When it comes to classic tourist attractions in Tokyo, “Asakusa,” an old town with intimate and personal ambience. It is a representative Japanese sightseeing place where you can enjoy Edo townspeople's culture, flavor of downtown Tokyo, and popular cuisine, all in a day. In the past few years, there have been so many foreigners visiting Asakusa, that it’s hard to find a Japanese person. There are many long-established eateries lining the streets, but on the other hand, there are also new shops mixed in with the old. Let us introduce you to Asakusa, a place full of Japanese allure, where you can do everything — “see, eat, and experience.”
What is Asakusa?
The district of Asakusa has been flourishing as an amusement center since the Edo period. It is located in the eastern part of Taito-ku, in between Bunkyo-ku and Sumida-ku, and it is an area where you can feel the various historical structures and culture. Many tourists from abroad visit Asakusa, where it is always full of people and energy.
The history of Asakusa
It is said that the history of Asakusa goes way back to the Asuka period (end of 6th century to early 8th century). In the year 628, fishermen who were brothers found a Buddha statue in their fishing net while fishing in the Sumida-gawa River. This incident was an opportunity for the brothers to shukke (*1), rebuild their home into a temple, and dedicated their lives to making prayer and memorial services to the Kannon, which is said to be the start of Senso-ji Temple. The Kannon statue still enshrined is said to be the statue caught in the fishing net.
The town of Asakusa started out as the temple town of Senso-ji Temple, and gradually, people from all walks of life came to worship, such as shogun, samurai, and commoners, expecting divine favors. This energy of Asakusa never died down, but kept on developing over time, and today, it is a town that still keeps the Edo mass culture. Asakusa is a place where there are many hot spots such as well-established restaurants, well-established shops of traditional handicrafts that have cultural/historical value, and popular entertainment such as yose (storyteller theater) and engei (vaudeville). Further, there are many traditional seasonal festivals that can be said are common features of the seasons of Tokyo such as the Sanja Festival of May every year, the Ground-cherry Fair of July, and the Hagoita Fair (Battledore Fair) of December.
(*1) shukke: to retire into religion
When it comes to Asakusa, this is what you should do!
If you know the history, your sightseeing and stroll around town can be even more fun. Try visiting the “Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center” in front of the Asakusa-Kaminarimon. Their concept is “find, show, and support,” and they can give you information in four languages (Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean) and have free Wi-Fi and AC power, and more, which are great services for travelers.
First, try going to “Senso-ji Temple,” Tokyo’s oldest temple. Every year, from within the country and overseas, more than 30 million people visit the temple. The most popular photo spot is the “Kaminari-mon Gate.” Its official name is “Furaijin-mon Gate,” and on the back of the giant red lantern is the official name. On the right of the gate is Fujin (wind god) and on the left is Raijin (thunder god), and the weight of the lantern is a massive 700 kilograms.
Asakusa is also famous for the various old town cuisine that you can eat while walking. From sweets to side dishes such as Asakusa menchi (fried cake of minced meat) and dorayaki (bean jam pancake) sold in well-established shops, you will find many cheap and delicious food. Between Kaminari-mon Gate and Senso-ji Temple is “Nakamise,” a famous shopping district with nearly 90 shops lining the streets, and it is always hustling and bustling with many temple visitors and tourists. Famous food such as Kaminariokoshi (mixed roasted rice and syrup), senbei (rice cracker), Ningyo-yaki (baked doll cakes), and Agemanju (deep-fired cakes) can be eaten on the spot while they are still hot.
How to walk in Asakusa
To start your walk, go to Senso-ji Temple, the landmark of Asakusa. The entrance of the temple, “Kaminari-mon Gate” is easy to find when meeting someone, and it is the best place to start your tour of Asakusa. If you pass through the gate, you will see a straight road leading up to the main hall, which is the “Nakamise Dori Street.” It is a famous shopping district that is about 250 meters long, and on both sides of the street are shops that sell anything from food such as light meal and sweets to classic Asakusa souvenirs, so you can enjoy just by looking. If you walk through Nakamise Dori Street, the Senso-ji Temple’s main hall will come into view. It is a sacred place where the Buddhist statue has been kept for 1,300 years.
Main hall of Senso-ji Temple
Right next to Senso-ji Temple is “Asakusa Jinja Shrine.” Compared to the hustle and bustle of Senso-ji Temple, you should feel the solemn atmosphere. As a shrine festival, there is the “Sanja Matsuri Festival,” held in May, and it is said that a cumulative total number of 2 million people visit every year. Asakusa Jinja Shrine is also called “Sanja-sama” with affection. This comes from the story about two fishermen who pulled out a Kannnon statue from the water, consulted about it to a government official, and the official enshrined the statue, which is said to be the beginning of Asakusa Jinja Shrine. When the Meiji government announced the “Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism,” clearly separating Shinto and Buddhism, the descendants of the fishermen and official enshrined them as the three local gods, and hence they became “Sanja.” Why not stop by this shrine that is still strongly influenced by the history of Asakusa?
If you are at Senso-ji Temple, go see the Kannon statue
At Senso-ji Temple, where many tourists from around the world visit, the Kannon (female Buddha) is enshrined. According to the Buddhist scripture, the Kannon is a “semuisha.” This means someone who “takes away people’s anxieties and fears.” The Kannon is a benevolent Buddha who grants all wishes without being particular to the type of wish, such as marriage or prosperous business.
1. Shopping in Asakusa
■ “Kappabashi Kitchenware Town”
“Kappabashi Kitchenware Town” is where you can find anything related to cooking, such as cooking tools, tableware, confectionery ingredients, and kitchen equipment. It used to be a purveyor to professional cooks, but now has become a popular sightseeing spot among many foreign tourists as well as ordinary people within Japan.
“Kappabashi Kitchenware Town”
●In and around Matsugaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo
*Business hours and closing days depend on the shop
■ “SAMPLE SHOP MAIZURU”
Under the motto “communicate taste through color,” they have been making fake food for half a century. Their abundant lineup, highly praised by foreign tourists, consists of sushi, tempura, cake, ice cream, and more. These works of “made in Japan” still look very real even if you see them close up.
Their macaron tower, displayed at the storefront, is especially eye catching. During the weekend, the shop is full of domestic and foreign tourists. From decorations to small items such as iPhone cases, key chains, magnets, etc., they have a variety of fake food.
There is a myriad of food samples in the shop. Each is hand-made, to depending on the type of food, some take more than two weeks to be completed. They all look very real and look delicious.
This one is especially popular among tourists from Europe and America. It looks so real, you wouldn’t believe your eyes when you see the beer foam and sweat on the glass, almost making you want to drink it.
This “sushi clock” is the No. 1 popular item. It is so popular, sometimes they can’t keep up with the demand. If you happen to see one in the store, you may be the lucky one!
“SAMPLE SHOP MAIZURU”
●Open all year
■ “Marugoto Nippon”
It is a commercial facility where you can enjoy specialties, handicrafts, and more from all over Japan under the theme of “see,” “eat,” and “take home.” On the first floor are shops that sell fresh produce direct from the producing area, sake, Japanese wine, etc. On the second floor, you will find daily commodities made by traditional techniques and fine hand-made items such as sundries. On the third floor, you can get information (demonstrations, experiences), and the fourth floor is a restaurant area.
Their catch phrase is “Try have all the hometowns meet in one place.”
Carefully selected items such as seasoning, dry foods, canned food, sake, and more are lining the shelves.
They have a collection of items such as sake and wine made by making the most of local climate among other things.
We found a tap that has Ehime’s mikan (Japanese orange) coming out! It is 100% straight juice, sent straight from a farm in Ehime Prefecture.
●1st fl.・2nd fl. 10:00-20:00 / 3rd fl. 10:00-21:00 / 4th fl. 11:00-23:00(L.O. 22:30)
●Open all year
■Wa no Utsuwa (Japanese pottery) - Dengama
They sell tableware made by the potters from all over Japan. They select and buy traditional Japanese tableware directly from the potters, such as Mino, Arita, Kutani, Mashiko, Bizen and so on. They have various types of items such as rice bowls, plates, chopstick rests, tea cups, soy sauce bottles, sake vessels.
Outside of the shop, there are some items on sale.
They say that you can buy them at reasonable prices because they come directly from the potters.
On the first floor, there are seasonal tableware and everyday containers, and on the second floor, there is somewhat higher-quality tableware.
“Wa no utsuwa Dengama”
●Open all year
2. Sightseeing in Asakusa
This oldest amusement park in Japan, “Hanayashiki” is popular for its mysterious old atmosphere. It is small in scale, but they actually are thrilling, so we recommend this park to adults as well. The oldest existing roller coaster in Japan, which you can look down upon the whole old town of Asakusa is a very special attraction.
It is a bridge over the Sumida-gawa River, and is connected to the Kaminari-mon Dori Street, which goes through the center of Asakusa. It is quite overwhelming to see the Tokyo Skytree from this bridge.
■Asakusa Engei Hall
It is one of “rakugo (*2) entertainment halls,” a fun place for adults, where you can enjoy various entertainment such as rakugo, manzai, mandan, magic shows, mimcry, paper cutting shows, and more.
(*2) rakugo: it is one of Japan’s traditional entertainments, a form of story-telling established in the Edo period (1603-1868), that has an ochi (punchline). They are usually funny stories of depicting in amusing ways, real life stories or everyday lives of commoners.
Tokyo Skytree® started the business in May of 2012. From Asakusa Station, it is about a 15-minute walking distance. You can fully enjoy the townscape of Tokyo from the observation deck.
3. Eating in Asakusa
Their specialty is “mugitoro,” which is barley rice steamed in their original blend topped with grated Japanese mountain yam mixed with dashi (soup stock) made by following a secret recipe passed down since they started the business. They use 100% Japanese yam grown domestically, which has a strong resilience and sweetness. You can also enjoy their various Kaiseki cuisine made with seasonal ingredients.
They are a Tororo Kaiseki cuisine restaurant open since 1929.
From table seats to genuine Japanese style, they have various elaborated rooms.
An example of their Kaiseki cuisine
●Weekdays 11:00-16:00（L.O. 15:00; 17:00-22:30（L.O. 21:00）; Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays 11:00 -22:30 (L.O. 21:00）
●Open all year
■Hoppy Dori Street
The “Asakusa Hoppy Dori Street” is the holy place for drinking during the day. Along the streets are always eateries that serve stewed food such as beef tendon or giblets, so another name for this area is “Nikomi (stewed food) Dori Street,” and is loved by tourists and the locals. Long ago, when beer was expensive, hoppy, a beer-tasting low alcoholic beverage was made as a substitute. Mixing hoppy with shochu (clear liquor) became popular among the commoners, and eventually became a classic in the old town. This street that has many cheap bars, is bustling as a tourist attraction and a place to drink staring in the daytime.
“Hoppy Dori Street”
●Located in the area from “Nakamise Dori Street” through “Denpo-in Dori Street”
*Business hours and store holidays depend on the store
Their No. 1 popular item is the “hot cake.” The secret behind this is because it is just the right texture - crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside. They are particular about keeping the atmosphere like an old-fashioned Japanese coffee shop, so there are few seats, and they fill up fast in the afternoon. Their menu is in Japanese only, but most of the food accompany photos, and they also have samples in the showcase, so many foreigners visit the shop, too.
“Coffee Tengoku” is just how a shop in Asakusa would be — nostalgic
Their classic popular item is the “hot cake,” which has a simple homemade taste (1,000 yen). Syrup and butter come with the hot cake.
“Coffee Tengoku” (café)
●Closed on Tuesdays
4. Staying in Asakusa (hotels)
■The Gate Hotel Kaminari-mon by HULIC
It is an artistic designer hotel, where you can view Kaminair-mon Gate and Senso-ji Temple to your heart’s content. There are 136 rooms, and all the interiors are designed by great designer Shigeru Uchida. The designs give you a relaxing atmosphere. The hotel close to Asakusa Station and Nakamise Dori Street, so it is in a convenient location for tourists.
The reception desk is on the top 13th floor. From the large windows that go up to the ceiling, you can see the soaring Tokyo Skytree. Also on the 13th floor is a restaurant with a counter, terrace, and table seats, allowing you to enjoy in different ways depending on the occasion. You will also enjoy the combination of great food made with carefully-picked ingredients and their high-quality sake.
This is the terrace exclusively for the hotel guests on the 14th floor. The Tokyo Skytree in the open space is overwhelming.
All the rooms from the 10th floor and up are Style C (Classy) types. The rooms are “king type,” and the bathrooms are “view baths,” allowing you to enjoy a fancy bath time while looking at the gorgeous view of Asakusa.
“The Gate Hotel Kaminari-mon by HULIC”
●2-16-11, Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo
■Asakusa View Hotel
It is Asakusa’s only high-rise city hotel which you can go directly from the Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station. As the name explains, you can get a great view, and good access from Tokyo Skytree® is one of the charms of this hotel.
From the window, you can get the wonderful Asakusa view of Senso-ji Temple’s five-storied pagoda and more spreading in front of your eyes.
An example of a Deluxe Twin room (Tokyo Skytree® View)
On the 26th floor that is 100 meters from the ground, is “Sky Grill Buffet Musashi.”
“Asakusa View Hotel”
●3-17-1, Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
A Japanese-style inn where you can relax on tatami mats is “Ryokan Kamogawa.” You can enjoy the goodness of a pure Japanese-style hotel to your heart’s content. For their breakfast that will sure to make you full, you can choose from Japanese-style and Western style breakfast (prices are different).
The inn is located on a quiet side street (Asakusa Kokaido Yoko Dori)
All rooms are large pure Japanese-style rooms with a bath and Washlet toilet. Also, you can watch CNN in the rooms.
This is a family-type bath, which can be reserved.
●1-30-10, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
5. Asakusa’s attractions
You can easily go to tourist spots on “Jinriki-sha (rickshaw)”
The Rickshaw man can take you to major tourist spots while acting as a tour guide. They can swiftly take you around busy streets or places you may get lost if by yourself, so we also recommend riding them if you don’t have much time. There are a variety of ways to ride, from short rides that are affordable to chartered Jinriki-sha, and some Rickshaw men can speak foreign languages, so check it out.
Use the “water bus” when going to Asakusa
It is a sightseeing boat operating between Azuma-bashi Bridge of Asakusa and Hinode Sanbashi Pier at the foot of Rainbow Bridge. You can go to Asakusa with a relaxed feeling while viewing the townscape of Tokyo.
How to get to Asakusa
There are four train lines that go to Asakusa, which are the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Tobu Skytree Line, and Tsukuba Express. You can also use the Toei Bus from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu Minami-guchi Exit. The trains are all operating in mostly short intervals, which is convenient. On the other hand, the bus can operate two or three times per hour, depending on the day of the week and time of day, which is not many. Using the train is recommended, since you may have to wait a long time for the next bus depending on the timing.
Summary of Asakusa
“Asakusa” is one of Tokyo’s leading popular tourist hot spots, where tourists from abroad almost always visit. You can catch a glimpse of new culture within a traditional Japanese atmosphere and the hustle and bustle of an old town. The allure of Asakusa is that it is a place that makes you want to visit from time to time, for local Japanese who have been there several times already, as well as foreign tourists who visited for the first time. There are many long-established facilities, and at the same time, you will find new people who want to try doing business in Asakusa. It is a place where the good old tradition and new efforts integrate, a place worthy of note in the future, too.
*The above information was last updated August 9, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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