Sensoji Temple is one of the most popular free things to do in Tokyo, Japan. Due to it being one of the city’s most iconic and significant sites, Senso-ji can be very crowded. This info guide provides tips & tricks for visiting, a unique aerial view, and photos of Asakusa Kannon Temple. (Updated August 9, 2021.)
If you watched coverage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics and noticed shots featuring an eye-catching red temple, it was almost certainly Sensoji. The ancient temple is iconic for its bright vermillion color, and is also near some of the Olympics venues and Tokyo Skytree.
There’s also the practical reality that Sensoji was highlighted because Tokyo is not home to many other significant, beautiful, or memorable temples. This might come as a surprise given that temples and shrines seem ubiquitous in Japan, but not so much in the capital city. There are many religious sites, to be sure, but Sensoji is one of the few exemplars.
Of course, with Japan’s border effectively closed to foreign tourists, you won’t be able to explore Sensoji Temple for yourself anytime soon. If you’re curious as to when you might be able to visit, read When Will Japan Reopen for Travel in 2021?
With that out of the way, let’s turn to our tour of Senso-ji…
According to legend, in the year 628, two brothers, Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, fished a statue of the goddess of mercy (Kannon) out of the Sumida River.
The brothers put the statue back, but it kept returning to them. Recognizing the sanctity of Kannon, the chief of their village, Hajino Nakamoto, enshrined the statue by remodeling his own house into a small temple around Kannon. The first temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple.
The outer gate of the temple is called the Kaminarimon, which guests enter through. The Kaminarimon gate’s centerpiece is a stunning and eye-catching red lantern made in Kyoto and inscribed with kanji characters meaning “thunder gate.”
Originally dating back to 942 A.D., Kaminarimon Gate was later relocated to its current site. Reconstructed several times after being damaged by fire, the current gate dates from 1960 thanks to donations from Panasonic.
This is separated from the outer gate about a small street known as Nakamise, which is lined with merchants selling traditional goods, foods, souvenirs, and all sorts of other items.
This shopping street can be absolutely packed on busy day, but it’s mostly with international tourists, so if you saw footage during the Tokyo Summer Olympics coverage, it was probably pretty empty.
The next gate is the Hozomon. Beyond that is the main temple of the Senso-ji, along with a five-story pagoda.
The Asakusa Shrine is also located near here.
Over time, Senso-ji has been expanded to grow to its current size. Almost all of Senso-ji temple has been reconstructed after being destroyed in World War II.
Don’t be surprised to see some refurbishments occurring during your visit–these are minor cosmetic things to keep the site looking beautiful.
As mentioned above, Senso-ji can be very busy, as it is one of the most popular temples in Tokyo. We recommend visiting as early as possible in the day or towards sunset when crowds start to clear out.
During one visit, we arrived at 8 a.m., and crowds were quite low. By the time we left at 10 a.m., the Sensoji area was quite busy. Midday and weekends you can expect almost wall-to-wall people.
We recommend dedicating about one to two hours to exploring Senso-ji Temple and its surrounding area. There are a variety of buildings, small shops, and a traditional Japanese garden here.
The footprint of the Senso-ji temple is not that large (relative to some other temple sites) and can easily be seen on foot. The surrounding neighborhood and shopping streets in Asakusa are also worth exploring on foot.
A variety of events are held throughout the year at and around Sensoji Temple. The largest is Sanja Matsuri, the annual festival of Asakusa Shrine, held in May. There’s also the Asakusa Samba Carnival in August.
Admission to the Senso-ji temple is free, and the temple is open year round. We recommend taking cash with you to the temple for the purchase of things in the shops around the temple, many of which operate on a cash-only basis.
Visitors will want to spend the majority of their time exploring the main hall and the Asakusa Shrine, as well as the gardens surrounding it. Minimal time should be spent in the shopping area.
There are also several omikuji stalls which allow visitors to consult the oracle for divine answers to their questions for a small donation. It is appropriate for Westerners to participate in this practice, and it was a worthwhile part of the experience, regardless of one’s beliefs.
Senso-ji Temple is visible from Asakusa Station (it will require almost no effort to find as soon as you leave the station), which is served by the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line, and Tobu Railways. Sensoji is accessible via transfer from a number of the JR lines.
Our 1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary covers how you should fit the temple into your schedule for the most efficient day possible.
If you ignore our itinerary, one thing you should know is that from Sensoji Temple, you can easily walk to the Tokyo Skytree (see Our Review: Is Skytree Worth Doing?), which offers a nice bird’s eye view of Tokyo.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Fuji from the Tokyo Skytree. On a less clear day, you might struggle to see Tokyo Disney Resort.
Speaking of views, we’d even more strongly recommend visiting the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. This is directly across the street from the Kaminarimon at the Sensoji Temple. Take the elevator to the top for some of the best views in Asakusa.
The Asakusa Culture Tourist Info Center has a small cafe and a terrace on the 8th floor. We’ve watched several sunsets from up here, and really enjoy the views and setting. It’s a great place to relax and grab a drink, is free to visit, and usually has smaller crowds than the Tokyo Skytree.
Overall, how much of a priority you should place on visiting Senso-ji Temple depends largely upon your other plans while visiting Japan. If you’re spending the bulk or entirety of your time in Tokyo, it’s highly recommended, as there are few experiences quite like this there.
Conversely, if you’re taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto, you will find a treasure trove of temples that will easily surpass Sensoji. Most will also have lower crowd levels and substantively more to offer. We nevertheless recommend it to anyone visiting Tokyo, as the experience is about more than just Sensoji Temple itself–everything from the approach to the shopping street to Asakusa as a whole leaves a lasting impression, and makes the Sensoji/Asakusa Kannon Temple area a top destination in Tokyo.
For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.
Have you visited Senso-ji Temple? What did you think of it? Is it on your list of places to visit in Tokyo? Any other thoughts or tips for visiting? Have any questions or comments about Senso-ji Temple? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!