mikoshi Reference
Glossary of Terms

Asakusa Shrine
Also affectionately known as Sanja-sama, the main building of Asakusa Shrine was constructed by the third Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa in the early Edo era in 1649. It has escaped fire and wartime destruction and it is designated an Important Cultural Property. The main building is particularly well-known as a fine example of the architectural style called gongen-zukuri, which was popular in the Edo era.
The Sanja-matsuri festival reaches a climax when three mikoshi (portable shrines) called ichi-no-miya, ni-no-miya, and san-no-miya leave and return to Asakusa Shrine.The procession includes 120 portable shrines from a total of 44 parishioner associations affiliated with Asakusa Shrine, making it Tokyo's most spectacular festival.

Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple was built to enshrine a statue of the Kannon that was discovered in the Miyato River. The temple prospered and declined over the years until it became directly affiliated with Hiezan Enryakuji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. At present, it is independent as the head temple of the Seikannon sect. The official temple name is Kinryuzan, but it is also known as Asakusa Kannon and the residential building is called Denpo-in. As one of the most famous temples during the Edo era that attracted many worshippers among the common people, it is also the place where popular Edo culture originated.

This unusual music and dance combines both shishi-mai (ritual dance with a lion's mask) and dengaku (ritual music and dancing performed at temples and shrines). It is based on the traditional dance and music of dengaku-mai in the Kamakura era. The name binzasara-mai is taken from the name of the instrument, binzasara, a wooden instrument with 108 slats strung together at the top, that is played with the flute and taiko drums. It has been designated an Intangible Cultural Property by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Kaminarimon Gate
This is the main gate of Sensoji Temple. According to Sensoji-shi (History of Sensoji Temple), it was built as the main gate of Sensoji Temple by Kimimasa Taira in Komagata in 942, and rebuilt in 1635, but burned down in 1639. In 1649, Iemitsu Tokugawa donated the main hall, Niomon Gate, the five-story pagoda, and Kaminarimon Gate in 1649. Kaminarimon Gate was subsequently destroyed by fire several times over the years. The existing gate dates from 1950 when it was rebuilt after 95 years. The two deities on either side of the gate are Fujin, the god of wind, and Raijin, the god of thunder, and tourists enjoy taking photographs of them.

The street leading to the Kannon Hall of Sensoji Temple is lined with shops on both sides for about 250 meters from Kaminarimon Gate and Hozomon Gate. The stone-paved pedestrian street retains the feeling of old downtown Edo and the cultural florescence of the Meiji era. During the Genroku and Tempo periods of the Edo era, horse carriage operators were subject to forced labor and made to clean the temple compound. The Nakamise area started when they were granted the right to set up shops next to the east side of Niomon as compensation.

Hozomon Gate (Niomon Gate)
This two-storied gate to Sensoji Temple has been called Niomon Gate since the olden days. Destroyed by fire in 1631, it was rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa in 1636. It stood for three hundred years until it burned down in the massive air raids of 1945. In 1964, it was rebuilt with a donation from the late Eitaro Otani, third chairman of the Asakusa Tourist Federation. The upper story of the gate houses the temple's Buddhist sutras that include Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra) which is designated a National Treasure and the Issai-kyo, a complete collection of Buddhist scriptures that is an Important Cultural Property. This is why the gate is called Hozomon Gate (the gate for storing treasures).

Nitenmon Gate
This gate, located to the east of the main hall and to the right of Asakusa Shrine, is designated as an Important Cultural Property. In 1618, when Toshogu was built in the Sensoji Temple compound after funds had been raised, the Nitenmon Gate was erected as a shrine gate and statues of Toyoiwamado no Mikoto and Kushiiwamado no Mikoto were placed on either side. The gate was left standing after the deity enshrined in Toshogu was moved to Koyozan in side of the Edo Castle. After the separation of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the Meiji Restoration, Shinto deities were removed to Asakusa Shrine. In their place, a statue of Tatenmon was enshrined, but this has subsequently been lost.

The bell of the Bentenyama bell tower was recast in 1693, and from the Edo era to the end of the Taisho period, it served as the hour bell of Asakusa. The plaque on the bell tower is said to have displayed a poem of Basho, a famous haiku poet: "Ueno or Asakusa, which bell tolls more gaily?" It was one of the two hour bells, the other being the bell at Kaneiji Temple in Ueno, and it also served as a temple bell known for its elegant-sounding ring.

Five-story Pagoda
After the pagoda constructed by Iemitsu Tokugawa burned down during the war, another pagoda, together with a lecture hall, was built in the new toinzukuri style in 1973. It stands 53.32 meters tall, the second highest in Japan after the 56-meter high pagoda of Toji Temple in Kyoto.

This residential building for the chief priest of Sensoji Temple is situated to the southwest of the five-story pagoda. It is made up of a main building, measuring 24,800 square meters, and a quiet garden that is well insulated from the noise of the world outside. The garden, measuring 12,000 square meters, is thought to have been created sometime during the Kansei period (1789-1800), but the exact year of construction and the designer are unknown. The garden has a pond called Shinji-ike in the shape of the Chinese character for "heart" and an island in the pond that lies from northeast to southwest. The garden's design resembles the kaiyushiki style garden (walk-around landscape garden) of Katsura-rikyu in Kyoto.

More About Asakusa
With the support of the Taito City Board of Education, the Asakusa Tourist Federation established the Asakusa Archive Library in 1977. Since 1996, it has been located on the third floor of the Asakusa Cultural Tourism Center in front of Kaminarimon Gate and is open to the public free of charge. (phone: 03-3845-3591)

Asakusa Event Calender