Tokyo – Asakusa. Where sacred meets profane

Asakusa, is situated at north-east side of Sumida river; also called by shitamachi which means “downtown”, in opposition to yamanote so the east part of Tokyo, or “low city,” because of its position to Sumida river.

Taito, Asakusa (photo: AS, 2019)

During Edo period (1600-1867) a former red light district (Yoshiwara) was created here in order to limit the practice of prostitution to just one area. After the Great Fire of Meireki, during which more than half of the city has been destroyed, the Asakusa version of Yoshiwara was renewed. It only stopped fonctionning from 1958, when the governement of Japan decided to fobidden prositution.

During the whole Edo era, Asakusa stayed at central position within urban plan of Tokyo. Today people come here mostly to visit the temple Sensō-ji,  dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Even if there are many statues representing this Goddess of Compassion in whole Japan, (probably the most known is Senju Kannon, in Dojoji Temple), people come to visit and pray in the temple because of the sacred meaning of this place.

The story of Senso-ji stretches back to the year 628, when according to the legend, two fishermen who were brothers, discovered a golden statue of Kannon in the Sumida River. They tried to put it back into the water, but it kept coming back to them. Thus, the whole acte has been interpreted as a divine occurrence by the chief of then little village of Asakusa, and he decided to build a shrine for the goddess. This first version of Sensoji temple was completed in 645 AD.

Asakusa temple, view on Five-Storied Pagoda (photo: AS, 2019)
Senso-ji temple, Asakusa (photo: AS, 2019)

“Senso” in Japanese is another reading of the characters for “Asakusa” and “ji” is “temple”.

Asakusa temple (photo: AS, 2019)

The temple in its actual version, has been rebuilt in the second half of 20th century.

Today the very important aspect of the area is the arcade of merchants’ stalls, which during an usual day are attracting by colorfull gadgets and souvenirs (Kokeshi dolls, Lucky Charms, Samurai and Ninja Figures, Buddhists prayers, Sake cups, etc), keeping traces of legends and aspects of Japanese culture and tradition in highly condensed figurative profane forms.

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