Denboin is a somewhat unknown area of Sensoji. It is a small hall located behind the famous pagoda. Many tourists will take photos of Denboin but have no idea what it is, nor will they be capable of visiting Denboin on a regular basis. Denboin is essentially one of the working areas of the temple itself. Priests will go there to pray, study, and be elevated through the ranks of Buddhism. It is also where guests are received which means it is often off limits to the general public. From time to time, there is a hall adjacent to the pagoda as well as the garden that is opened up to the general public. This is usually done during special exhibitions. To access the entrance, head to the north side of the pagoda and if the garden is closed, all of the doors will be closed. If the garden and hall are open, there will be information as to how much it will cost to gain access to the special gallery as well as the garden.
The gallery itself has no set exhibit. The exhibit changes all the time and I couldn’t find any information on when the gallery is open and what exhibits they have on display. From my best guess, they have exhibits sometime around April or May but I can’t confirm if that is true or not. The exhibit I visited had a lot of art from the old periods. I was able to see art that is usually hung in the rafters of various halls throughout Japan and a lot of historical writings. The next time you head to an old hall and enjoy the vast open space; be sure to look up as you often get to see beautiful wood block carvins, paintings, and prints. They depict a lot of different images and range in size from a movie poster size to the size of a TV in Times Square, New York. I thought it was a nice exhibit but the number of elbow blocking obachans made it a slight ordeal to get through. It can be very busy to see the exhibit as it is somewhat hard to know about them. It wasn’t too expensive to enter but I was surprised that there was an entrance fee as most of the temples in Tokyo are free.
The main attraction has to be the garden. Denboin has a beautiful garden that they say measures 343 square metres. I was surprised to hear this as the garden is really nice but didn’t feel very big at all. I had a chance to visit the garden in May 2012, after the cherry blossom season, but it was still a beautiful season to visit. The garden had lots of beautiful trees and plants as well as a central pond, an essential figure in any Japanese garden. Thankfully a lot of the pushing and shoving that occurred in the gallery was non-existent in the garden. It was lovely to just mill about and see the lovely plants in relative tranquility. It was also great to see the garden with Tokyo Sky Tree in the background providing an atmosphere that reminded me of visiting Zojoji in Daimon and seeing Tokyo Tower behind the temple. Having a picture of the pagoda of Sensoji and Tokyo Sky Tree together was not an easy feat but it was possible to get good photos of the two together. It isn’t a common picture to have but it was definitely memorable and worth the price of admission alone.
While the gallery is probably not at the top of every foreigner’s travel itinerary, I think the garden is a must for people who just happen to be at Sensoji when the garden is open. Yes, you can visit beautiful gardens in other areas of Japan for free and get a better experience, but very few foreigners will ever dream to visit Denboin, or even know it exists. Even many locals don’t even know about it. Visiting Denboin when the gardens are open is worth the admission to brag that you have been to a garden that is usually reserved for the priests and those studying to become priests at Sensoji. You can even brag to any friend who has spent a significant amount of time in Tokyo and say that you were capable of seeing something relatively few others have seen. The garden is also a great place to get away from the noisy crowds of Sensoji and enjoy the beauty from one of Tokyo’s secrets.