Sunset at Nigatsu-dō

Nigatsu-dō is one of the important structures of the Tōdai-ji temple in Nara. If you are here to know more about Nigatsu-dō, you already must be familiar with the Todai-ji temple, registered as a world heritage site, and one of the most revered Buddhist temples in all of Japan.

I have visited Nara Park many times. Nigatsu-dō is located to the east of the Great Buddha Hall, on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa. Even though I had visited the Nigatsu-dō temple hall earlier, it was only after one of my friends on Instagram posted a picture-perfect view of the evening sunset from here, that it became an obsession to visit this temple again to witness the magic with my own eyes.

The quickest way to Nigatsu-dō is via the northern side of Todai-ji, past the Daibutsu-ike Pond. On this route, you can avoid the large crowds gathered around Nara Park. With wide open areas, the fresh, crispy winter air around the lake will surely awaken your senses.

December is almost the end of Fall season in Nara, but the roads were still lit up by the beautiful Momiji trees. Momiji or Japanese Maple Tree, is probably one of the most beautiful type of maple trees there is, especially in the fall. As temperatures cool down after the scorching summer in Nara, the colors of the leaves change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown.


We followed the road which after a few minutes leads to a narrow cobbled path that gradually goes up the Wakakusa hill. You can find signs in English that will guide you to Nigatsu-dō temple hall. As we approached the ancient hall, we were quite happy to see a deer lost in its own world, munching away at the dried grass.

The deer of Nara park are a symbol of the city and believed to be messengers of the gods in Shinto religion.

There are two ways up the temple hall. As you can see in the image below, you have a covered wooden walkway on the left and a stone staircase on the right to reach the platform at the top of the temple.

Nigatsu-dō was founded by a monk by the name of Sanetada in 752 CE. However the temple is more closely associated with a Buddhist monk named Jitchu. He is thought to have come from possibly in India. He was one of the founding monks of Todai-ji and introduced many of the rituals still used today.

The most noteworthy of these ceremonies was the Shuni-e repentance ceremony established by him in 1960, at the request of Empress Kōmyō, wife of Emperor Shōmu, who hoped to heal the ailing Emperor who had not been well for a prolonged period of time. Since then this rite has taken place as an annual ceremony without a break. This service came to be known as Shuni-e, as it was held in the second month of the traditional lunar calendar.


Before you take the stairs to the Nigatsu-dō hall, on your right you can find the Sangatsu-dō hall. It is considered to be the oldest building in the Todaiji temple precinct. It was founded in 733 CE by the priest Roben. The hall is also known by the name Hokke-do which comes from the practice of holding a yearly service for the Hokekyo sutra in March. Belief in Hokekyo, has been widespread in Japan since the time of Prince Shotoku (574 – 622), who desired to establish a united nation under the Buddhist Law with salvation for all sentient beings, as taught in the sutra. Sangatsu-dō in Japanese means “Third Month Hall” because the service here is held in the third month.

Similarly the name Nigatsu-dō, or “Second Month Hall” is derived from the fact that the Shuni-e Ceremony is held here during the second month of the lunar calendar. You can enter the Sangatsu-dō hall for a small fee to pray to Kannon. Photography is prohibited inside this hall. I had been inside the temple before, so I just went through the gate that took me up the stone stairs up to the Nigatsu-dō temple hall.

As you reach the top of the stone stairs, you will find yourself in a wide open area paved with cobblestones with a Chozuya at the far end. The Chozuya is a water pavilion near the entrance, for cleansing yourself before you approach the deity of the temple. Most of these Chozuyas are relatively simple with running water coming from a pipe, but this one contains an intricately carved bronze dragon head which spurts out the water meant for purifying visitors.

If you are visiting during Fall, you cannot help notice the surrounding vivid yellow Momiji trees just beyond the Chozuya, a little further up the wakakusa hill.

After washing my hands at the Chozuya, I walked over to the platform of the temple. The platform stands over the inclined hill helped by numerous wooden pillars, kind of like Kiyomizu-dera, albeit a lot smaller. Though the skies were a bit overcast today, the Sun would occasionally peak through and cast a beautiful glow over the front deck of the temple.

The observation deck of Nigatsu-dō

The Nigatsu-dō hall holds two Kannons, a large one and a small one, although both of them are classified as Hibutsu “secret Buddhas” – and therefore are not publicly shown. Hibutsu or “secret Buddhas”, are Buddhist statues that are kept out of sight, maybe not permanently but sometimes the intervals when they are displayed to public can be as long as 33 or 66 years.

Some hibutsu, such as the wooden statue of Gautama Buddha at Seiryō-ji in Kyoto or the Amida statuary at Zenkō-ji, are almost never displayed, even to initiates of the temples in which they are held.

Sunset at Nigatsu-dō

Built on a hill, Nigatsu-dō has wonderful views from its observation deck back over Todai-ji and as far as the five-story pagoda at Kofuku-ji Temple. A magical mist had enveloped the heritage city. On a clear day you can see the whole city from here.

Through the mist, you can still observe the fall trees surrounding the Nara Park. The park’s autumn color is mostly scattered around the grounds in small pockets of deciduous trees, as opposed to being in one, breathtaking wall of color.

Since there are no other buildings around it, you can lean on the wooden railing and enjoy the cool breeze as it heals your soul. In addition, compared with the popularity of the main hall of Todai-ji Temple, Nigatsu-dō is much quieter, and the whole atmosphere is very peaceful.

You can sit down on one of the wooden benches inside and immerse yourself in the beauty of the sunset about to happen. There is no restriction on the opening or closing hours of the Nigatsu-dō so you can stay as long as you like.

As light begins to fade, the lanterns surrounding the temple hall are lit up. The once innocuous looking cobblestones begin to reflect the dying rays of the sun as they come alive.

The sparse number of people who know about the magic of this place at sunset were gone once the Sun had set over the horizon. The attendant at the souvenir counter near the stairs was also starting to shut down. I set up my tripod near the Chozuya to capture some of the beauty of the magical hour as the skies went from a vivid golden color to a more softer purple.

As the natural light faded away, the glow from the lanterns hanging around the temple hall became more overpowering.

Within a few minutes the skies changed again, this time into a beautiful blue. A couple of elderly ladies joined us at the observation deck. It was possibly their regular thing as I couldn’t see another soul otherwise.

Compared with the main hall of Todai-ji Temple, there are a lot fewer people who come to Nigatsu-dō, and it is very comfortable to stroll around. Because of the high terrain, one a clear day, you can overlook the entire city of Nara. The leisurely pace and the antique scenery are unforgettable and of course, when the sun goes down, it is just magical!

If you have plans to travel to Nara, don’t just use up all your time at the Todai-ji Temple, remember to climb the mountain and take a look at this beautiful and peaceful scenery of Nara.

Thanks for reading! I hope you like my story. Please leave a comment if you have any questions. Tomorrow we leave for Izumo to spend a few days in the ancient city that is known to be as the realm of the Gods in ancient Japan. On the way we plan to stop for a brief time at lake Shinji to experience another sunset, I hope the rain gods stay away!

Events at Nigatsu-dō

Nigatsu-dō is particularly popular for the Omizutori ceremony that is held for two weeks from 1st to 14th March every year. The ceremony is held to cleanse the people of their sins as well as to usher in the spring of the new year. The ritual has been practiced non-stop since the Heian period, more than 1200 years ago.

During the event, priests with a torchlight in hand descend repeatedly from the Nigatsudo hall to the holy well at the base of the temple. Of the many events held during Omizutori, Otaimatsu, the fire torch is the biggest and the most impressive one at 6-8 meters tall.

When was Nigatsu-dō Hall built?

Nigatsu-dō Hall was founded in 752 by a Buddhist monk named Sanetada

What is the best time to visit Nigatsu-dō?

Early March is the best time to visit Nigatsu-dō. Here is a schedule of the events held during that time:
March 1st-11th: 19:00 (20min)
March 12th: 19:30 (45min)
March 13th: 19:00 (20min)
March 14th: 18:30 (10min)

Photowalk along Osanbashi Pier

Today we dropped by at one of the most photographed areas in YokohamaOsanbashi Pier(大さん橋) . The pier was originally built in 1894, but was reconstructed in 2002 as a passenger terminal. Its bold new design incorporates floor boards, with no stairs, beams or posts making it a unique experience with great views of the city.

We were in the Kanto region for a few days. The weather had been a big disappointment. We spent the early part of the day inside malls surrounding Shin-Osaka Station. We found a Book-off store nearby. Its a great place to find old series that are not in publication anymore and, I may add.. in pretty good condition.

The weather didn’t improve much over the afternoon, but Osanbashi Pier was one of the places I badly wanted to see. It is one of Yokohama’s best spots for a walk, with unobstructed views of the Minato Mirai skyline especially in the evening.

How to get to Osanbashi Pier from Shin-Yokohama

After lunch we dropped off our shopping bags back at the hotel and left for the pier. We took the Blue line from Shin-Yokohama Station and got down at Kannai Station. From there it is a 15 minute walk to the pier. JR Passes are not valid on the Blue line. It cost us 270 Yen each for the one way ride. You can also buy one-day passes for the subway.

Osanbashi Pier

Osanbashi Pier is located between Minato Mirai and Yamashita Park. Since all three attractions are connected by a pleasant waterfront promenade, Osanbashi Pier is most conveniently accessed by foot from either of the other two sites.

It was already dark by the time we reached the pier. The beautiful lights had come on and it appeared quite romantic except for the drizzle that was still trying to dampen my spirits. I was almost ready give up but Mani egged me on.

It was cold. We walked over to the pier and found us a bench. Luckily we found a vending machines alongside and grabbed us some very welcome warm coffee. The drizzle eventually went away by the time we finished our coffee

Yokohama Night Skyline

I set up my tripod on the left side of the pier from where I was able to capture some lovely images of the Yokohama skyline.

Osanbashi pier has a unique design. Its “roof top” is a huge wood deck with steps, slopes, and benches. It is open to the public. Generally, families and couples visit there and have relaxing time with fresh sea breeze. However very few people had braved the wet weather to be at the pier.

Brief history of Osanbashi Pier

The Port of Yokohama was opened in 1859 as a direct result of the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed by Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States and the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. At the time, 2 wharfs were built in place of the present day Osanbashi. The wharfs were too shallow for the ships to dock, and so barges were used to carry passengers and freight to and from the ships.

In 1889, during the Meiji Era, the City of Yokohama was incorporated. The Osanbashi Pier was constructed between 1889 and 1896. Between that time and today it has been damaged many a times.

In 1923, the port was badly damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake, and had to be rebuilt. During World War II, the port was again badly damaged, this time by air raids.

In 1964, another reconstruction of Osanbashi Passenger Terminal was undertaken to jazz it up before the Tokyo Olympics that year.

Far out one can also see the iconic red brick warehouse at the base of the Minato Mirai skyline. We would be heading there later in the evening.

After taking a few pictures, we walked over to the eastern side of the pier. The wet wood was still glistening from being wet.

As we stood admiring the wide open bay, a Royal Wing Bay Cruise ship came along making its rounds in the bay. One of the best way to feel this Bay City’s charm is by joining this cruising tour. The ship serves a variety of dishes, and follows it up with amazing views of the bay area.

Osanbashi Kokusai Kyakusen Terminal

We didn’t want to stay for long in the anticipation that the rain would be back. As we walked back we found ourselves in front of the gate of the passenger terminal. Most of this area was constructed between 1987 and 2002, to meet the modern demands of the port.

This newly reconstructed passenger terminal is named the Osanbashi Kokusai Kyakusen Terminal. It can accommodate up to four 30,000-ton class ships or two 70,000-ton class ships at the same time. The pier has a terminal building which houses checking counters for passengers, customs, immigration, souvenir shops, coffee shop, information counters and a restaurant.

Once I was done taking pictures of the Yokohama skyline, we made our way towards the dazzling lights of Minai Mirato across the Zo No Hana Park. In this park there is a new installation of a series of vertical light panels in a curved line that gradually increase in size.

On the left one can see the Yamashita Lingang Port Promenade. It is a boardwalk that connects the New Port District of Yokohama City Naka Ward directly with Yamashita Park. Yamashita park was just behind us but it was too late to head there. One really does need a full day to explore the area. Anyways, we walked briskly towards the Red Brick Warehouse.

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

The Red Brick Warehouse (Aka Renga Soko) is a pair of landmark buildings, with an artsy shopping center, banquet hall, and event grounds. It is located right next to the port in the Minato Mirai district of Yokohama.

The bold vibe of the Red Brick Warehouse is quite unique in nature to anything I have seen in Japan. The are two buildings running parallel to each other, with an open courtyard-like area in between. It is a good place for souvenir shopping. For those looking for a more substantial dining plan, there are also some larger, sit-down restaurants.

The two buildings were constructed in 1911 and 1913 meant to be used as customs buildings for the nearby harbor. They survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, requiring just some basic repair and restoration. The buildings were requisitioned by the Americans during WWII, but were returned to their original use after the war, and continued serving as customs houses until 1989.

In 2002, they were repurposed into a shopping mall. Each building, as well as individual shops, operate on their own hours and holidays, so there is no universal schedule. Most shops open between 10-11:00 am and close by 7 – 8:00 pm.

Walk back to Kannai Station

It was 9 pm. We started our walk back to Kannai Station. We were tired from walking all day. On the way I got this last incredible close-up shot of the Landmark Plaza. I can certainly say that the more I roam around this area, the more angles I can get. But this would be enough for today.

Yokohama bay area is like a feast for the photographers. I would love to come back some time during the day to capture other parts of the area.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the lovely Kiyosu Castle.

The great Senso-ji Temple

Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa district of Tokyo, Japan. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and one of its most significant. It is a very busy place during daytime so I decided to escape the crowd by visiting early at dawn and then returning back late at night.

We were staying at APA Hotel Asakusa-Kuramae. It is just a couple of minutes walk away from the Kuramae Station on the Toei Oedo Subway Line. I had intentionally reserved this hotel as it is at a walk-able distance from the historic temple. I left the hotel at around 6:30 am. The skies were a saddening, dull gray as I made my way along the quiet alleys.

Because the hotel was near the Sumida river, I choose to walk along the banks towards the heritage temple. Along the way, helping myself to some pictures. The picture below is a shot of the Azuma Bridge with the Asahi Beer Headquarter Building in the background.

You can cross the Azuma bridge from above, but I chose to go under a small dark tunnel. This tunnel is mainly used by joggers, so they don’t have to climb the stairs to cross over to the other side of the road above.

Across the tunnel, I found myself in the Sumida Park area. On the right there is a small dock for ferries. On your left, you can find the Tokyo Cruise Ship Asakusa office. If you are looking for a cruise around Tokyo on the Sumida River, this would be the place to go.

From here I took a left turn towards Senso-ji. From the Azuma bridge you can directly head for the temple, that is the more correct way, that leads directly to the temple main gate and then the temple, but I love to wander about a little.

The Nitenmon Gate

Coming from the river side, the first structure I encountered was the Nitenmon Gate, located on the east side of the Main Hall. Nitenmon in Japanese means “the gate of two ten”. It is named so because of the two protective Buddhist deities (known as ten) that can be seen on its left and right side.

The deities are called Zochoten and Jikokuten respectively. The original statues were destroyed in 19th century. Since then, substitute statues from the Ueno Kaneiji stands there. This gate leads directly to main altar of Senso-ji. It was originally built in 1618 CE and has been named an Important Cultural Property.

Asakusa Shrine

From the gate, towards my right I could see the Asakusa Shrine. I went in and paid my respects. The Asakusa jinja is a Shinto shrine also referred to as Sanja-sama (Shrine of the Three gods). It’s modest appearance belies its historical and cultural significance. The shrine honors the spirits (kami) of the three men – the Hinokuma brothers and Chief Hajino, who founded Sensō-ji.

After taking a few pictures, I made my way towards the main hall of the Senso-ji.

History of Senso-ji

According to legend, Senso-ji Temple was said to have been created when a statuette of Kannon was fished out of the nearby Sumida River by two local fishermen brothers – Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari in the year 628 CE. It is a mystery as to who carved the statue, or how it had come to be floating in the waters of Sumida, but everyone considered the discovery of the statue to be a miraculous event.

News was sent to the then capital of Japan, which was in Nara, a city to the south of Kyoto. Nara was at that time under the reign of Empress Suiko. She was a very devout Buddhist and is credited with establishing many of the oldest temples and monasteries in Nara. When she heard the story of the two fishermen and the statue of Kannon, she ordered that a temple be built to house the statue.

For those who don’t know, Tokyo was just a small village at that time. The chief of the village, Hajino Nakamoto was greatly moved by the presence of the idol and he decided to remodel his own house into a small temple where the villagers could worship the goddess of mercy. The statue was consecrated during the Kamakura period, around the year 645 CE, which makes the temple the oldest temple in the capital.

Centuries later, Senso-ji became associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism. This Mahayana Buddhist tradition brought over from China in the 8th century became the dominant form of Buddhism among Japan’s upper classes for many centuries.

Although most of the original temple buildings were destroyed by US bombs during World War II, the structures was rebuilt soon afterwards in 1950.

Actually, Senso-ji’s full name is “Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji” , Kinryu-zan meaning “The mountain of the golden Dragon .

The Main Temple Compound

It was quiet early but a steady stream of visitors were already coming in to pay their respects. The Main hall is the largest structure in the complex. In front of the main hall lies a large incense cauldron. You can light some incense sticks there if you prefer. Before entering the hall you can also indulge in some harmless fun by buying the Omikuji (paper fortunes) that costs 100 yen. But even if you unfortunately draw bad luck, don’t be discouraged, just tie them around a designated place nearby and hope for a better one next time, fingers crossed 🙂 A lot of Omikuji will already be hanging nearby like white flowers, so you can’t miss it.

The Hondo (Main Hall)

The Hondo or Main Hall houses the Kannon statue. The statue is kept deep inside the hall to keep it safe from pollutant degradation. The Hondo Hall is a national treasure and was originally built in 942 CE. It was later rebuilt by the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. The current building dates from 1958. Photography is not allowed inside the hall.

Inside of the hall was rather cold, presumably because of lack of any sunlight inside. I paid my respects and walked back out. From the top of the stairs I took this photo of the Hozomon Gate.

I wandered around the main hall taking a few shots. With the thick cloud cover, the day was photogenically extremely boring. I have tried to spruce them up in Lightroom to bring some energy into them.

Five Storey Pagoda

While walking around the Hondo, I strayed into a small rock garden. From here I got a better shot of the Pagoda.

The Five Story Pagoda (Goju-no-Tou), which is said to contain some of the ashes of Buddha. The Pagoda is approximately 53 meters high and is especially picturesque at night when all lit up. The original structure was built in 942 CE. It was later reconstructed in 1973. It is a national treasure and the second highest pagoda in Japan.

In the garden on the right of the Hondo, there is a small landscaped garden. In the garden you can find a hexagonal temple. I am not too sure about its history but the small wooden structure tucked away in the north-west corner of the temple grounds was built way back in 1618.

It was originally built on top of a well, but was slightly moved from its original location in 1994. The inner structure follows an umbrella-like wooden structure called ougitaruki. The Higiri Jizō-son is enshrined in the small wooden structure, which translates as “Time-bound Ksitigarbha-bodhisattva.”

Directly opposite to the hexagonal temple lies a seated bronze Buddha. Talking of seated Buddha’s, if you are touring Japan, you must not miss these four:

The Hozomon Gate

After leaving the garden, I walked towards the Hozomon Gate. The Hozomon Gate is the gateway to the inner complex of Senso-ji Temple and the temple’s inner gate. The second floor of the Hozomon Gate houses many of Senso-ji’s treasures, including a copy of the Lotus Sutra, and the Issai-kyo scriptures.

When you are standing with your back towards the main hall, you will see the two large straw sandals hanging on the left and right of the gate. They are called waraji. These huge sandals were crafted by villagers in northern Yamagata Prefecture, and are meant to symbolize the Buddha’s power. It is believed that evil spirits will be scared off by the giant sandals. The Hozomon Gate was originally built in 942 CE. After it was destroyed during World War II, when the temple was bombed during the 10 March air raid on Tokyo, it was rebuilt in 1964.

In the same gate, from the other side you will find two statues located on either side. They are Nio Guardians, the guardian deity of Buddha, and the gate was originally known as the Niomon. You can find the pictures of the Nio guardians further down the article.


From the Hozomon Gate, I walked towards the main entrance gate. The two gates are connected by a long narrow corridor known as the Nakamise-dōri. It is said to have come about in the early 18th century, when neighbors of Sensō-ji were granted permission to set up shops on the approach to the temple.

In those times it was like flea market. So in May 1885 the government of Tokyo ordered all shop owners to leave to rebuild the area in an orderly fashion. In December of that same year the area was reconstructed in Western-style brick and the shop owners were allowed to come back to resume their business.

During the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake many of the shops were destroyed, then rebuilt in 1925 using concrete, only to be destroyed again during the bombings of World War II. The length of the street is approximately 250 meters and contains around 89 shops.

The Kaminarimon Gate

The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate serves as the entrance to the Senso-ji Temple precinct. It was originally built in 942 CE by military commander Taira no Kinmasa. The gate has two protector deities, Fujin, the god of wind is on the right, and Raijin, the god of thunder is on the left.

The structure features a massive red and black paper lantern, dramatically painted to suggest thunderclouds and lightening and hence the name. The traditional lantern called chochin in Japanese is 3.9 meters high, 3.3 meters in diameter and almost 700 kg in weight. The original lantern burned down along with the Kaminarimon in the late Edo Period. It was rebuilt in 1960 and is renewed every decade with the current lantern created in November 2013.

My photo-walk of Senso-ji was done. Small crowds of tourists were beginning coming in. I spent the day casing out book stores around Tokyo. Mani needed some language books. I needed some Manga. We went to Maruzen Marunouchi Main Store, one of the biggest book store in Tokyo. It was just incredible, the sheer variety of the books they carry.

Time flies away on wings when I am surrounded by brand new books. It was late in the evening by the time we reluctantly came out of the building. By 8 pm I was back at the hotel, ready to return to the heritage site.

Night out at Senso-ji

I went down the same path as in the morning. On the way I took this shot of the bridge over the Sumida river. You can see the Skytree and the iconic Asahi Beer building in the background.

Before reaching Senso-ji, I stopped a couple of times near the Sumida river to catch the lovely Skytree. I haven’t been to the Skytree yet , but it sure is in my bucket-list.

It was late and the shops along the approach to Senso-ji were all closed. Though I couldn’t shop for souvenirs, it also meant I was not surrounded by hundreds of tourists. There are 54 shops in East side, 35 shops in West side; 89 shops in total. It gets really noisy here during daytime.

The Hozomon Gate at Night

I was at the temple by 9 pm. Even though it was late, there was a good stream of people still coming in. I waited for my moment to capture this shot of the Hozomon Gate. This is without any doubt, the most beautiful photo of Senso-ji that I have taken.

According to Oei Engi, a chronicle written around the 15th or 16th century and the only source describing the establishment of Senso-ji, Hozomon Gate (known as the Niomon Gate when it was first erected), was built in 942 by military commander Taira no Kinmasa.

Here is a close-up of the ornate lantern adorning the Hozomon Gate. The central lantern has the characters 小舟町 (Kobunacho), written on it, because this is the name of the Tokyo district that donated the lantern in 2014.

The Hōzōmon houses two guardian statues that are located on either side of the gate’s south face. These are fierce-looking protectors of the temple. In the past the gate was called the Niomon after these statues, before being renamed the Hozomon.

If you want to read more about the Nio Guardians, please read this in-depth article on the history of Nio Guardians in Japanese temples.

Red Pagoda at Night

The illuminated pagoda looked amazing in the night. Even though I was extremely tired, I was glad I decided to come back again at night.

Senso-ji Temple at Night

I was truly surprised that even at 11 pm, people were still streaming in to see the temple. I wasted many shots as people would stroll into them. What I thought would be an hours job, was taking up way too much time.

By midnight I was really frustrated as people were still coming in. I took this last shot of the temple and made my way back to the hotel.

My thoughts on Senso-ji

Japan’s most visited Buddhist temple is not one of the peaceful temples. In-fact, the temple located in Tokyo’s lively Asakusa district, holds a record of welcoming about 30 million visitors annually. I had seen pictures of the temple and that is why I chose to come during the times when I can truly enjoy it in peace.

If you visit during the day, the atmosphere of this temple is certainly not one of serenity. With its crowds, noise, and enticing shops, Senso-ji, in its own way, entertains the residents and visitors alike, offering a lively alternative to the tranquility of a Zen temple.

The reconstructions have been true to their authentic designs and the complex resembles an Edo-period site, with several imposing gates, giant lanterns, and a five-story pagoda. At the heart of the complex the main worship hall you can witness one of the oldest statue of Kannon, and if you visit in these awkward times, as I did you can see the strong faith of the local people residing nearby as they start dropping in from 5 am in the morning. In all it was a good day. Although it started quiet dull with gray clouds et al, I was able to snap some nice photos for my journal.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your reviews and questions. If you are looking to explore more of the Kanto region, follow my story as I visit the Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama .

When was Senso-ji built?

645 CE

Who built Senso-ji?


How to reach Senso-ji?

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is just a 15-minute train ride from Tokyo Station

To which deity is Senso-ji dedicated to?

Senso-ji was built to honor Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

An evening at Tokyo City View

Tokyo City View, an observation facility located in the center of one of the world’s metropolis, Tokyo, features an indoor observation deck 250 meters above sea level and a Sky Deck outdoor observation deck 270 meters above sea level.

Corridors of Tokyo cityview

Streets of Tokyo from the observation room at Roppongi Hills.

Tokyo Tower

On the way to Tokyo Tower

Mall near Roppongi Hills

Shake Shack

Viki near Hard Rock Cafe

Tokyo Tower

Illuminations at Tokyo Tower

Night view from Mt. Hakodate

Hakodate wasn’t in our plans for this tour of Tohoku. But as it happened, the weather in Aomori was totally drab and we didn’t want to waste a day brooding. So armed with our JR Passes and in a spur of the moment thing, we just caught the train to Hakodate.

Why Hakodate?

We did tour the incredible island of Hokkaido a couple of years back in 2016. It was a memorable trip whence we covered the beautiful snow covered areas of Sapporo, Otaru, Obihiro, Kushiro, Abashiri, Asahiyama and even Wakkanai. But we missed out on Hakodate because of lack of time.

Now, the night view of Hakodate is a very popular sightseeing destination in Japan. Awarded with three stars in the Michelin Guide, the night view is also called – The million dollar view. At an elevation of 334m, with the Tsugaru Channel on the left and Hakodate Bay on the right, it sparkles like jewels in the night.

So even though it was almost a 2 hour ride from Aomori, we decided to go ahead with the idea.

Aomori to Hakodate

After saying our prayers at the Showa Buddha in the morning, we set off for Hakodate. We reached Shin Hakodate Hokuto station by 2 pm on the Shinkansen. From there we caught the local to Hakodate Station on the JR line. All the rides on the route were covered by JR Pass.

The Mt. Hakodate ropeway is the preferred way up the mountain viewpoint. It connects Sonroku (mountain base) with the Sancho Tembodai (Summit Observation Deck). The large gondola can carry about 125 people at a time and just takes about 3 minutes to reach the summit. Unfortunately the rope-way was under annual maintenance, so we had to take the bus to the summit. Note that this repair is undertaken every year. So if the riding gondola is an important part of your journey, please look up the official website for the dates they will be closed.

The bus to the summit was scheduled after an hour so we decided to go around the city for a bit. The tram stop was nearby and we hopped on it for a few stops.

With a well established network, the tram is the easiest way to explore the city. Trams run at very frequent intervals and wait time is negligible at around 6-12 minutes. At the time of writing this article, the fares cost between 210 to 250 yen, which is paid into an automated machine while alighting from the tram. You can also purchase a one day pass. If you do, make sure the pass includes both bus and tram. I made the mistake of buying the “bus only” pass and had to pay for the ride separately.

Fact-file: The first tram lines in Hakodate were established way back in 1897 by the Kikan Horsecar Railway.

On alighting from the tram at the Matsukazecho stop, we found ourselves near a small Inari shrine. I later found out it was the Daimori Inari Jinja. It is a small shrine along the beach.

Daimori Inari Shrine

Inari is a popular deity in Japan with shrines located throughout island country. I don’t have much information on the shrine itself, but Inari shrines are dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. They are believed to protect crops and bring about general prosperity, similar to Ganesha among the Hindus.

Did you know: Almost a third of total shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari

The kitsune is the messenger for Inari. The entrance to an Inari shrine is usually marked by one or more vermilion torii (gates) and statues of kitsune (fox), which are often adorned with red bibs or scarves donated by worshipers out of respect.

Offerings of rice, sake, and other food are offered at the shrine to appease and please these kitsune messengers, who are then expected to plead with Inari on the worshiper’s behalf. Isn’t that an interesting concept?

We spent some time admiring the temple after which we walked up to the beach.

At the beach, I picked up some soft rounded white colored pebbles as souvenirs. They also serve as a nice flooring while creating tiny rock-garden scenes for my photo-shoots.

Mt. Hakodate

We then walk all the way back to the Hakodate summit bus stop near the JR Hakodate Station building. There was a short queue of tourists already in line for the bus. It took the bus about 25 minutes to reach the top.

It is a wonderful feeling once you alight from the bus at the summit. You can see the peak surrounded by Hakodate bay on three sides. A pleasant soft wind was blowing across the mountain.

We took the stairs to the observation deck. The area was just starting to fill up.

Mt. Hakodate Observation deck

There are two observation decks at Mount Hakodate – one indoor and one outdoor. During the warm season from May to September, both outdoor and indoor observation decks get busy with many visitors.

On the other hand, the outdoor deck is less crowded during the winter months of October to April, so you can cozy up and enjoy the night view in peace.

Before setting up my tripod for the city view, I went across the platform capturing the beautiful sun setting behind the mountains. However it was not peaceful that evening. In about half an hour the place was teeming with people. It was a largely Chinese assimilation, but I was also able to make out some Thai and Europeans in the crowd.

I had already set up my tripod before this loud crowd was set upon us to destroy a perfectly romantic evening. Yes the most Chinese are loud, almost like most Indians, wherever they go, they just cannot understand the meaning of enjoying something in “Silence”.

Silence gives a feeling of spirituality when I see something breathtaking. The mind tends to wander aimlessly and all the material things in life seems so meaningless in that moment. I have felt it in many places – on the rocks of Engetsu, on the cliffs of Tojimbo and along the corridors of Todai-ji, to name a few. Totally different surroundings and yet filled by silence.

I waited for the evening to show its colors. The gasps were there as were the jeers. School kids were there as well as the couples from far off lands.

As darkness grew, the lights were beginning to come on. And it was a scene to behold. There I was standing over the city, looking at it as if it were an object, suddenly becoming alive.

Mt. Hakodate Night View

The night was upon us and we had a long way to go to Aomori. So I packed my equipment and left for the bus.

Down at the bus stop, people were still coming in droves to witness the night view of the city. There was a long queue for the bus going back totthe city. We had to wait for around 20 minutes before we were able to get on the bus. The queues were long but the buses came at fairly regular intervals.

The night view from Mt. Hakodate looks like a sparkling jewelry box. I have experienced some lovely night view in Japan like Aomori, and Tokyo and it surely is one of the best.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the ruins of Utsunomiya Castle.

An evening at Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda

Today we take a walk down to Yasaka-dori in Kyoto to the stunning Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda. Built in 592 CE, the Pagoda with the temple treasure (Yasakato-ezu) is the last remaining structure of the once flourishing temple of Hokan-ji. The rest of the structures have either been destroyed by fires or earthquakes over the years.

Kyoto has many attractions for the wide-eyed tourists. The Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the Fushimi Inari-taisha being my favorites, but if you are photographically inclined, the Yasaka Pagoda is not to be missed. With its old city charm and cobblestone paths, the surroundings of this mystical place takes your breath away, especially during the evenings when the pathways are illuminated in a golden glow from gas-lit street lights.

How to reach Yasaka Pagoda from Kyoto Station

I and my wife, Mani, were coming in from Nara, another heritage city with hundreds of ancient temples and shrines. Nara is around a 40-minute ride on the JR local to Kyoto. If you are coming from outside to tour Kyoto or even staying there, it is best to start from the JR Kyoto Station. You will be able to obtain the current Bus time-tables at the tourist information center inside the station. You can also buy a full-day bus ticket from one of the vending machines that allows you unlimited travel on the public bus for a day. If you are planning to go to more than two sight-seeing points, it is best to obtain the full-day pass. From the station, you can catch either Kyoto City Bus #100 or #206 to reach the pagoda.

Yasaka Dori

The bus dropped us off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Since we were only going to the Yasaka Pagoda, we didn’t go for the full-day bus pass. The one-way ride cost us ¥230 per head.

As soon as you turn your back towards the bus, you will feel transported to a timeless past. This is the Higashiyama District and the Yasaka pagoda lies in the heart of this district. From the bus stop, it is about a 5-minute walk to the pagoda.

Old town charm of the Higashiyama District

Of the mountains surrounding Kyoto, the ones which are closest to the present downtown area lie towards the east. This is why this whole eastern region of Kyoto is called Higashiyama which literally translates to eastern mountains. Since ancient times this area has been rich in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best-preserved historic districts. From ancient times, the mist-shrouded slopes of Higashiyama and the hills bordering Kyoto on the east, have inspired generations of poets and artists.

These 36 peaks are home to many temples, restaurants, inns, and tea shops – all picturesquely located along narrow winding streets. The shops that line these streets are always crowded, but it is not like the crowds in India. It is a much relaxed and silent gathering.

Visitors can enter the pagoda up to the 2nd floor for a price of ¥400.

Yasaka Dori (八坂通り) is a lovely, quiet path through the back streets leading to Yasaka Pagoda. It is an amazing place to walk around and explore the traditional old houses. Rickshaw drivers can be seen ferrying the wide-eyed tourists along this path. The area’s narrow alleys and machiya (traditional wooden buildings) are filled with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. The street runs between Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka slopes, and ends at the most iconic photo spot with the Yasaka pagoda looming over the cobbled path.

The walk presents lovely views of the Yasaka-no-tō tiered pagoda above traditional gabled roofs. It’s old Kyoto and it’s beautiful.

Long before the actual founding of Heiankyō, the capital of peace and tranquility, a tribe called Yasaka no Miyatsuko had immigrated from the Korean empire of Kōrai and settled at these foothills. Hokan-ji was most likely founded as early as 588 by this immigrant family from Koguryo, modern Korea. The Yasaka-no-Miyatsuko settled in the foothills of Higashiyama during the Asuka period & established the temple as their religious center.

Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda is also known as Hokanji Temple. It was built in 592, which makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Their religious life centered around the Hōkan-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple built around 589. The temple itself has been long lost to fire. Of the precinct, only the pagoda is left standing today and is the most important vertical marker within the district today.

July is also the month of festivals in Japan. Saki Matsuri, the early festivities of the Gion Festival begins on July 10th and peaks on the 17th. We were just a day early but as we waited for the Sun to set over the lovely pagoda, troops of children in white attire rode down the cobbled street in makeshift carts. With them followed a horde of tourists flashing away their cameras.

Think of the saki matsuri as a way for downtown Kyotoites to welcome the deities to their town in a similar way as we Bengalis, welcome the goddess Durga into our city of Kolkata.

Yasaka Pagoda

Once the evening started to set and the shops began to close, the huddle of tourists disappeared from the area and the streets were empty again. In the rare silence, I set up my tripod and quickly captured the most iconic landmark of Kyoto in the beautiful surrounding blue light.

Kyoto has four five-storied pagodas, which are located in temples around the city: Hokan-ji, Daigo-ji, To-ji, and Ninna-ji. Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda, also known as Hokanji Temple is the tallest among them and was built in 592, which also makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Origins of Yasaka Pagoda

There are various theories about the origins of the Hokanji Temple, but it is generally believed to have been founded in the Asuka period (593–710) as the guardian temple of the Yasaka clan. Although details from the early history of the Yasaka Pagoda are scarce, there is information about the fires. In 1179, the Pagoda was burned in a dispute between the Yasaka Shrine and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The temple was rebuilt by Shogun Minamoto Yorimoto in 1191. Later the records show that the temple again burned down in 1291 and 1436.

The current 49-meter tall five-tier pagoda is a reconstruction built in 1440 by Ashikaga Yoshinori and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. The construction and design of the pagoda were never altered, despite being rebuilt several times after different blazes.

The Yasaka Pagoda is dedicated to the five great Nyorai, who are depicted in sculptures and murals inside the pagoda. The epithet Temple Hikan-ji reveals in its suffix that it was not the main temple but rather a secondary one. At the base of the pagoda are four finely carved Buddha statues arranged around the points of a compass. Visitors can go inside the pagoda to view a dais on which are placed figures of Mahavairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and amoghasiddhi – the Five Perfected Ones; as well as the interior structure of the pagoda and the great central pillar supporting it.

The Yasaka Pagoda is said to contain some of Buddha’s ashes beneath its massive central pillar.

As it got darker, the yellow lamps from the street took over. The evening tourists had disappeared from the streets and the dim light from the street lights bathed the closed wooden storefronts. I felt as though I had stumbled upon a sleeping 18th-century town when life was a lot simpler.

Did you know that to make this view perfect, all the electric and telephone lines were moved underground?

The rather narrow street west of the pagoda runs straight north to the southern entrance of the Gion Shrine, renamed Yasaka Shrine in 1868, the first year of Meiji.

Around the pagoda, there are gently sloping hill east towards the mountains. The cobbled street here is known as the Sannen-zaka, the “Three Year Slope”. To the north is the Ninen-zaka, or “Two Year Slope”. Both streets were paved with stones in about 808.

Illuminated Yasaka Pagoda

The Higashiyama area doesn’t have a lot of tall buildings, so the pagoda is a landmark in the Higashiyama area. The pagoda is surrounded by traditional Japanese-style houses so if you go there, you can feel the history of this area. It was dark, I took one last shot of us to keep as memorabilia, and then we made our way back to the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop.

After a small wait at the bus stop, we were able to catch a bus back to Kyoto Station.

Note: The bus back from here is always full and the less weight you carry, the better it is for you.

Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have passed along these streets, stopping to buy a charm, sip a cup of green tea or purchase a Kyoyaki (Japanese pottery traditionally from Kyoto). This is a great place to experience the traditional Kyoto, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings, and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city.

If you are visiting the pagoda, only a short walk away, on the border of the historic Gion district, lies the ornate red-and-white gate of the Yasaka Shrine. Open 24 hours a day, the shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked my story or follow my travels as I go on a day tour of Shimane to explore the perfectly manicured gardens of Adachi.

When was Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda built?

592 CE

What are the entry timings of Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

10:00 am to 4:00 pm

What is the entry ticket price for Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

¥400. Children under 12 not allowed in the pagoda.

Lovers Sanctuary on Mount Moiwa

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day. The grey clouds from the day before had cleared up. It was the last day of our Hokkaido trip. We lazed around at the hotel discussing the amazing places we had been to on this trip. It wasn’t until noon that we left the hotel for Mount Moiwa.

How to reach Mount Moiwa

Mount Moiwa or Moiwa-yama (藻岩山) is one of several small, forested mountains southwest of Sapporo. The mountain is known for the spectacular view of the city from an observation deck at its summit. From here one can view a spectacular panorama of the streets of Sapporo, Ishikari Bay and the Shokanbetsu Peak.

We were staying at a hotel was near Nakajima-koen Park. From there, we took the subway to Odori Station. From Odori, the streetcar took us towards the Iriguchi Ropeway stop. The streetcar costs a fixed ¥170, wherever you are going. It keeps running in a loop and is very frequent. If you are catching the streetcar from Odori, note that you should catch the counter-clockwise loop. The clock-wise streetcar takes a longer time.

During our visit they were giving a discount coupon for the ropeway. One can obtain it at the tourist information counter, or pick it up in the streetcar itself, like we did.

From the Iriguchi Ropeway tram stop, there is a shuttle bus that leaves every 15 minutes. The ride on the shuttle bus is free. The bus took us right up to the entrance of the ropeway. It appears no one goes to this place in the daytime. We were the only couple on the shuttle.

Mount Moiwa Ropeway

We bought our tickets and waited at the lounge while the Gondola came down to pick us up. The tickets are priced at ¥1500 per person. The Mt. Moiwa Ropeway climbs from the base of the mountain to about three-quarters up the mountain to a transfer station. The Ropeway opened way back in 1958. It is around 1.2-kilometer long ride. Renovated in 2012, one ropeway cabin can hold about 60 people.

I was happy to see some other visitors at the base station. The gondola arrived soon. Its cabin has large glass sides and it was quite thrilling to see the wild forest and the city as we went up the snow covered mountain.

Sapporo Peace Pagoda

Halfway up Mount Moiwa, I noticed a Stupa. The bulbous white stupa is more of a peace memorial, like the ones we visited in Hiroshima and in Leh. The pagoda was built in 1959 by the Nipponzan-Myōhōji monks to commemorate peace after World War II, and supposedly contains some of the ashes of the Buddha that were presented to the Emperor of Japan by Prime Minister Nehru in 1954.

After a thrilling ride we found ourselves at the first base, also known as the Moiwa Chufuku Station. If you want to get some souvenirs, this is the place to get one. You can also get a lovely view of Sapporo city from here.

After a small wait at the transfer station, we had to change to the green colored “Moorisu Car” – a mini cable car, that took us rest of the way up to the Moiwa Sancho Station at the summit.

Both the transportation’s are unique and fun. The mini cable car is called Moorisu, named after the cute mascot of the mountain.

Mount Moiwa in Winter

Mt. Moiwa, reaches an altitude of 531 meters. The original name of the mountain is “Inkarushibe” in the Ainu language and it was considered sacred by the Ainu. The mountain is home to some unique species such as the Ezo spruce and Moiwa linden trees. The mountain is a popular trekking destination during the summer weekends.

We reached the summit quite a bit before sunset. There is a Buddhist temple at the summit, but it was closed due to the heavy snow surrounding it.

Lovers Sanctuary on Mt. Moiwa

The summit was much colder. The summit deck was empty with maybe 4-5 other visitors apart from us. I thought there would be more. It was refreshing breathing in the fresh air of the mountain. On the deck there is a unique structure known as Lovers Sanctuary. It features a bell at the center. Beside it you can find some padlocks hanging by the sides on the handrails.

It is said that if the lovers attach the love padlock (sold at the shop in midway stop) to the handrails around the sanctuary, and ring the bell together, happiness will follow them into their future.

Lovers Sanctuary on the observation deck at the summit of Mt. Moiwa where couples pledge their love for each other by attaching a padlock and ringing the bell.

It’s a wonderful sight from the summit. On one side I could see the sprawling city of Sapporo and on the other side an amazing the panoramic views of Ishikari Plain and far mountains.

Surrounding mountains of Sapporo

The city of Sapporo is surrounded by many mountains. Towards the southeast, one can see the Yakiyama mountain in a distance. Skiing is a favourite past-time of locals in winter. Not surprising for a city where snow covers the ground 133 days a year. For the skiing enthusiasts, the Mount Moiwa Ski Resort lies on the mountain’s southeastern slope.

Note: it is approached from a different direction than the Mount Moiwa Ropeway.

I walked around in a circle around the observation deck, clicking photos of the beautiful scenery surrounding the mountain-top. Below you can see the Mount Kannoniwa on the eastern side of Sapporo.

As I came around the full circle. the lights had started to glitter over the city of Sapporo. Until the end of the Edo Period (1603–1868), Sapporo used to be a trading post between the Japanese mainland and the local Ainu population. There are various theories on the origin of the word “Sapporo.” The leading theory is that it derives from the Ainu (indigenous people of Japan) words “Sap (Dry) – Poro (Wide).”

The ski slopes on the far south at Fu’s Snow Area were also lit up. Fu’s is a small ski resort in the Fujino district with a range of trails, camps & lessons, a simple restaurant & lifts to the peak. During certain times of the winter, night skiing is also allowed on these slopes.

Gradually the sun set behind the mountains and the city started to come alive, twinkling like countless diamonds floating on a dark sea. On the other side the ski slopes near Mount Yaki were lit up like a flash-fire.

Occasionally flying flurries would start to hit our unprotected faces. The temperature was beginning to drop fast and we were freezing. Mani got us a cup of hot coffee from the vending machine inside the deck and it felt like I held heaven between my palms.

Mt. Moiwa is one of the Hokkaido’s top three night views, along with Mt. Hakodate and Mt. Tengu. We didn’t have time for Mt. Tengu in Otaru, the day before, so it was really nice to catch this one on Mt. Moiwa.

As the sun set, large groups of tourists started pouring in. It turned into a huge gathering in a few minutes. With the crowd came a team of video bloggers. They set up their big lights and cameras and blocked everyone. It was quite frustrating as they overran every photogenic spot at the summit.

Sapporo at Night

We stayed back until darkness set in. It was getting more and more crowded with every passing minute. Our heavy jackets were barely holding up to the cold. I took a last shot of the structure and then we headed back to the base.

The ride back downhill on the Gondola, felt like sinking into a sea of twinkling stars.

Sapporo nightscape is one the best night views in Japan. The others being Nagasaki and Kobe.

Being the last night of my Hokkaido trip, I felt deeply reluctant to admit that it was ending so soon. Hokkaido is really beautiful and a place to experience different things in each season. I’ll be back, I hope. Don’t know when, but definitely I will be back!!!

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the lovely temple of Hase-dera in Nara. If you want to check out more night views of Japan, here’s the night-view of Hakodate and night-view of Yokohama.

Mt. Moiwa Ropeway Timings

1st April – 20th November 10:30 am – 10:00 pm
1st December – 31st March 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
New Year’s Eve (December 31st ) 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
New Year’s Day (January 1st ) 5:00 am – 5:00 pm

*Closed from November 21 – 30 for annual maintenance.

Ropeway Fee

Ropeway + Morris Car (Round trip): Adults ¥1,700