Asakusa was our base in Tokyo, so of course our first holiday stop was Sensoji temple! According to legend, in the year 628 two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Sensoji was then built nearby for the the goddess and completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple. It’s also one of its most popular.
The best way to approach the temple is through Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and walk up the 200m-long Nakamise shopping street. It has a very touristy feel to it and you can buy anything from yukata to traditional local snacks, but it does have a several century-long history and is popular with the locals. We even saw a guy pushing a load of little doggies around in a pram. Just your average day in Japan…
In short, Sensoji is… big and red. As well as the main hall, where people line up the great stairs to make an offering to Kannon, there’s a five storied pagoda and the Asakusa Shrine, which was built in 1649 by the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. Large parts of Asakusa were sadly destroyed during World War II and many areas have since been rebuilt. Its kabuki theatres and entertainment district unfortunately did not return to the same glory. If you’re planning a visit to Tokyo, there are a couple of festivals around Sensoji: the annual festival in May, and the Asakusa Samba Carnival in August.
You can also draw your fortune (omikuji) in Sensoji – shake the box ‘politely’ until a numbered stick falls out, then match it up with the drawer in front of you. I got a ‘good’ fortune but Oana trumped me with her ‘excellent’ one. You then tie your fortune to a frame, and they’re eventually burned in offering to Kannon.
While Sensoji and Asakusa are generally quite busy, we accidentally stumbled across Dempoin Temple, which is only open to the public at certain times of the year and famous for its beautiful garden. Fortunately, it happened to be ‘that time of year’ and here is where we found our first little spot of tranquility in Japan. The entry fee is 300 yen (less than £2) and totally worth it. After passing through a little exhibition of woodblock prints and other art, we entered the garden with only a few other people who’d strayed from the temple.
For anyone interested in cheap accommodation in Asakusa, we stayed in Khaosan Tokyo World which was affordable, clean and had very friendly English-speaking staff. They do have some more ‘deluxe’ private rooms for groups of 2-6 which, if you’re with a few friends, are probably best upgrading to because they do look funky. Otherwise you might share your room with a woman who snores like a military tank (I’m really not exaggerating)!
Next on the blog… the Ghibli Museum!