Kannon Shrine Japan

Senso-ji/Asakusa Shinto and Buddhist Shrines–Japan

A mysterious golden statue was found by a fisherman in the 7th century CE off the coast of Tokyo.  Believing the statue to be an omen and meritorious, the statue was eventually enshrined at a temple.  Considered to be Kannon, the female version of the Buddhist Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (called Guan-yin in China), the statue survived changes in political structure, war, and religious pluralism.  Kannon’s role within the Buddhist pantheon of celestial Bodhisattvas is that of savoir to people like fishermen and travelers of all kinds.  She is known for being the “Goddess of Mercy” once the concept of Avalokiteshvara reaches China, Korea, and Japan.  Kannon’s gender switch during her journey from India to China to Japan switch is a testament to her likability.  The appeal of being a divine person—or, like in China, an immortal—who refuses to achieve final enlightenment in order to rescue all living beings from suffering touches millions of people’s spiritual heart.  At the Asakusa Kannon shrine, devotees routinely prayer to Kannon either for themselves or for loved ones to have a safe journey.

Asakusa Kannon Shrine Japan

flickr image by mitch59

On the same grounds as the Asakusa Kannon shrine one will also find a temple devoted to Inari, the Shinto rice goddess, and Benten, another Shinto goddess associated with eternal life.  Buddhism and Shinto in Japan have a long and complicated history, both being the subject to some persecution and endorsement by the State.  Inari’s association with foxes manifests itself at the site in many fox images setup for viewing.  Benten is the goddess of music and creativity, often prayed to by students or those taking examinations.  Devotees to both Shinto goddesses come to Senso-ji / Asakusa seeking talismans for good luck and prosperity.  Pilgrimage to the site has remained popular since the first millennium of the Common Era and is considered an essential stop along numerous prominent routes, such as the Bando.


flickr image by cavemusic

The first step in visiting either temple is to cross through the Kaminarimon threshold.  Known as the thunder gate, central to the gate is a gigantic red lantern flanked by Raijin, the god of thunder, and Fujin, the god of wind.  Dragon-god statues sit behind the lantern and its attendants.  It is here where tourists can do a bit of shopping for souvenirs and other goods which cannot be easily found in Tokyo proper.  In the Hozomon Gate are old 14th century Buddhist sutra manuscripts from China, a stimulating attraction by itself.  The original golden statue of Kannon from the 7th century rests in the Gokuden shrine.  Going to view the statue means passing through a strong cloud of incense-smoke which adherents claim purifies all those it touches.  Donating money in to the petitioners’ box in front of the statue earns you a few prayers alone with the goddess.  Talismans used for protection and fortune can also be purchased.  Visitors will note that Senso-ji feels haphazard and chaotic, but the vivacity of the shrine adds to its attractiveness.  Whether one seeks the gaze of Kannon or Inari or Benten, the compassion felt by their devotees reminds them of cosmic mercy.

Date posted: 13th February, 2014

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