Sensō-ji Temple of Asakusa is one of the most well-known spots in Tokyo, but if you walk under the iconic Kaminari-mon (“Thunder Gate”) and straight down Nakamise Shopping Street, and you’ll see the Hōzōmon, another big red gate with unusual decorations: a pair of ōwaraji, or giant straw sandals that measure 4.5 meters (14.5 feet) tall and weigh 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).
The sandals are a larger version of a type of sandal made from straw ropes. The straw sandal, or waraji, was common footwear in Japan until the 19th century. Sensō-ji Temple’s giant waraji were woven by hand in a traditional way, and made by the town council of Tate’oka-aramachi, Murayama in Yamagata Prefecture.
It is said that the sandals represent the powers of Niō, the Herculean guardians of Buddhist temples. Their presence keeps demons at bay by convincing them that the temple is home to an invincible giant. The sandals were first introduced to Sensō-ji in 1941, and since then have been replaced by a new pair almost every 10 years. The current pair was put in place in 2018, and reportedly took around 900 workers over a month to make them.