Asakusa Temple, also known as Sensoji is one of the most popular temples in Tokyo with thousands of tourists and locals visiting the site daily. The temple is of Budhhdist origins and is dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Founded since 645 AD, it is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
Dominating the entrance to the temple is the Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate”. This imposing Buddhist structure features a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightning. ( Source: Wikipedia) It is hard to miss the big lantern as you walk towards the temple as throngs of people will be standing in front of the thunder gate trying to a picture of themselves with the famous red lantern.
Beyond the thunder gate with the red lantern, you will be greeted with a long stretch of a walkway flanked by shops on both sides. The street itself is known as the Nakamise-Dori and the shops on both sides of the street sell Japanese street snacks, souvenirs as well as traditional Japanese desserts and wares like porcelain dolls and Japanese fans. This street is also considered as one of the oldest in Tokyo with at least 500 years if history. Stretching for 250 m in length, there are at least 90 over shops in total.
One of the most popular items you can find selling at many stores at the Nakamise-Dori is this ningyo yaki which is basically Japanese sweet batter cake filled with Azuki red bean filling and baked on a traditional Japanese metal grill plate. You can find many stores at Asakusa selling this snack which is popular for tourists to bring home.
Beyond the Nakamise-Dori is the Hōzōmon which is known as the treasure house gate is the inner gate that is right in front of the main temple building. The Hōzōmon’s second story houses many of the Sensō-ji’s treasures. The first story houses two statues, three lanterns and two large sandals.
Just before you reach the main temple, there are a couple of buildings at the side and they offer amulets for sale as well as O-mikuji which is sacred lots that tell you your fortune. You can get a metal lot from the containers and get the fortune written on slips of paper in the little wooden drawers. After reading your fortune, you can tie the paper at the side wires so that the fortune will come true.
As the most important temple in Tokyo, Sensoji holds the Sanja Matsuri festival which is held in honour of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari, and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded the Sensō-Ji Buddhist temple. During festivals like this, you can find traditional music and dancing as well as makeshift shops selling festival food. Do bear in mind that while it is exciting to visit during such festivals to soak in the atmosphere, it is extremely crowded and can get very warm and humid.
With so many stores at Sensoji selling endless kinds of snacks, I have my personal favourites which I would recommend you to queue despite the long queues. The first one is this ningyo yaki store. Kimuraya is founded in 1868 and is the oldest ningyo yaki store in the whole of Sensoji
The ninggo yaki is made fresh daily and while queuing, you can see the chef making these cute tiny cakes by the window.
These cute cakes retail at 8 pieces for ¥600, 16 pieces for ¥1,200 and they also sell box sets of 22 pieces at ¥1,800. 28 pieces at ¥2,300 so forth. The cakes from Kimuraya is soft and not too sweet and the batter is kept very thin so 90% of the cake is the azuki red bean filling which is smooth and creamy. As a ningyo yaki fan, I do think this is the best store that makes them.
The next store is this Oimoyasan which is a sweet potato confectionery opened in 1984 and they sell many different kinds of sweet potato snacks and desserts
The most popular and delicious one is the daigakuimo which is fried sweet potato drenched in honey syrup. The honey glazed the fried potato perfectly forming a slightly crunchy sugar crust. The additional honey syrup is drizzled on the potato before nutty sesame seeds are sprinkled onto the dessert. For dessert and sweet tooth people, these are little pop in your mouth wonders. The natural sweetness of the sweet potato is complemented further with the honey syrup and it is difficult to stop at just 1 piece. As it is highly sweet, it is recommended to share one order as it gets too heavy on the stomach after the 4th piece. These are retailed at ¥400 for 200g of sweet goodies ( approximately 5 pieces)
With the recommendation of these 2 items, there are still many other food items to try at Sensoji temple as there are more modern food stalls being set up at the side streets around the temple since the main Nakamise-Dori is already full of shops. I spotted things like strawberry puffs, melon pan bread, matcha ice cream and tea and many more in my recent trip. To fully immerse in what Sensoji and the Nakamise-Dori have to offer, you should take your time to stroll through the area.
Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Operating hours: 6 am to 5 pm ( Most shops close around the same timing as the main hall but the street and the temple buildings are still accessible during the night.