[A Photographer’s Notes] Chasing Great Shots at Kaminarimon and Senso-ji
When taking pictures in Tokyo, here’s why to try Asakusa’s famed gate and temple for the best angles and colors to tell your story of the city.
Wandering with your camera in Japan never gets old. If you have read any of my articles on JAPAN Forward, you would know there are many places I enjoy visiting time and time again, and the Asakusa area is definitely one of them.
Known for its retro-Tokyo style, the area is still home to many traditional craft shops and food vendors that could keep you busy ー and full ー for the better part of a day. And if you are a little more adventurous, and higher skilled in Japanese, there are also many opportunities to see Rakugo (落語), a traditional form of Japanese storytelling and comedy.
For me, as I am primarily there to enjoy photography ー and some of the local foods as well. The area of Asakusa I enjoy the most begins at Kaminarimon (雷門), making my way down through the shopping stalls, and ending up at Senso-ji (浅草寺).
If you leave Asakusa Station via exit 1 you will pop up onto the street about one block away from Kaminarimon. I think it is really the best entrance spot for anyone visiting Asakusa, and especially Senso-ji.
Grand Entrance Kaminarimon
Having been first erected in 941, and rebuilt several times over the years, the gate is a symbol of the Asakusa area. Anytime you visit the gate there will be many tourists, both Japanese and international, outside taking selfies and family photos. This makes it a pretty busy place to get clean photos of the gate, but if you get there early, or visit on a weekday, you should be able to snap something without too many people in the way. Just remember: when shooting in popular tourist areas, patience is key.
Before entering the shopping street I highly recommend taking a good look at the gate itself. Although the gate is commonly referred to as Kaminarimon (and it is labeled as such in Google maps as well), the actual name of the gate is Fujin Raijin Mon (風神雷神門).
It means “Gate of the Gods of Wind and Thunder” in English. And as the name would suggest, you can find two large statues of Fuji (God of Wind) and Raijin (God of Thunder) housed on either side of the gate. I love the detail in the statues and expressions on their faces, but just wish they were not closed in by a wire mesh.
Once you pass through the gate you will find yourself in a kind of outdoor market area known as the Nakamise Shopping Street. This narrow passageway is about 100 meters long and houses countless little shops selling all kinds of Japanese souvenirs and local treats.
At peak times it can get shoulder to shoulder busy, but it is so much fun checking out the shops and trying different foods, many made fresh right there, that you really don’t mind all the other people. Saying that, if you visit the area at night after everything is closed but the street lights are still on, you can get some pretty cool photos with almost no one around.
While walking through the shopping street I enjoy taking pictures of the various stalls, and of the people enjoying the area as well.
As Asakusa is commonly known as a traditional area of Japan you will often see people dressed in kimono or yukata, depending on the time of the year. I love getting photos of people in kimono and yukata from behind because it is not only less invasive, but you can also see the elaborate and beautiful obi (帯 thick belt) tied in the back.
If you take your time and practice that patience I mentioned earlier, I am sure eventually someone in a kimono or yukata will pass in front of your camera.
Having made your way down the narrow street you will be greeted by another much larger gate, and the direct entrance to Senso-ji.
Known as the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji has a rich history going back hundreds of years. For a temple in Tokyo it is quite large in size, with many different buildings and even a pagoda on site.
I won’t go into the historical details here (you can find this information on the official website of the temple), but do give yourself lots of time to fully explore and enjoy the area. And again, if you are uncomfortable with crowds or do not have time during the day, one nice thing about Senso-ji is that the outer grounds are open even at night, although the main praying halls will be closed.
I have shot here at night several times and really enjoyed the tranquil vibes. It’s quite the opposite of what you would find in Shibuya or Shinjuku for sure.
Snapping That Shot
One point I should make here is that street photography and snapshots are allowed in the outer grounds, but please be respectful when entering the large prayer hall.
The interior is gorgeous and there are MANY points I am sure any photographer would love to capture, but photography and video are not allowed in this area. So just enjoy a few minutes with your own thoughts and a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Although the area from Kaminarimon to Senso-ji is only about 100 meters or so long, it is really easy to spend several hours enjoying the sites and taking way too many photos,. Or is that just me?
So give yourself lots of time when visiting, at least a full afternoon, and perhaps also enjoy lunch or dinner in the area.
Last, if you want to get a birds eye view of the area and don’t mind heights, the Asakusa Cultural Tourist Information Center is located directly across from Kaminarimon. It has free access to a nice balcony area overlooking Kaminarimon.
You can actually see all the way to Senso-ji ー and the surrounding area. It’s a great place to enjoy a coffee and take in the view, for sure.
Follow Jason Halayko’s series, [A Photographer’s Notes] on JAPAN Forward, here.
Author: Jason Halayko
Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko).
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