Asakusa, Tokyo 浅草
Kaminari Gate, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Asakusa offers an experience of the sights, sounds and smells of old, historical Tokyo like nowhere else in the metropolis can. Life is still very much lived on the streets of Asakusa, tangible and visible in the roadside vending, the rickshaws for hire, and regular street festivals.
Pre-war Asakusa was long ago famous as an entertainment district, and even today entertainment opportunities are still plentiful in the form of theaters, cinemas, amusement arcades, pachinko parlors, bars and restaurants. However, they offer little to the non-Japanese tourist, but attract mainly local Tokyoites and people commuting in to the capital on the Tobu Isesaki Line from Gunma, Saitama and Tochigi Prefectures.
Tourists will appreciate, though, the carefree shitamachi ("downtown," i.e. lower class) atmosphere of old Edo that Asakusa retains.
Asakusa is also one place in Tokyo where you can take a traditional rickshaw ride. Rickshaws are available in front of the temple, where you are pleasantly trundled around the neighborhood in an antique-looking, huge-wheeled vehicle by a young, muscular, bare-legged Japanese man wearing traditional shorts, happi coat and headband. Prices start at 3,000 yen each in the case of a couple (4,000 yen for just one passenger) for a 20-minute ride.
The Asakusa district has many budget hostels popular with foreign backpackers.
Asakusa's chief tourist draw is Sensoji Temple (popularly known as Asakusa Kannon Temple). Sensoji is the headquarters of the Sho-Kannon sect and is reputedly one of Tokyo's oldest temples, having been founded in 628.
The temple is approached from Kaminari Gate, with its huge red paper lantern, along Nakamise, one of the oldest shopping streets in Tokyo lined with souvenir stores and traditional Japanese craft stalls.
Read more about Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street, Asakusa, Tokyo
Pagoda and Main Hall of Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Sanja Matsuri Festival
Sensoji Temple's biggest festival is the Sanja Matsuri ("Three Shrine Festival") held on the third weekend in May to honor the founders of Sensoji: the two fishermen brothers who found the Kannon statue and the wealthier man who converted them to Buddhism.
The roots of the festival date back to the time of the temple's founding, but in its present form it dates from 1649 when Asakusa Shrine was built on the grounds of Sensoji Temple dedicated to the three founders. This juxtaposition of a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple is a common feature of religion in Japan.
The Sanja Matsuri has since come to subsume other festivals, and is now Tokyo's most famous, typically attended by over one million people. Scores of o-mikoshi portable shrines are carried through the seething streets, around the neighborhoods and finally up to Asakusa Shrine. The bearers chant at full volume as they "bounce" the shrines on their shoulders. A "rider" or two, almost always tattooed yakuza members, stand atop the poles, directing the bearers and further whipping up the general frenzy with whistles and fans.
Hanayashiki Amusement Park
Hanayashiki Amusement Park, "the old park with a smile," boasts of being Japan's first ever amusement park, opening as a flower park in 1853 on the occasion of the US Navy's Commodore Matthew C. Perry's making his way into Tokyo that year.
Hanayashiki Amusement Park squeezes a lot of amusement into a single city block in the form of various rides, a 3-D theater, haunted - and other - houses, a game plaza, a "Bridge of Happiness, stores, and more.
1,000 yen for adults, 500 yen for children, plus ride tickets.
2-28-1, Asakusa, Taito-ku 111-0032
Hanayashiki Amusement Park website
Asakusa Guide continues below.
Rickshaw, Asakusa, Tokyo
Kappabashi-dogu-gai, (Kappabashi Kitchenware Street) is the street in Tokyo that caters to the catering industry. Kappabashi is a venerable retail institution, having over 100 years of history. Over 150 shops line the almost 1 km (half mile) stretch of Kappabashi,each specializing in a part of the vast range of items required by the restaurant trade that the street as a whole supplies. Kappabashi began its life in 1912 as a second-hand tool and implement market. Kappabashi now supplies everything needed by the entertainment and catering industry, from traditional to high-tech.
However, individual consumers also make up a considerable part of Kappabashi's business, and certain goods in particular attract Tokyo residents and tourists alike, such as plastic food replicas and kitchen equipment—including Japanese knives renowned for their sharpness and resilience.
Categories of products stocked in Kappabashi stores include Japanese and Western tableware, chinaware, lacquerware, cups, mugs and glasses, cooking pots, pans and utensils, storage containers, plastic food replicas, overalls and staff uniforms, bakery supplies, kitchen appliances, furniture, advertising banners, signboards and sign curtains, display cases, confectionery, beverages and groceries.
Don't miss the golden Kappa statue in the tiny "pocket park" just one shop away from Kappabashi Intersection, halfway along Kappabashi. A kappa ("river child") is a creature of Japanese myth: a humanoid, frog-like amphibious creature with a plate-like head, scales, webbed feet and beak for a mouth. However, although pronounced the same, the "kappa" in Kappabashi and the mythical "kappa" are written differently. The association is coincidental, but Kappabashi has nevertheless eagerly latched on to the kappa as a mascot. The street's kappa statue, christened "Kappa Kotaro," is a gold-plated bronze statue erected here in 2003 for Kappabashi's 90th anniversary.
Kappabashi hours: from as early as 9am to as late as 7pm (depending on the store) Monday to Friday, but with over half the shops operating on Saturdays, and about a third of them operating on Sundays.
Kappabashi access: Kappabashi is about 10 minutes walk west from central Asakusa (Kaminarimon), or 4 minutes walk from Exit 3 of Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station.
Other places of interest in the area are Rock-za strip show, the Asakusa Kannon Onsen - a traditional shitamachi bath-house or sento - just north of the pagoda and the Drum Museum, which is on the fourth floor of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten - an historic shop that sells traditional Japanese instruments and all you would ever need for a Japanese festival: mikoshi (portable shrines), happi coats, flutes and masks.
Rox Department Store at the end of Shin Nakamise has a 24 hour supermarket in the basement while the upper floors sell mainly women's and children's clothing.
Asakusa is busy all day every day, so to beat the crowds consider a night visit, as the temples are illuminated, though the shops are closed.
An historic place for a drink is Kamiya Bar, possibly Tokyo's oldest pub, a 3 story bar located just outside exit 3 of the Ginza Subway Line. There are plenty of other alternatives to eat and drink in the area in the side streets radiating off the temple grounds.
Asakusa is a popular place to stay for foreign visitors. Asakusa is close to Tokyo Station, Ueno Park, the Sumida River, the electronics stores in Akihabara and has vibrant attractions and festivals on hand.
A number of cheap hostels can be found in Asakusa as well as the following recommended hotels and budget accommodations: Asakusa Hotel Fukudaya, Tokyo Backpackers, Asakusa Hotel Wasou, Richmond Hotel Asakusa, Soho Asakusa Hotel and Aizuya Inn. Find a complete list of accommodation in Asakusa and Taito-ku.
Asakusa is accessed by four different train lines: the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line, Tobu Skytree Line, and Tsukuba Express line.
Each line has its own "Asakusa" station: a total of four, making for potential confusion. Read more about Asakusa railway and subway stations.
Asakusa can also be accessed by the Tokyo Cruise Company's Water Bus service from Odaiba or Hamarikyu.
Visitors can take the Water Bus from Hamarikyu-teien and Hinode Pier and dock at the Azuma Bridge in Asakusa across the river from Philippe Starck's Asahi Building, a little north of Ryogoku, with its famous "golden flame" on the roof.
The Asakusa Cultural and Tourist Information Center is a catchingly designed 8-story structure right across from Sensoji Temple, opened in 2012. The Asakusa Cultural and Tourist Information Center offers multi-lingual tourist information for Asakusa and surrounding areas in Japanese, English, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. The Center also has free WiFi, a nursing room, and a currency exchange service.
On the top, 8th, floor is a cafe where you can look out over Sensoji Temple below, and also enjoy a view of the Tokyo Sky Tree. The Asakusa Cultural and Tourist Information Center is a must-stop if you are in Asakusa, as it also has a large selection of brochures from various tourism-oriented companies and services.
Asakusa Cultural and Tourist Information Center
2-18-9 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week.
Tel: 03 3842 5566
The Tobu Sightseeing Service Center is a smaller sightseeing center, on the first (ground) floor of Tobu Asakusa Station.
Asakusa Station, Tobu Line
Tel: 03 3841 2871
Personalized volunteer guide service around Tokyo's historic Asakusa by a resident of the district.
Asakusa Station Building