Aug 11, 2013

Senso-ji, Tokyo's Oldest Temple (Tokyo Part Two)

Senso-ji is dedicated to the bodhissatva of compassionKannon. It was first built in 645 CE (Common Era, formerly called "AD"). Like many ancient structures in Japan, it is rebuilt after so many years so that the structure itself is new, even  the spirit of the building remains the same. Senso-ji was most recently rebuilt after WWII.

The pagoda of Senso-ji.
One of the three gates leading up to the main temple.

The main temple of Senso-ji (left side).

Tourists and worshippers (right side).
Performers near Asakusa Shrine.

Next to Senso-ji (Buddhist) is the Asakusa Shrine (Shinto). Beside the shrine these two performers were putting on a show. The little monkey walked on stilts and jumped over obstacles to his master's drum beat. He even flirted with the girl monkey on the edge of the stage.

Asakusa Shrine

To approach the shrine you walk a figure-8 through a rope circle (chinowa). At the entrance is a large box with slats to throw money in. Once you have given your donation, you clap your hands once to attract the kami (spirit/god) and lower your head to say your prayer.

Painted masks among the multitude of gimmicky gift shops.

Along Nakamise-dori, the street leading through Senso-ji's gates and up to the main temple, are 89 gift shops. They sprouted up as a way to cater to tourists, selling everything from Buddhist scrolls to Godzilla toys. For a donation of 100 yen, you can even consult an oracle for "divine answers" to your questions.

The encroaching shops around a venerable holy place reminded me of the book American Gods by Neil Gaiman. His theory was kitschy attractions (like roadside diversions such as "world's largest bottle of milk!") draw people because they mark a place people feel is holy or important, but they can't understand how or why. In effect, the shops are marking the spirit of the place just as much as the temple.

The giant lantern of Senso-ji's first entranceway - Kaminarimon (thunder gate). 
The Kaminarimon's guardians: Raijin (kami of thunder) and Fujin (kami of wind).

What do you think of Senso-ji?


Part two of a four part series!
Part One: Sightseeing in the Capital!
Part Three: Akihabara, AKA Nerd Heaven
Part Four: Odaiba, the Island of "Gundam"


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