🎍On January 1, 2024, I went to Sensoji Temple (浅草寺) in Asakusa, Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple and one of the most popular places in Japan for hatsumode (初詣) or New Year’s prayers. It was such a spectacle of crowds. After a few years of the pandemic, people in Japan are back in droves worshipping at temples and shrines during New Year’s.

Although many Japanese traditions are in decline, such as sending New Year’s nengajo postcards, worshipping at a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine for New Year’s is still going on strong. People need hope and the inner strength to carry on in the new year.

Many Japanese are fleetingly religious only during New Year’s or some other major festival, thinking or hoping that there’s some higher power that can control or determine our fate. However, no matter which god or Buddha you pray to, we all know that nothing is guaranteed in life.

Heartbreaking for all those people in the Hokuriku Region who prayed for good fortune on New Year’s Day 2024 only to come home and face misfortune from the major earthquake and/or tsunami. Prayers for them.

Kaminarimon Gate and police
Kaminarimon Gate for Sensoji Temple on Jan. 1, 2024.
Kaminarimon Gate for Sensoji Temple on Jan. 1, 2024.

In Asakusa in front of Kaminarimon Gate with the famous giant red lantern. There was police on an elevated platform (“DJ police”) directing the crowds to enter the gate from the left in an orderly fashion. One-way pedestrian traffic through the gate. We couldn’t loiter and take photos in front of the gate.

Nakamise shopping arcade full of people heading to Sensoji Temple on New Year’s Day 2024. Notice the celebratory red-and-white decoration branches. In spring, they become cherry blossom branches.

People wearing kimon

People wearing kimono in Japan are almost always Asian tourists from overseas. Asakusa has makeover kimono studios where you can rent a kimono. Too bad we hardly see Japanese women wearing kimono for New Year’s. Have to wait until Coming-of-Age Day about a week later.

Nakamise arcade crowd

Security staff made sure nobody cuts in line from the side along the Nakamise arcade.

Sensoji Temple's main worship hall

Large crowd waiting in front of Sensoji Temple’s main worship hall. It was stop and go, but it wasn’t so bad. We proceeded quickly enough.

getting closer to Sensoji's main temple
Getting closer and closer to the main temple.
crowd control
They blocked off the center part of the steps to the temple and split the crowd to go up the steps on the left or right.
Crowd on the right waiting to go up the steps
Crowd on the right waiting to go up the steps.
People patiently waiting to get in the temple
This is what we looked like from the temple. People patiently waiting to get in the temple.
dragon water basin

If you’re on the right edge of the crowd, you can use this dragon water basin to purify yourself. The dragon fountains had a stiff hose attached to the mouth. Sensoji Temple has a close association with the dragon. That’s why I decided to visit in the Year of the Dragon in 2024.

Sensoji Temple, in front of the main altar

Finally inside Sensoji Temple, in front of the main altar. People are squeezing in and out here. Be patient and inch your way to the front. Don’t look back though, you might get hit by flying coins.

Sensoji Temple, in front of the main altar

Got to the front and saw the makeshift offertory money pit in front of the regular offertory box.

Sensoji Temple main altar

Temple priests were conducting prayer services.

inside Sensoji Temple

When inside, also look up at the ceiling paintings. The one in the center is a dragon painting. After praying, you can buy temple souvenirs and good luck charms sold inside.

Exited the temple from the side here. Jan. 1, 2024 in Tokyo was a beautiful day. A little windy, but perfect for hatsumode New Year’s worship.

Asakusa Shrine ema prayer tablet depicting the two fishermen brothers
Asakusa Shrine ema prayer tablet depicting the two fishermen brothers finding the Kannon statue in Sumida River.

Year 628: Two fishermen brothers find a golden Kannon buddha statue (commonly called the “Goddess of Mercy”) in Sumida River next to Asakusa. The two fishermen were Hinokuma no Hamanari and Takenari.

Three days later, according to legend, a golden dragon descended from heaven and danced. Hence, the temple and shrine’s association with the dragon believed to bring good fortune.

A wealthy landowner named Hajinomatsuchi heard about the statue and told the brothers about its religious value. He then built a small worship stall for the statue and the brothers converted to Buddhism. This eventually became today’s Sensoji Temple (also called “Asakusa Kannon Temple“). Thanks to the temple, Asakusa developed and prospered and the two brothers and landlord are considered to be the founders of Asakusa. They are now deified and worshipped as gods at Asakusa Shrine next to Sensoji.

Sensoji Temple has a golden dragon (called Kinryu 金龍)

Sensoji Temple has a golden dragon (called Kinryu 金龍) dance which they perform at major Asakusa festivals. The dragon is 15 meters long, weighing about 80 kg. It has a bamboo frame, covered with cloth. Eight men use poles to manipulate the golden dragon. No legs or wings.

The golden dragon legend gave Sensoji’s mountain name of “Kinryu-zan” (金龍山) meaning Golden Dragon Mountain. In the old days, Buddhist temples were also named after the mountain they were located on. Eventually, even when a temple was not on any mountain, they still adopted a mountain name. So most Buddhist temples have two names.

Asakusa Shrine

Asakusa Shrine

Adjacent to Sensoji Temple is Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社). It used to be part of Sensoji until Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were required to be split into separate organizations. Asakusa Shrine is much less crowded, but it holds Asakusa’s biggest festival called Sanja Matsuri in mid-May.

Asakusa Shrine is dedicated to the three men who founded Sensoji Temple as mentioned above. Asakusa Shrine holds the annual Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) in May, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals. Three portable shrines dedicated to these three men are carried around the streets of Asakusa. “Sanja” means three shrines or gods.

Asakusa Shrine's wash basin with dragon fountains
Asakusa Shrine’s wash basin with dragon fountains.
Asakusa Shrine's ema prayer tablet with a dragon design.
Asakusa Shrine’s ema prayer tablet with a dragon design.

Wishing a speedy recovery to people affected by the 2024 New Year’s holiday disasters in Japan. Hope nothing else bad will happen this year. Take care and stay safe and healthy.🐉🐲🎍

*More photos of Sensoji, Sanja Matsuri, and Asakusa: https://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=8