The symbol of Asakusa, Sensoji Temple is known as the oldest temple in Tokyo, founded in 628 after two fishermen hauled up a small golden statue of Bodhisattva Kannon from the Sumida River and despite trying to get rid of it, it kept surfacing in their nets, so they decided to keep it. Their chief of the village, Hajino Nakamoto, being a devout Buddhist, recognized the statue as holy and enshrined it by remodelling his house into a small temple so that all in the village could worship Kannon.
Today, around 30 million visitors from throughout Japan and from abroad visit the temple every year. The huge lanterns hung at the Kaminari (Thunder) Gate are a landmark of the area, and taking a selfie here is a must. The temple is a popular spot for Japanese for hatsumode, or the first prayer of the year, when over three million visitors come in just the first three days of the new year. The Nakamisedori approach leading up to the temple is lined with shops selling traditional snacks and souvenirs, and makes for an entertaining walk.
The temple, located in the heart of old Edo, was where shoguns came to worship, including the first Edo shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who offered up his prayers for the shogunate here. Sensoji was the guardian temple of the northeast gate and Zojoji Temple in Shiba, near Tokyo Tower, was meant to guard the southwest gate, and both temples were adopted as Tokugawa’s family temples. “Senso” is another way of reading the characters for Asakusa, and Tokugawa’s patronage made the Asakusa temple area the heart of Edo culture.