The oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, and one of its most iconic traditional spots
The oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Sensoji Temple is a must-see for any first-time visitor. It’s located in Asakusa (浅草), which essentially has the same name as Sensoji (浅草寺), honors Kannon, and is of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Although it’s usually packed with tourists, you’ll still find splendor in this old temple. If this is your first Buddhist temple, we’ll guide you on how to pay your respects as well.
Approaching Sensoji, the Gate and Sando
The Kaminari-mon Gate
Heading to Sensoji, you’ll first be met with the Kaminari-mon, the famous red “lightning gate.” Take some photos here, though you’ll probably be photobombed a couple of times before getting a good shot.
The Sando, Nakamise-dori
Pass through into Nakamise-dori, the “sando” or approach going to the temple. It’s lined with old stores selling everything from tourist knickknacks to street food to kimonos and real Japanese swords.
Foods at Nakamise-dori
You can sample the kaminari-okoshi, the crunchy rice snacks, at the stores near the entrance, towards the left of the gate.
Also try some kibi-dango — that’s the food that comes up in the famous Momotaro folklore, where the hero Momotaro gives Kibi-Dango to the dog, monkey, and pheasant.
If you like rice crackers, there’s a store selling them fresh and hot. The ningyo-yaki (“baked dolls”) are also famous. It’s sweet red bean in a baked cake.
Experiencing Sensoji Temple
So you don’t have to do all of this, but if you feel like trying the traditional route, go for it! Here’s a guide.
1. Purify yourself
Wash your hands at the place where they have water and bamboo water scoopers. Use your right hands to pick up one of the bamboo scoopers and take plenty of water. Put a bit of water on your left hand. Swap hands, and put water on your right hand. You’ll swap hands again, and cup your left hand. Pour a bit of water into your left hand, put some in your mouth, then let the water out (without spitting) while covering your mouth with your left hand. Wash your left hand with some water. Then tilt the scooper vertically so that the water washes over the stick part. Put it back, and you’re done! (Whew, that’s a lot. Hard at first, but easy once you’ve done it a few times.)
2. Get some incense blessing
When you come to the temple, waft some incense towards parts of your body that you want healed. If you have bad eyesight, waft it towards them, for example. It’s just one of those traditional superstitious things.
3. Pray Buddhist style
Once you’re ready to pray, walk up the stairs to the main temple. In Buddhism, you quietly put your hands together, bow a little bit, and close your eyes. That’s all. Don’t clap, since that’s the Shinto way. (Confusing, right?)
Get your fortune with Omikuji
You can also enjoy other parts of the temple grounds. Maybe even try the Omikuji, the 100 yen fortune telling paper you can get.
Fun fact: Each Buddhist temple in Japan has a “Sango”, an alias that ends with “san/zan” (mountain). Even if it’s not located on a mountain, they make it feel like a mountain, a sacred place.
Sensoji’s alias is “Kin Ryu Zan,” or “golden dragon mountain.” Pretty cool. Now go head off to the Golden Dragon Mountain!