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Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Kannon)

Listed under Temples in Tokyo, Japan.

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You approach this temple through a very impressive set of gates with two fearsome looking demons guarding it ...then pass along a market street called Nakamise dori... It's supposed to be an authentic market but it definitely verges on the gaudy – but the little cakes filled with asuki bean curd they make fresh in about the third stand from the entrance I can highly recommend. It's not an auspicious or promising first encounter with what is supposed to be Tokyo's most sacred and spectacular Buddhist temples... But when you get to it the ornamentation and colour that has gone into the temples is a fair match for all the glitz of the market.

Everything is on a grand scale. Huge red lanterns hang under big scooping temple eaves, painted with bright designs, the temple doors are large and heavy and have gold detailing on them and to the left is a five storey pagoda all gold and red and hung with big bells. The designs on the tile ends on the roof are of the swastika, and the huge bell is marked with the same, originally Buddhist insignia.

But the really nice thing about this temple is its story: It's dedicated to two fishermen who miraculously found a gold statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, out of the river, and this temple houses that statue... Which I couldn't see because the temple closes at 5 but all the guide books tell you to visit in the dusk. Having visited in perfect dusk conditions and found it a lit up visual feast I couldn't get inside – despite wearing slip on shoes for the occasion – I'm not sure what to recommend bar those little cakes.

If you walk around the back of the temple you'll find a small but beautifully designed garden then further around still you'll to some statues tucked discretely behind some bushes to the right of the temple. These are dressed in cloth hats like shower caps and have long bibs and are markers for mothers who have lost very young children – they come here and dress the statues in bibs in honour of their lost babies. Seeing these made my whole experience of this temple feel far far more authentic – far from the market and the brilliance of the colours this is a proper place of worship where people think big thoughts and experience big emotions.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Sensoji Temple

'The legend says that 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. Consequently, Sensoji was built there for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple.'

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