part of Tokyo.