Is Sensoji A Temple Or Shrine? Everything You Need To Know…

Sensoji (Senso-ji) is known famously around the world for being a historical landmark belonging to the Japanese and Buddhist religion. It covers a large area of multiple religious buildings, small stores and the famous five-story Pagoda. However, a lot of tourists or people who aren’t Buddhist, don’t actually know what it is. So I did some research to find out exactly what Sensoji is. So, is Sensoji a temple or shrine?

Sensoji is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. However, it is also home to a shrine known as ‘Asakusa Shrine’ which is located just east of the main temple hall. You can spot the shrine by finding the Torii gate which separates the shrine from the temple area. 

Despite Sensoji being a temple, it is still home to a shrine, which can be confusing to start with. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t have thought there was even a difference between the two. However, they are completely different and worship different things. Read on to learn the difference between a shrine and temple, why Sensoji is home to both and how to differentiate the two when visiting.

Why Sensoji Is A Temple And Not A Shrine…

Sensoji Temple has been around for a long time. 645 AD is when the temple was first built, and has since seen many rebuilds and repairs due to natural disasters and WW2 tragedies. 

It was created by 3 fishermen who kept catching a statue of Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of Mercy) in their net while trying to catch fish. 

The statue got caught so much, that the fishermen decided to create a temple for it back home, ultimately creating the start of Sensoji Temple.

The reason Sensoji is a temple and not a shrine is because it worships a goddess and Buddhist deity. This is what signifies that it is a temple and not a shrine.

With that being said though, Sesnoji does also have a shrine, which is located just east outside of the main hall.

You may still be confused about this. 

What is actually the difference between the two? 

This leads us to our next point…

The Differences Between Temples & Shrines

Being an outsider to Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism can make understanding the differences between a temple and a shrine very difficult.

I had no idea they were even two different things.

When I found out that they were, I did some thorough research in order for me to put this article out to help people understand.

To put it simply, a temple is a place of worship for Buddhists, while a shrine is a place of worship for Shintos. 

If you are unsure on what the difference between Buddhists and Shintos are, don’t worry, a lot of people actually don’t know.

Buddhists worship gods, goddesses and the afterlife. 

Shintos worship the things naturally present around us, such as mountains, trees. In particular, they worship influential ancestors or objects that were important in history.

Shintoism isn’t technically a religion. In fact, a lot of Buddhists also believe and worship in Shintoism. It is seen more of a lifestyle and tradition. 

This is why many temples have shrines nearby because the two go hand-in-hand with each other. 

This is why Sensoji is a temple and not technically a shrine, even though it does have a Shinto shrine nearby.

Using Sensoji as an example, the temple is a space to worship the Kannon deity statue, while the Asakusa Shrine is used to worship the 3 fishermen who first created the temple.

Key features of a temple

  • They worship a Buddhist deity, such as a god or goddess
  • They have large entry gates known as ‘Sanmon’ 
  • They have two Niohzo guardian god statues either side of the gate for protection of the temple

Key features of a shrine 

  • They worship nature by worshipping historic ancestors, relics or objects
  • They have Torii gates that lead the path to the shrine
  • They have two Komainu guardian dog statues either side of the shrine that protect it

With this all being said, you may want to visit the main temple hall and the shrine. 

At first glance, knowing how to differentiate the shrine from the rest of temple building may be difficult.

Let’s look into how to find the temple and shrine.

How To Find Sensoji Temple Main Hall

When finding the main hall of Sensoji, I highly recommend starting south, so that you can walk through the Kaminarimon temple gate and the market stools.

The Kaminarimon gate is just a short walk from Asakusa station, and once you walk through it, the journey is simple. Just simply follow the straight path all the way up and you will come to the main hall, where the Kannon deity statue and worship hall is located. 

As mentioned before, this is the main Buddhist place of worship.

How To Find Asakusa Shrine

Using the exact same directions as finding Sensoji Temple, once you get to the temple main hall, make a right until you see the stone Torii gate. Then walk through the Torii gate and the shrine will be in front of you.

The Torii gate at shrines act as the starting point of the shrine’s area. Anything outside of that gate is the ‘normal world’ and anything within it is for worship.  


To summarise, Sensoji is a Buddhist temple that is also home to the Asakuse Shrine. It is a prime example fo teh cohesion within Buddhism and Shintoism and is a treat for tourists to visit. Many people don’t know the differences between the two, but I hope after this article that you find it a lot easier to understand and navigate to the specific buildings. When you truly understand the use of these places, it makes your visit so much more meaningful.


Can you take photos in Sensoji Temple?

You can take pictures in Sensoji Temple, however, within the main worship halls and the shrine, photographs will more than likely be prohibited. It is important to respect these sacred places and their rules by following instructions.

Why does Sensoji have a temple and a shrine?

Sensoji has both a temple and a shrine to cater for the people who believe in and follow both. It is very common in Japan for people to follow both Buddhism and Shintoism.

What is near Sensoji Temple?

Once you are done visiting Sensoji Temple, there are many attractions nearby such as Ueno Park, Tokyo Skytree, Kappabashi Street, Tokyo National Museum and more.

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