As the previous day’s walk in Shibuya left us tired and weary we planned a comparatively easy schedule the next day. It was just the Sensoji Temple and the Imperial Palace. Given that both the destinations were some distance apart it also helped us get familiar with the Tokyo Metro – One hop to the Temple, two to the Palace and two back home as also test out our Suica Card.
And so we set out to Asakusa, the last stop on the Ginza line of the Tokyo Metro. Once out of the station we followed the crowds to the Sensoji temple barely a hundred metres away. This Buddhist temple is one of the earliest in Tokyo and dates back to 629 AD when a statue was found by fisherman in the Sumeda river. Their village headman identified it as that of Kannon, the Buddhist associated with compassion and enshrined them in his own abode. From this early beginning the Sensoji temple has grown to be the most visited temple in Japan. Its popularity grew when the Shogunate adopted it as their family shrine and closed it to public in the 1600s. The temple and surrounding structures have been through several natural calamities and fires at different points of time till they were totally destroyed by the Allied bombing in the Second World War. The temple has since been rebuilt to its present form and is symbolic of the resurrection of Japan.
The entrance to the temple is called the Kannarimon or the Thunder gate and is an imposing structure with a huge hanging Chochin lantern in the centre . Chochin lanterns are made of high quality bamboo and weighs as much as one ton –
This lantern is said to be the largest of its kind in Japan and made from the bamboo from the forests of Kyoto (more about these bamboo forests in another post). The gate is flanked by statues of Shinto gods Fujin and Rajin. As the story goes Fujin and Rajin are the gods of weather and their benevolence is needed for the protection against the commonly occurring typhoons in Japan. In fact one finds the statues of Fujin and Rajin standing guarding at the entrance of many a temple in Japan. Rajin is the god of thunder, lightning and rain and Fujin is the god of wind and also associated with the divine wind. An interesting fact I picked up at another shrine was that there is no clear divide between good and evil gods. All Japanese gods combine benevolence with an element of mischief and so it is with both Fujin and Rajin. The Kannarimon gate like the temple too has been destroyed many times and the present gate has been built as late as 1960s through massive public donations.
A walk through the Kannarimon gate leads you onto the Nakamise dori – it is a 250 metre long street lined with small shops selling reasonably priced souvenirs and an amazing variety of street food. If you are looking for authentic Japanese food this is the place in Tokyo. This street or Dori has been in existence for the last five hundred years and is the
the oldest shopping market in Tokyo. Malati picked up a few nice little clutches to gift to our friends back home. We were also enamoured by the Kimonos but held back. The street is very crowded most of the time and if you are averse to crowds you can take the bypass running parallel to this street.
Amble past the shops down Nakamise dori and you enter the main temple through the Hozomon gate. The shrine itself is grandly decorated and does give one a sense of calm and quiet despite of the crowds.
The original statue of Kannon is said to be stored here away from public eye. Facing the temple, to the left is a five storey pagoda. In fact it is actually a hall of remembrance for the dead We were told that there are memorial tablets for the dead and unless you are related to them access is denied. And access is allowed only on certain days. Buddha’s ashes are also said to be stored here in the pagoda. The pagoda and temple complex though imposing by day must also be seen at night when all the lights are turned on . On our way out we spent a little while at the Demboin garden and at the oracle . For a 150 yen you can pick up a straw which gives you numbered access to a drawer inside which is a chit of paper with your fortune .
And then like at any other shrine is the ablutions pavilion called the Chozuya. In the Chozuya is the Chozubashi which is a stone masonry water tank with bamboo ladles. Devotees are expected to wash their mouth, hands and the ladle before entering the temple. A elderly kimono clad lady directed us through the sequence of ablutions – Left hand first, then right hand, wash your mouth and finally the ladle.
One regret I have is that I did not visit the Renkoji temple in Tokyo . It is the resting place of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s ashes. Bose was a highly respected and controversial Indian patriot who died in an air crash at the end of World War II. Bose’s death in an air crash in Taiwan has been disputed and the mystery surrounding his death has been kept alive till today by supporters.
It completely slipped my mind and surprisingly did not show up as a place of interest in any of my research. Perhaps it reflects the western mindset of tourist publications and online material. It Would have been nice to pay a visit and take a few Photographs – More so regrettable when we discovered that it was just a few stops away on the Marounochi line from Shinjuku where we were staying for a few days .
Regrets apart we moved on to the next destination the Imperial Palace of Tokyo .Another rich storehouse of Japanese history.
Continued in my next post The Imperial Palace of Tokyo