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Published: June 20th 2017
It all starts with a story about two men in a boat…
It begins on the morning of March 18, 628 AD when the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught a small golden statue of the Buddhist bodhisattva Kannon in their nets while fishing in the Sumida River. They tried to drop it back in the river, but it kept coming up so they decided to keep it. When they returned to the village, they showed it to one of the chieftains, Haji no Nakatomo who, being a devout Buddhist, understood what it was, and built a temple to house it.
In 645, a famous Buddhist priest named Shokai came to the area. He built – well, he had laborers build – a grand temple to the bodhisattva Kannon. He also decided to hide the statue the brothers fished out of the river, and no one has seen it since. The statue of Kannon in the main hall today is a replica made by another Buddhist priest in the 9th century.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular boddhisatva. Sometimes called Kannon, or Kwan Im, or Kwan Yin, or Guanyin, she is the goddess of compassion
I like temples. Generally they have some beautiful art, and can be places of quiet reflection. Senso-ji, however is anything but quiet. Not only is it an active local temple, and attracts its share of visitors, it is a very popular venue for school field trips, so picture hoards teenagers being teenagers, posing for selfies and jostling for souvenirs,
You enter the temple grounds through the Kaminarimon Gate or “Thunder Gate.” From there, Nakamise - a street lined with shops on both sides - leads to the inner gate, the Hozomon, or “Thunder” Gate. Today, those shops sell sweets traditional robes, and souvenirs, much as they have for the past thousand years.
This temple has been a center of life for people in the area for almost 1500 years. Sadly, the main hall where the replica of Kannon is on display is now barricaded by chicken wire, and the statue is impossible to see (well, at least it was impossible for me.) Monks are allowed past the screen, but no one else, and they conduct very noisy prayers there during the day.
There are a couple of other memorials and temples on the grounds
of Senso-ji. One that particularly touched me was the grave of Kume-no-Heinai-dô, a well-known samurai of the 17th century. Kume no Heinai
was a samurai during the Edo period who was known for his outstanding sword skills. He is said to have killed a whole lot of people in his time. But during the last part of his life, he turned away from bloodshed. He lived at the temple, meditating, performing devotions, and praying for the souls of those he killed. It is said that before he died he asked his followers to carve a statue of him and bury it near one of the gates to the temple, so that as many people as possible would step on it, helping to atone for his sins. The statue was eventually recovered and lodged within a hall on the temple grounds, where for some reason it came to be worshiped as a deity for a good marriage.
The temple grounds are quite extensive. There are some pretty gardens, including an old stone bridge built in 1618, and perhaps the oldest stone bridge in Tokyo. There is a kindergarten that is (obviously) not open to the public, though watching mothers escorting their
The light green roofs running through the center of the photo are the shops along Nakamise.
little ones in the school uniforms is something to see. Possibly Useful Information:
- The closest metro stop to Sensoji Temple is the Asakusa Station, which is station G19 on the Ginza Line, or A18 on the Asakusa Line.
- Best time of day to visit is early in the morning, or later in the afternoon when the crowds aren't so big.
- Take some time to explore the streets off Nakamise, and running parallel to it. There are a number of small restaurants and shops in this area.
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D MJ Binkley
Dave and Merry Jo Binkley
I love hearing all the stories about those ancient times (628 A.D.) Always love your blogs and the useful information.
Thanks for the kind words
I like the history of a place, too. There are some cool stories hidden in the past.