It was mid-way through the week and our Japan trip was well underway. I was getting used to the 14-hour time difference from Utah time, I was comfortable with the Tokyo Metro subway system (not an easy feat when the map looks like a bowl of linguine) and was already addicted to Japanese ramen. We’d been to the Yomiuri Giants baseball game and seen the Meiji Shrine; now it was time to visit Tokyo’s oldest temple: Sensoji.
|At Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Japan.|
Sensoji Temple is in Asakusa, in the northeast area of Tokyo. First built in 645, the temple is dedicated to the Buddhist bodhisattva Kannon. Its popularity and large number of devoted followers, including military elite, high-ranking priests and shoguns, transformed the small fishing village of Asakusa into a thriving city that eventually became the center of Tokyo’s culture. The temple was destroyed during the heavy bombing Asakusa experienced during World War II but was rebuilt shortly afterward. It is now a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people. The popularity it received hundreds of years ago still maintains today; more than 30 million visitors come to worship or visit Sensoji Temple each year.
|Kaminarimon Gate is a symbol of Sensoji Temple and Asakusa.|
At the entrance to the temple is a magnificant red gate, known as Kaminarimon Gate (“Thunder Gate”). In the center of the gate is a giant lantern, painted red and black to symbolize thunder clouds and lightning, flanked by statues of Fujin (the wind god) and Raijin (the thunder god). The gate was originally built in 942 but burned down in 1865 and rebuild in 1960.
|Shops selling mochi, trinkets and souvenirs lined the street to Sensoji Temple.|
Passed the Kaminarimon Gate is a street lined with nearly 100 shops selling souvenirs and Japanese treats, known as Nakamise-dori. It was the first place I’d seen souvenirs for sale, so we took our time strolling through the shops. The street has been lined with shops since the 18th Century, a prime location thanks to the crowds of tourists that come to Sensoji. Many shops were destroyed in 1923 during the Great Kanto Earthquake, rebuilt years later, then destroyed during World War II and rebuilt yet again.
Past the numerous shops was another large gate, called the Hozomon Gate (“Treasure House Gate”). After a street full of loud shops and anxious crowds of shoppers, things were much calmer past the Hozomon. While the shops indicated that we were in a very touristy area, passed the Hozomon I was reminded that it was also a religious place. Not surprisingly, the Hozomon was also built, burned down, and rebuilt several times.
The main building, Kannondo Hall, towers past the Hozomon gate. From afar, the building is beautiful in its simplicity. Up close, it is even more beautiful in its many complex details.
To the side of the Kannondo is a five-story pagoda and several other buildings, all with perfectly-manicured gardens nestled in between them.
As we strolled through the gardens, a group of school kids nervously ran up to us. One asked if we spoke English and when we replied yes, got out a piece of paper with questions to ask us, obviously part of a school assignment. The other kids giggled and teased each other while we talked with them through bits and pieces of English. My dad, a junior high teacher, enjoyed talking with them so much that from that day forward he tried to talk to any school kids when we saw them at touristy places.
Beyond the temple were tiny, picturesque streets that were exactly what I’d imagined Japan to be. It was so perfect it seemed almost a parody, like the way the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas is a fake replica ofNew York City. Or maybe it was so perfect it was surreal and I just couldn’t believe I was in Japan.I can see why Sensoji is a symbol of rebirth, as so much of it had been built again and again throughout history. I admired the dedication required to rebuild the same structures over and over and realized how important they must be to the people of Asakusa–and Japan. I loved the idea that my parents and I shared the same pilgrimage to Sensoji Temple that people have been doing for more than a thousand years.