Sensoji Temple can be found in Asakusa in the heart of an area known as Shitamachi - in other words downtown Tokyo.
This is the oldest temple to be found in Tokyo and it's history is as colourful and vibrant as the place itself. Access this area using the Ginza Subway Line, the Asakusa Subway Line or the Tobu Line.
Founding of Sensoji Temple
In 628CE, two brothers called Hamanari and Takenari made their living fishing on the banks of the Sumida river. One day as they pulled in their nets, they found not fish, but a small statue.
Thinking this was a little unusual and not wanting to cause any alarm, they threw the statue back into the river and carried on with their business. The statue, however, wouldn't go away. Several times it returned to their nets until the boys eventually took it to one of the leading figures in their village, a buddhist.
On seeing the statue, the elder proclaimed it a significant find and built a shrine in his house where he kept the statue. That's how Sensoji Temple was born. Over time it has evolved into the magnificent series of building you will see today.
Sensoji Temple Today
Sensoji Temple - a buddhist temple - is probably the most visited temple in Tokyo by tourists. It is famous for the festivals that take place here. Crowds of Japanese and non-Japanese alike flock to the shrine area to watch a range of performances and join in the celebrations. It really is an experience - just be ready to go with the flow!
In May, one of the biggest festivals in Tokyo is celebrated - the Sanja Matsuri.
The festival takes place on the 3rd Sunday in May with the preceding Friday and Saturday included as part of the celebration. The festival honours the three men responsible for the founding of temple - the 2 brothers and the village leader who recognized the statue's special qualities.
On the Friday there is a parade of floats with many traditional costumes and musicians on display. Saturday sees the unveiling of the mikoshi - portable-shrines - that are carried through the streets of Asakusa and followed by throngs of revellers. Traditionally, the culmination should come on Sunday with the three largest - and heaviest - mikoshi finally leading the way through the streets to return to the Shrine around 8pm that night.
This year the Sunday celebration didn't take place. The historical and extremely valuable 3 mikoshis were getting damaged as a result of the over zealous behaviour of some, so the main parade took place on Saturday with a variety of local mikoshi being used instead. It's still well worth seeing though if you get the opportunity. Just be ready to share the experience with approxiately 1.5 million others.
Other festivals include the Asakusa Samba Festival in August to mark the end of summer. Colourful costumes and scantily clad ladies stretch as far as the eye can see. Throughout the year, many national festivals are also marked at Sensoji Temple.
Shopping and Souvenirs
The main entrance gate to Asakusa Temple, Kamiari-mon - or Thunder Gate in English leads onto a shopping street called Nakamise. This street finishes at the second gate on the way to Sensoji Temple. Here you will find souvenirs and shopping right out of the Edo Period itself.
You can purchase yukatas (light summer kimonos), fans, rice cakes and much more. This area experienced a boom during the Edo Period as it was the last stopping point for weary travellers on their way to Yoshiware - the red light district. In those days prostitution was allowed but kept at arms length for the sake of propriety.
All in all this is a great day out whatever time of year you visit Tokyo.