Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sensoji Temple

As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I had been to Tokyo on 21st and 22nd September during the silver week holidays. After sightseeing on 21st September, we stayed at Hotel Toyoko Inn, which is located adjacent to Aomono-Yokocho railway station. The next day in the morning (22nd September) we woke up at about 7 am, and hubby had breakfast at a restaurant inside the hotel. At 9.30 am, we checked out of the hotel and went to see Sensoji Temple located in Asakusa district of Tokyo. There are various routes and trains to reach Asakusa railway station. We took Keikyu Line (limited express) to go up to Sengakuji station, and then used Toei Subway-Asakusa Line to reach Asakusa railway station. We kept our baggage at a locker inside the railway station, and then visited Sensoji Temple.

Sensoji (Kinryuzan Sensoji) is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa district of Tokyo. Sensoji Temple is popularly known as Asakusa Kannon. Sensoji is the oldest and one of the most significant temples of Tokyo. The history of the temple dates back to the seventh century. Formerly associated with the Tendai sect, Sensoji Temple became independent after World War II. The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari fished a statue of Kannon Bosatsu, 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. Consequently, the chief of their village, Hajino Nakamoto, built Sensoji Temple and dedicated it to the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in the year 645. The temple was bombed and destroyed in World War II, and the current buildings are postwar reconstructions.

After leaving the railway station, we walked for about five minutes and reached the huge outer gate of the temple known as Kaminarimon (thunder gate). This imposing and dominating structure features a massive paper lantern painted in red and black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightening. The original gate was built in the year 942. The gate was destroyed by fire several times over the years, and the existing gate was built in 1950. There are two protective guardian deities on either side of the gate: Fujin, the god of wind is on the right side, and Raijin, the god of thunder is on the left side. There were many tourists and locals taking the photo of this landmark of Tokyo. We had some difficulty in taking photo of the gate as the place was very crowded.
Kaminarimon gate

Hubby posing in front of Kaminarimon gate

Massive paper lantern and guardian deities at Kaminarimon gate

Beyond Kaminarimon gate is Nakamise dori that leads to the second gate and the main grounds of Sensoji Temple. It is a colorful pedestrian shopping street which is said to have come about in the early 18th century. The stone-paved street retains the feeling of the Edo period as well as the Meiji era. The street stretches over approximately 250 meters and is lined with around 90 traditional small shops. These shops offer local specialties and souvenirs ranging from folding fans, woodblock prints, kimono, traditional sweets and snacks, toys, and many more items. Many stalls selling food items are also present. It being a holiday, the street was extremely crowded, and hubby and I had to walk very slowly. But we enjoyed walking on this street and bought a few souvenir items from the shops. Mysterious (for me) and enticing smell from the food stalls wafted through the street. It was just 10.45 am in the morning but we could not resist trying some of the mouth-watering snacks being sold, and we had an early lunch of Yakisoba and miso-konyakku from one of the food stalls. It tasted delicious. We also enjoyed walking in a street perpendicular to Nakamise dori and found a few statues of Edo-era-styled Kabuki dancers. In fact during the Edo and Meiji era, Asakusa was the main entertainment district around the present day Tokyo area. Therefore along with restaurants and shops, theaters for Kabuki and Bunraku also flourished in Asakusa during that era.
Nakamise dori

Our lunch of Yakisoba and miso-konyakku from a food stall

Me standing next to a statue of Edo-era Kabuki dancer

As we neared the end of Nakamise dori, we got a superb view of outer side of the second gate of the temple known as Hozomon Gate (treasure house gate). This gate provides the entrance to the inner complex of Sensoji Temple. On the left side of the gate, we saw a five storied pagoda. The view of pagoda along with Hozomon Gate was simply breathtaking. The present two-storied gate structure was built in 1964. The upper story of the gate houses the Buddhist sutras of the temple that include Hoke-kyo (Lotus Sutra) which is designated as a national treasure and compilation of all the Buddhist scriptures called Issai-kyo which is an important cultural property. This gate is also known as Nioumon Gate as the gate has a pair of large guardian statues called Niou, one on either side of the entrance. These fierce looking Niou statues are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. One of the guardian Niou statues has its mouth open as if saying ‘ah’ which symbolizes ‘opening’ or ‘birth’. The other Niou statue has its mouth closed as if saying ‘um’ which symbolizes ‘closure’ or ‘death’. The present Niou deities were sculpted in 1964 and each one weighs nearly about 1000 kilograms! At the center of the gate is a very famous and massive red paper lantern. In addition, there are two very interesting and dignified looking black and golden paper lanterns. Hubby posed in front of these lanterns to get a feeling of the hugeness of the lanterns. After entering inside the temple premises, we got an impressive and beautiful view of the inner side of Hozomon Gate. A pair of giant straw sandal (waraji in Japanese) was displayed on either side of the gate. This pair of sandal is 4.5 meters in height and is supposed to be a sort of charm against evil.
Hozomon Gate

Pagoda and Hozomon Gate

A closer view of outer side of Hozomon gate

Paper lanterns at Hozomon Gate

Hubby posing under red paper lantern

Hubby posing under black and golden lantern

Statues of Niou deities

View of inner side of Hozomon Gate

After entering the temple premises, we saw the stately five storied pagoda towards our left side. The original pagoda was built in the year 1648, which burned down during World War II. The present pagoda structure was built in 1973 using reinforced concrete and aluminum tile. The pagoda stands 53.32 meters tall and is modeled after a similar structure at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. We took several photos of the majestic pagoda from various angles.
Five storied pagoda

Me standing in front of pagoda

View of the majestic pagoda from another angle

Pagoda as viewed from yet another angle

Beyond the Hozomon Gate, within the temple precincts stand the main building (also called Hondo or Main Hall) of Sensoji Temple which is devoted to Kannon Bosatsu. Unfortunately during our visit, the Main Hall was under renovation and was covered by scaffolding. However, the visitors were still allowed to enter inside the Main Hall.

Just in front of the Main Hall of the temple there is a large cauldron of incense, smoke from which is believed to bestow good health. We saw many people lighting incense sticks to the already fuming stock and with their hands wafted the incense fumes over their bodies. We also wafted incense fumes over us. However, the smoke was too strong for me and my eyes started to water!
I am wafting incense fumes over my body. My eyes have very low level of tolerance to the fumes of incense.

There is also a water fountain called shararyuozou located slightly towards the right in front of the Main Hall of the temple. The water fountain is used for ritual purification before entering the temple Main Hall. At the fountain, we used a bamboo scooper to take some water and poured it over our hand and mouth.
Water fountain

Inside the Hondo Main Hall, there were many people praying in front of the altar and throwing money (usually coins) into an offertory box. It is said that if we throw money, our dreams will come true! I prayed for good health and prosperity for hubby and me. We noticed beautiful paintings on ceiling of the hall. Within the Main Hall itself, and also at many places on its approach, there are omikuji stalls. Omikuji means sacred random fortunes written on strips of paper that tells about the near future and dispense general advice to the people about things like which direction is best, travel, business, and illness. Fortunes are divided into different levels of luck and misfortune. After a donation of 200 yen we checked our fortune. My strip of paper showed ‘normal luck and fortune’ but hubby’s was not so good, so he was rather unhappy about it. Hubby is not religious and does not believe in omikuji, however seeing a bad fortune does not really feel nice.
Main Hall worship altar

Closer view of the worship altar

Paintings on ceiling of the Main Hall

Hubby trying omikuji

Hubby not so happy with the fortune written on the strip of paper

Within the temple premises, there is a quiet contemplative garden kept in the distinctive Japanese style. After leaving the Hondo Main Hall, we spent quite a lot of time strolling in the garden and temple grounds. In the garden we saw a few stone hokyointo, which is a Japanese variant of stupa containing Buddhist relics. We also saw many statues of Buddha in the temple grounds.
Hubby standing in front of hokyointo

Hubby standing in front of one of many Buddha statues within the temple grounds

After relaxing for some time in the garden, we walked along a route to the left side of the Main Hall building. After walking for a minute or so, we saw a building named Yogodo Hall which is located adjacent to the Main Hall. Yogodo Hall was built in 1994 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of the birth of Ennin, the monk who was largely responsible for the flourishing of Sensoji. This place was not so crowded. We enjoyed viewing the architectural style of the hall, though we did not enter inside the hall.
Yogodo Hall

A closer view of Yogodo Hall

Hubby standing next to an incense burner in front of Yogodo Hall

We walked further along the route to the left of Hondo Main Hall, and saw a few small shops and food stalls along the road. After walking for a few more minutes we came across a torii gate, which indicated another entrance to the temple premises. The souvenir shops and traditional food stalls on either side of the road continued for almost 300 meters outside the temple premises.
A few small shops and food stalls along the route to the left of Hondo Main Hall

Torii gate at an entrance of temple premises. Hondo Main Hall covered in scaffolding (indicated by arrow) can be seen in the background.

I am standing on the road after exiting the torii gate. There were shops on either side of the cemented road.

Hubby standing next to a board indicating the map of the area

Hubby and I enjoyed seeing the Sensoji Temple. It was about 12.30 pm when we came out of the torii gate of the temple. We walked back to Asakusa railway station via another road, and thereby avoided the huge holiday crowd of Nakamise Dori. We collected our baggage from the locker at the station, and then went to see Sumo wrestling at an arena located in Ryogoku. I will write about Sumo wrestling in the next post.


Kazuo Nagata said...

Sensoji wa kankoukyaku de ippai deshita.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Yeah Kazuo-san, there were so many visitors at Sensoji temple. The visitors add fun to our sightseeing trips and make the places memorable.

Anindya said...

Amazing pictures as well as the write up.
It's indeed very crowded during the daytime. I think its better to avoid the daytime.

Is there any similar or equivalent Japanese word for "OM"? And is there any Kanji for the term, Sanskrit, "SWAMI" ?

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thankyou very much for your comment Anindya. Yeah, the temple is very crowded during the daytime. But we went to watch sumo in the afternoon so we had no alternative than to go to the temple in the morning.

Well, I am not really good in Japanese language (the side of my brain for language ability is dead long ago, I suppose.. ha ha ha....). So I asked my hubby about your queries. He has no idea about it. It seems that nowadays in Japan, common man is not much interested in religion, and have very little awareness of relgion-based things (including related kanji characters). It probably has to do with the fact that religion was separated from government way back in 1945. Although I am not sure about the reason.

So I looked up the net and found some webpages that might be useful for knowing about kanji terms for 'aum' and 'swami'. Hope it is useful to you.




Swami:(scroll down this page)