Touristing at Sensoji

There are loads of well-known tourist places in Tokyo… Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, to name a few. Whenever friends from home or other international visitors come to Japan, I often get asked for recommendations on things to do and see in Tokyo. In particular, a lot of people want to know what are the tourist traps, or things not worth the hype. But honestly, there’s really not much that isn’t worth doing! Granted, some things are kind of geared towards tourists – like the Robot Cafe or MariCar (real life Mario Cart) – but I feel like when you experience something as out-there as that, and then the next day experience something like a tea ceremony or the fish market, it makes you appreciate what Japan is famous for: a land of contrasts, a beautiful blend of modern and traditional.

Take the most famous temple in the city, for example. Sensoji in Asakusa is considered one of the top 5 things to do in Tokyo, and with millions of visitors each year, it is a constant hive of activity. The tourists are busy shopping and taking photos; the stall keepers are busy selling; the guards are busy making sure people obey the rules. It feels like a melting pot where every country around the world is represented in the harmonious mass.

At the same time, below the ‘touristy surface’ lies an ancient, historically important place. Sensoji is said to have been founded in the year 645. It started out just as a simple structure housing a statue of the goddess of mercy where people would come to pray. Over the past 1,300+ years, the temple has been destroyed by earthquakes, fires, floods and wars, but it never lost its value among monks, pilgrims, and even Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled Japan in the early 1600s. It’s because of them that Sensoji remains to this day.

While living in Tokyo, I have taken a bunch of different friends to Asakusa and shown them around. Despite the overwhelming crowds, it really is a great place to experience, especially when you know a little about the history and traditions.

Here are a few tips I recommend to make your visit even better!

  • Visit during one of the festivals – Sanja Matsuri in May is the biggest.
  • Try ‘monjayaki‘, Tokyo’s version of okonomiyaki (side note: it doesn’t look appetizing, but really is!)
  • Head to the Asakusa Culture Tourist Info Centre for a great view of Sensoji from above.
  • Visit at night when all the shops along Nakamise are closed and the crowds have left… a great spot for night photography.
  • Visit Denboin and the secret garden next to Sensoji, which is only open from March to May! The 18th and 19th century buildings survived WWII and have been designated Important Cultural Properties.
  • Purchase an omamori (luck charm) or a goshuin (temple seal) to commemorate your visit.

WPC: Tour Guide

Sensoji

Doorway to another world

Sensoji

You could never tire of seeing girls in kimono, especially at a traditional place like this.

Sensoji

The wooden carving detail on the base of the lanterns is beautiful – and often missed if you don’t look up!

Sensoji

The smoke from the incense is said to heal any bodily pains you’re feeling.

Sensoji

Nakamise can get very crowded but it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs, eat freshly baked rice crackers and try traditional sweets.

Sensoji

Wash your hands and rinse your mouth (to purify yourself) before going to pray.

Sensoji

Giant paper lanterns hang in the two entrance gates

Sensoji

View of Sensoji Temple from the side (where it’s generally much quieter)

Sensoji

Walk down the neighbouring streets and you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

Have you ever visited Sensoji? What was your impression?

What are some touristy places you’ve been to in the world that are actually worth the hype?

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19 thoughts on “Touristing at Sensoji

    • Happy to hear that! I love that ‘downtown Tokyo’ feel that Asakusa has, and would definitely go more often if I lived closer. What other areas in Tokyo did you like the best?

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  2. Wonderful photos. Really like the idea of visiting at night when the crowds have gone. I like quiet and peace, and don’t do crowds very well. I’ve never been to Japan, but maybe one day. It strikes me as a place that is culturally rich historically and the locals seems to have a lot humility about the way they live these days, especially in the face of rebuilding as and when that arises.

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    • I totally get why you’d rather visit a place like this at night. It can be a frustrating experience tackling crowds, which unfortunately takes away from the place itself. Tokyo may be very fast-paced, but outside of the city there are many places I think you’d really enjoy visiting! The culture and traditions are deeply valued and you see that more in rural areas where there is less ‘noise’.

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  3. Hi Celia,
    Asakusa is definitely a place to visit for first-time and returning visitors. Sensoji is the “beating heart” in some ways, but what I enjoyed most about the area was the side streets and that old Tokyo feel.
    John

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  4. Great post. Asakusa is definitely worth the visit, even if it is full of tourists. It’s an interesting temple in the middle of Tokyo, and it’s kind of fun walking up the street full of souvenir shops. I’ve only been once, but I think it even deserves a second visit if only just to take photos and eat things.

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    • I especially loved Angkor Wat, too. Although I went in summer when it was sticking hot, the ruins were incredible and quite surprising that you can basically go wherever you want.

      The photos of Halong Bay always look amazing, but I was afraid it might have been touristy. Glad to hear you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

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