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Overall View of Senso-ji Temple around 1847 (Minoya Edition)



Overall View of Senso-ji Temple around 1886. Brick-built stores and people dressed in European style are depicted.

We talked with Shojun Shimizutani, the chief priest of Zenryu-in Temple, a branch temple of Kinryusan Senso-ji Temple. This interview was conducted in June 2013.


Q: It seems that a variety of stores have been set up in the precincts since the Edo Period. Can the present Nakamise shopping district be traced back to the Edo Period? Or has it been set up since the far past?


It is safe to say that the present Nakamise shopping district can be traced back to stalls that opened on the approach to the temple in the Edo Period. It is considered that the origin of the Nakamise shopping district was simple stalls opened around 1685. It is said that the temple permitted people to open stalls on condition that they cleaned the temple precincts and the approach to it. If it was the beginning of the Nakamise shopping district, the shopping district has continued to exist since the late 17th century, and has a long history. There were 20 tea stalls which also sold toys, candies and souvenirs, so those stalls were called "Nijukken Chaya," or 20 tea stalls. Some stalls hired "Kanbanmusume," or beautiful girls who attracts attention, and gained popularity.


Q: When I interviewed a staff of Toeizan Kan-eiji Temple before, I heard that Kan-eiji Temple has a close relationship with the Tokugawa family. Does Senso-ji Temple also have a close relationship with the Tokugawa family?


Definitely yes. Ieyasu Tokugawa entered Edo, and designated Senso-ji Temple as a prayer temple. It was decided that the Tokugawa family prayed for material benefit at Senso-ji Temple. It was because Tenkai, a Buddhist priest of the highest rank, who Ieyasu trusted, advised him to do so. The reasons were that Senso-ji Temple was in "Kimon," the unlucky direction to the northeast of Edo Castle, and that the temple was an old and famous temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. (continued in the right column)


Snowy Senso-ji Temple ("One Hundred Famous Views of Edo" by Hiroshige Utagawa (around 1856-58))


Another reason was that the Minamoto family, including Yoritomo Minamoto, had firm faith in Senso-ji Temple. Ieyasu deeply respected Yoritomo who was a founder of the samurai government. This can be understood from a fact that Ieyasu called Chugo, a chief priest of Senso-ji Temple, to Edo Castle before the Battle of Sekigahara, and asked Chugo to offer the same prayer as the one Yoritomo did for his victory before he hunted down and killed the Heike clan. Ieyasu won the battle utterly. Since then, Senso-ji Temple was worshiped by the Tokugawa family.


Shojun Shimizutani, the chief priest of Zenryu-in Temple, a branch temple of Kinryusan Senso-ji Temple

Sections of Senso-ji Temple Precincts
The precincts of Senso-ji Temple were converted into Asakusa Park under the Cabinet decree in 1873, and the park was divided into seven sections in 1884. Show tents stood side by side, and buskers performed on streets in an area that was called "Okuyama." Also, flower gardens where people enjoyed the beauty of tree peonies and chrysanthemums opened in the late Edo Period, and an amusement facility that was later renovated to become "Hanayashiki," the oldest amusement park in Japan, was built around 1872. In the mid Meiji Period, "Ryounkaku" (a twelve-story tower) was built, and Asakusa Park became one of the most bustling places in Tokyo. The whole Asakusa area suffered heavy damage, including a collapse of "Ryounkaku," due to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, however, Asakusa Park District No. 6 (Asakusa District No. 6) has revived as a show business area, where movie theaters and entertainment halls stand side by side, and has produced many entertainers to this day.


District No. 1: The whole area of the inner temple of Senso-ji Temple
District No. 2: The whole area of Hozo-mon and the Nakamise shopping district
District No. 3: Denpo-in (garden)
District No. 4: An area located to the west of the inner temple, where trees and ponds exist
District No. 5: An area located behind the inner temple, which was called "Okuyama”
District No. 6: A show business area extending north and south from Kokusai-dori Street to Hyotan Pond
District No. 7: A southeast area of Asakusa Park



In 1951, Hyotan Pond was reclaimed, "Rakutenchi," an amusement park, and "Shinsekai," a recreational complex facility, were built, and the Nishisando shopping district, which was stretching from Okuyama to Shinsekai, was created. Also, a street running from Nakamise Yanagi-dori to Denpo-in was developed as Deopo-in-dori Street.

Kinryusan Senso-ji Temple is the 13th temple of "Bando Sanjusan Kannon Fuda-sho," or a series of 33 Buddhist temples in Eastern Japan sacred to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the first temple of "Edo Sanjusan Kannon Fuda-sho," or a series of 33 Buddhist temples in Tokyo sacred to the Bodhisattva of Compassion.