Sensoji temple is in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. It is an enormous place that draws around 30 million visitors each year. There is much to see, making it the perfect starting place for photographers new to the city. You can also catch a gigantic festival there too.
Most first-time visitors will start at Kaminarimon (or Thunder Gate). With its gigantic red lantern, it is a major tourist attraction. Everyone takes group photos and selfies in front and under it. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a long time to get a break in the crowd for your own!
Beyond Thunder Gate is Nakamise-Dori (or Nakamise street). It’s the famous 200-meter long shopping street. Whatever a Japanophile could want is there. It has senbei (rice crackers), chopsticks, fans, swords, and handbags through to ninja suits. This place can be incredibly crowded at times. So, you might well find yourself walking at a snail’s pace to get through it, especially during festivals. I don’t shoot this street much as it is more for tourists. But when I do, I wait until sunset when its length lights up. Fewer people will be there.
After you reach the end of Nakamise, it is all excellent photo opportunities. You’ll go through another big gate, the Hozomon. It is red and has a massive red lantern with guardian deities on either side. Many different people through here, so you might be able to catch some wearing kimonos.
To the left of the gate is the pagoda. It is excellent for architectural photography. It is my favorite in the city.
After that is the main hall with the beautiful sloping roofs common at Japanese shrines. If you go inside, make sure to look up. The artwork on the ceiling is pretty impressive. Even after closing hours, you’ll see people walking around it.
But that isn’t the end of it!! There are other minor halls, a pagoda, gates, and even a tiny waterfall on the grounds. Next door is an old amusement park, Hanayashiki, but don’t expect it to be like Disneyland.
In May, if you visit Tokyo, go to the Sanja Festival (2018 pictures here). This festival is connected with Asakusa shrine. The purpose is to honor the men who established and founded Sensoji. People carry mikoshi (portable shrines) around the temple area. The crowds are massive. Three million people are said to attend it over its three days. This event is amazing! New Year’s is another popular one.
A brief history of the temple
Sensoji temple is one of the great cultural and religious icons of Tokyo. Its history dates back to 628. The story goes that two brothers often fished in the nearby Sumida River. One day, they caught something very unusual. It was a small gold statue of Bodhisattva Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness.
A temple was erected in the goddess’s honor, and that statue is there. It has done a lot of good over the years. Because of it, many people have come to the temple. They flock to it to seek the goddess’s favors. That would have fueled the development of Nakamise-Dori and the surrounding area. And maybe she helped out after the air raids of WW2 destroyed the temple. The public dug very deep to assist with the rebuilding in the post-war period.
Why do photographers like Sensoji?
- Many minor halls like Awashimado, Bentendo, Chingodo and Yogodo to name a few.
- the five-story pagoda.
- Kaminarimon, Hozomon and Nitenmon gates. By the way, mon means gate.
- Next door is an old amusement park, Hanayashiki. It is very retro, so don’t expect it to be like Disneyland.
- Lots of people in kimono or yukata. Summer is a perfect time for this type of photo.
- It is home to the Sanja Festival, one of the biggest cultural events in Tokyo.
Photography tips for the temple
You also need to think about how many people will be there at different times. If you want crowds, go during the day, or on weekends. For those who like to photograph solitary people, early in the morning might be better.
If you prefer to photograph the architecture, go early morning or evening. That is when fewer people should be there.
The other good thing about this area, in general, is that there are many good places to stay. If your hotel were nearby, it would be easy to get up early in the morning and walk over to the temple. For many photographers, that might be the thrill of a lifetime.
Where is Sensoji?
You can get to it by using the Ginza, Toei Asakusa City Subway, or Tobu Isesaki lines. It is only a short walk from Asakusa station to Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate).
Here is a Google map:
You can walk around the grounds twenty-four hours a day. But, the main hall is only open from 6 am (6:30 am from October to March) to 5 pm.
Other photo spots in the area
- Hanayashiki (amusement park)
- Imado Shrine (Beckoning cats)
- Sumida River (especially in spring for cherry blossoms and fireworks)
- Tokyo Skytree
- Ueno station (a little far, but within walking distance).
Sensoji is a fantastic place for photography, and I recommend it. It could keep you occupied for many hours with the crowds, the architecture, and history. The temple is big enough that you’ll find things still there that I haven’t talked about in this article! So much to photograph in a small area. It is perfect for those with limited time or knowledge of Tokyo.
And please remember, when the crowds have gone at the end of the day, Sensoji is very different. It’s a tranquil, serene place. The lights are on until 11 pm, and you will find yourself with a lot more space. If you want to see some of my night pictures taken there a couple of years ago, you could look at this article.
By the way, were you wondering about that golden statue? Unfortunately, it’s never shown to the public. I’d like to see that too. You can see the temple’s website here.
For more Sensoji-related articles, look at:
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