Highlight: Gray-Haired Benzaiten at Sensoji Temple

Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo) Highlights
Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo)

The highlights category of our blog will cover must-visit spots in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo. This blog post will feature Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple in Taito Ward of Tokyo.

Sensoji Temple enshrines Benzaiten, the only goddess of the Seven Lucky Gods, in two places: Zenizuka Benzaiten and Benten-Do Hall. This blog post will cover the latter one.

Benzaiten is the goddess of performing arts and financial fortune. Her divine virtues include prosperous business, economic success, performing arts improvement, and others.

Benzaiten, in Benten-Do Hall, is a character. Benzaiten is generally described as a young woman with beautiful, long black hair. But one at Benten-Do Hall has gray hair. So people call her “Grandma Benzaiten.”

This blog post will share information about Grandma Benzaiten and Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple. Please use it as a reference when you come to Tokyo.

We hope this blog post will help you somewhat when you visit Tokyo for sightseeing. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us through the contact form.

This blog post is also available in Japanese. You can refer to it at the following link:

Grandma Benzaiten, Where is She?

Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo)
Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo)

Sensoji Temple enshrines Grandma Benzaiten at Benten-Do Hall. This hall is on a small hill called Bentenyama (Mt. Benten). Even if we call it a hill, it’s only 15 steps high. And Bentenyama is located on the southeast side of Sensoji Temple’s precincts.

Reference: The National Diet Library – Asakusa Kinryuzan Bentenyama no Zu by Hiroshige Utagawa

Hiroshige Utagawa, an Ukiyo-e artist from the Edo period, created a work with Bentenyama and Sensoji Temple. Looking at it, you can see that there used to be a pond around Bentenyama.

Grandma Benzaiten, Who is It?

Benten-Do Hall enshrines two Benzaiten statues: Nihi Benzaiten (a two-armed Benzaiten) and Happi Benzaiten (an eight-armed Benzaiten). Grandma Benzaiten is the former one.

Benzaiten, depicted as one of the Seven Lucky Gods, is usually a young and beautiful goddess with long black hair. And she has a biwa or other instrument in her hands.

The two-armed Benzaiten in Benten-Do Hall is gray-haired. This is why people call her Grandma Benzaiten. She wears armor and holds a sword in her hand. And she even puts Ugajin on her head. Ugajin is the harvest god who has a snake body and an old man’s head.

Benzaiten is originally Saraswati, a Hindu goddess of arts and learning. Later, Buddhism adopted her as a war goddess to protect Buddha. This is why eight-armed Benzaiten at Benten-Do Hall has weapons in all eight of her arms.

According to Sensoji Temple, Grandma Benzaiten is one of the Three Benzaiten of the Kanto, along with Enoshima Benzaiten from Kanagawa Prefecture and Fuse Benzaiten from Chiba Prefecture.

Grandma Benzaiten, When to See Her?

Grandma Benzaiten is only open to the public on Snake Day. As snakes are Benzaiten’s divine messengers, Snake Day is Benzaiten’s day. Sensoji Temple also has memorial services on this day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

When we visited Benten-Do Hall at 8:30 a.m., Grandma Benzaiten was not yet open to the public. When we returned to the hall after 9 a.m., we were able to see her. If you visit Grandma Benzaiten, you should try 9 a.m. or later on Snake Day.

Snake Day, When is It?

Japanese culture has adopted many concepts from Chinese culture. The Chinese Zodiac is one of them. And the Chinese Zodiac consists of the following 12 animals:

  • Rat
  • Ox
  • Tiger
  • Rabbit
  • Dragon
  • Snake
  • Horse
  • Goat
  • Monkey
  • Rooster
  • Dog
  • Pig

One way to use the Chinese Zodiac is to assign it to the year, month, and day. And Snake Day is the day the zodiac snake is assigned.

Since a long time ago, Snake Day has been associated with Benzaiten. The reason is that Benzaiten’s divine messenger is a snake.

Benzaiten is the goddess of financial fortune. So, people in the old days believed that worshipping Benzaiten on Snake Day would bring better economic outcomes.

Snake Days in 2023

  • January: 11th (Wed), 23rd (Mon)
  • February: 4th (Sat), 16th (Thu), 28th (Tue)
  • March: 12th (Sun), 24th (Fri)
  • April: 5th (Wed), 17th (Mon), 29th (Sat)
  • May: 11th (Thu), 23rd (Tue)
  • June: 4th (Sun), 16th (Fri), 28th (Wed)
  • July: 10th (Mon), 22nd (Sat)
  • August: 3rd (Thu), 15th (Tue), 27th (Sun)
  • September: 8th (Fri), 20th (Wed)
  • October: 2nd (Mon), 14th (Sat), 26th (Thu)
  • November: 7th (Tue), 19th (Sun)
  • December: 1st (Fri), 13th (Wed), 25th (Mon)

Of the above, the date in red is Tsuchinoto-Mi Day. It is considered to be a particularly auspicious day even among Snake Days.

Note: The Bell of Time

Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo)
Benten-Do Hall at Sensoji Temple (Taito, Tokyo)

You can find the bell of time when you visit Bentenyama at Sensoji Temple. A Buddhist monk rings the bell every morning at 6 a.m. Locals gather in front of the bell to observe the monk ringing it.

We have once been to Bentenyama to see a Buddhist monk ring the bell of time. But we were in trouble because we had nothing to do after that.

Starbucks Coffee near Kaminarimon Gate opens at 7 a.m. McDonald’s on Shin-Nakamise-Dori Street opens at 6:30 a.m. We ended up killing time until McDonald’s opened.

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