Famous Ceilings: Senso-ji Temple

Written by Milan Jara

Tokyo's oldest temple, Senso-ji (or Sensoji) Temple, has a rich history symbolizing the history of Japan as a whole. Located in Taito-ku, the temple is sacred ground beloved by worshipers and visitors alike. It houses amazing motifs and artwork, including the beautiful neo-classic artwork that decorates the ceiling.

The Story of the Two Fishermen

The story of Senso-ji tells of two fishermen, the brothers Hamanari and Takenari, who caught a statue of Bodhisattva Kannon in their nets in the Sumida River in 628. The goddess Bodhisattva Kannon is a Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, and many believe that she has the ability to relieve the suffering of the people on earth. The head of their village became a Buddhist priest, and the shrine was founded in the goddess's honor in 645. The statue apparently still exists; however, it is shielded from the view of visitors (and all humans). An identical statue was created for the people to worship in its place later on. For more than a thousand years, visitors have worshiped the goddess with the simple prayer "Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu," or, in English, "I place my trust in Bodhisattva Kannon." Today, the site draws about 30 million visitors every year!

A Symbol of Peace

Many shoguns of Japan used this temple as a primary place of worship. It was a very important location during the Edo era and for the development of Edo culture. However, the beautifully adorned temple we see today is not the one that existed for several generations. That building has been destroyed during bombing raids in World War II. It was rebuilt as a symbol of peace with donations from the Japanese people. A tree in the courtyard that had been bombed in the raids has since regrown. The modern temple is the center of many seasonal festivals and events. Two of its main attractions for the modern visitor are the five-story pagoda and the traditional paintings on the ceiling.


- Milan Jara

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