Sensoji Temple: A Photographer’s Dream Destination

Sensoji temple sunset
Sensoji temple at sunset.

Sensoji temple 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. Many photographers might even call it their dream destination.

It starts magnificently at Kaminarimon (or Thunder Gate). With its gigantic red lantern and guardian deity statues, it is a major tourist attraction. Everyone takes group photos and selfies in front and under it. Don’t be surprised if you must wait a long time to get a break in the crowd on 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, handbags, and ninja suits.

This place can be incredibly crowded at times.  So, you might 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.

Kaminarimon gate with no people
A rare scene - no one at Kaminarimon.

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 walk through here, so you might catch some wearing kimonos. 

To the left of the gate is the pagoda. It is my favorite in the city. If you like architectural photography, this is for you.

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.

Hozomon gate after rain
The Hozo gate during some night rain.

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. It is very retro!

If you visit Tokyo in May, 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 it houses that statue. 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.

Those worshippers 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 is Sensoji Temple a dream destination for photographers?

  • Many minor halls like Awashimado, Bentendo, Chingodo, and Yogodo to name a few.
  • the five-story pagoda.
  • Kaminarimon, Hozomon and Nitenmon.  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.
  • Many people go there in kimono or yukata. Summer is perfect for this type of photo.
  • It is home to the Sanja Festival, one of the biggest cultural events in Tokyo.

As you can see there is much to photograph. You’ll be able to get some photos of an iconic place in Tokyo. And it won’t take much effort to get there.

Sanja Festival crowd at Asakusa shrine
The Sanja Festival crowd at Asakusa shrine.

Photography tips for the temple

  • You also need to consider 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 to the temple. For many photographers, that might be the thrill of a lifetime.
length of Nakamise-dori
Nakamise-Dori and Sensoji seen from the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center.

Sensoji super photo spot!

Over the road from Kaminarimon is the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. Take the elevator up to the roof. Once on the deck, you can get great views of Nakamise-Dori and Sensoji Temple. It is a fantastic photo spot.

Sensoji Temple details

See the temple’s opening hours and location on the official website.

Sensoji temple pagoda at night
Sensoji's pagoda.

Other photo spots near Sensoji Temple

  • 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).

Wrapping up

Sensoji Temple is a dream destination for photographers. You could be there for many hours with its crowds, architecture, and history. It is big enough that you’ll find things that I haven’t discussed in this article! There is much to photograph. It is perfect for those with limited time or knowledge of Tokyo. You won’t have to work hard to get something nice.

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 have much more space.  If you want to see some of my night pictures, click the article below.

Hozomon sanja festival crowd
The Sanja Festival always attracts huge crowds.

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. Maybe one day!

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