Asakusa's Sensoji Temple: Tokyo's Most Famous Cultural Landmark

 Let's face it. Tokyo is Japan, as far as most tourists are concerned. It is the capital, the biggest city in Japan, and probably has the most tourist destinations of any city in Asia, with all of its museums, shops, observation towers, gardens, and more. It's possible to get a good feel for Japan with a balanced itinerary in Tokyo alone. (That isn't to say that you should stay only in Tokyo; there are some very beautiful and unique sights all over the islands.)

Most people who can only go to Tokyo get their religious-cultural credit by visiting Asakusa. Just head away from the flaming building toward the temple's gate. Called Sensoji, the temple was originally built around 645. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
 Start at the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate). Every time I've passed by the gate - rain or shine - there have been at least a dozen people taking pictures at the same time. Pass through the gate after taking your own picture - it's the symbol of Asakusa and possibly all of Tokyo.
 A fairly long shopping street, known as Nakamise, leads to the second gate, called Hozomon. This is a surprisingly good place to get all your souvenirs for Japan that you can't find at the 100-yen shop. Be sure to shop around, because the same goods are found in multiple stores and prices aren't always the same. You can find yukata, fans, sake cups and other ceramics, typical souvenirs like keychains, and local snacks.
 Here's the Hozomon. Just walk through.
 I found a white paper lantern at a 100-yen shop, though I would like to buy a red lantern some time before I leave Japan. Different lanterns say different things though I don't know what this says.
 Ahead is the main hall. It was renovated in 2010.
 Walk up the stairs and admire the temple. Unlike many other temples, this place is overrun with tourists - it might be difficult to actually see real people worshiping, but then this makes it easier to take pictures.
 Look up. The ceilings are beautiful and my pictures don't do them justice.
 Each ceiling section has a different work of art.
 Each panel has a different meaning or purpose; dragons might be used for protection, for example.
 While temples are genereally simple, architecturally speaking, the insides are very beautiful, frequently holding ornate golden decorations.
 Nearby, you can see a five-storied pagoda. Most of the area was destroyed during the war and are, thus, reconstructions. Japan tends to be fairly faithful to the original design when rebuilding (at least, externally).
 This is a bronze Hokyoin-to. It is based on the Hokyoindaranikyo (Sutra of Casket Seal Itharani) - a Buddhist text. It was restored in 1907, after being damaged by an earthquake, and was originally cast in 1761.
 The bronze statue and several other smaller structures sit to the left of Senso-ji, at Asakusa Shrine.
 Most of the crowds ignore the shady, peaceful grounds, though the area has a much more modest feel compared to the gigantic, colorful, grand structures of Sensoji.
There's a nice little pond.
 Small huts are scattered along the pond and path.
 It's a beautiful location that is often overlooked.
 Compare the "crowds" seen here to the ones in the Sensoji pictures above. You'd think these pictures were taken miles apart instead of just next door. That should be the actual shrine building in the photo above.
 The grounds have a couple monuments or memorials.
This small roofed shrine structure sits quite photogenically in front of the five storied pagoda of Sensoji. I'm quite happy with this photo!

Beyond Asakusa Shrine, you can visit Hanayashiki amusement park or Kappabashi Dori - the restaurant shopping street full of everything you'd need to open and run a restaurant - except food. Asakusa also has restaurants to experience tea ceremonies, eat traditional Japanese food, and try on kimono. Nearby is SkyTree, Tokyo's latest landmark. As with any other tourist destination in the world, do your research on experiences and restaurants as some of them aren't as good as others.

Sensoji's grounds are always open, though the main hall itself is open from 6:00-17:00. Admission is free to everything, though those who visit are generally expected to throw a little change in the box.

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