Asakusa, Tokyo 浅草
Asakusa, in Taito ward, is one of Tokyo's major sightseeing areas, famous in particular for Sensoji Temple. The temple's imposing red Kaminarimon Gate dominates Asakusa's main street and is the district's best known landmark.
The Air of Old-time Tokyo
Asakusa offers 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 famous an entertainment district, in particular its Rokku district just west of Sensoji Temple, and which still provides plenty of entertainment today for locals and visitors. Visitors will appreciate the carefree shitamachi ("downtown," i.e. lower class) atmosphere of old Edo that Asakusa retains.
Asakusa is busy all day every day, so to beat the crowds consider a night visit, as the temples are illuminated, even though most of the shops are then closed.
Asakusa is 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 (in the warmer months) Japanese man wearing traditional happi coat and hachimaki 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.
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.
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.
Most of the entertainment in Asakusa is in Rokku ("District 6") at the western end of the area, around Asakusa Station on the Tsukuba Express Line.
Hanayashiki Amusement Park
Hanayashiki Amusement Park, "the old park with a smile," is just west of Sensoji Temple - not quite as far as Rokku - and 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
That's ZENtertainment is a fun partly-interactive half-hour show staged by the renowned dance/acrobatic troupe from Sendai, Siro-A (of America's Got Talent fame). "That's ZENtertainment" wows audiences with an imaginative, rollicking high-tech display of light and sound wizardry, showcasing Japanese themes from geisha, to samurai to robots from the future. Great family entertainment - and you'll even learn a few kanji! Read JapanVisitor's That's ZENtertainment review
Asakusa Rockza is a two-hour show staged five times daily in Rokku for over-18s only, entertaining visitors with the slinkier side of Asakusa.
Edo Shitamachi Traditional Crafts Museum
The Edo Shitamachi Traditional Crafts Museum is a small museum showcasing the polished, intricate skills of the traditional crafts people of Taito ward (the Tokyo ward that Asakusa is a part of). This free museum is open every day, and on Saturdays and Sunday hosts actual, working crafts people who demonstrate their skills to visitors. See everything from beautiful kikiro cut glassware, to arrows as used by samurai, to silverware, to Japanese dolls, and much more. Right next to Hanayashiki Amusement Park, this museum is less than two minutes' walk from the main building of Sensoji Temple.
The Asakusa Drum Museum is on the fourth floor of the Nishi-Asakusa branch of the 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.
Asakusa is mainly about shopping, particularly for food and souvenirs aimed at visitors to the area. The most famous shopping street is the 200 meter long pedestrian alley of Nakamise leading up to Sensoji Temple, and lined with stalls. But between the Ekimise Department Store incorporating Asakusa Station at the east end and Rox Department Store with its 24-hour supermarket at the west end (in Rokku), there are streetfuls of stores selling a wide range of goods. Read more about Asakusa shopping.
Kappabashi-dogu-gai is the street in Tokyo that caters to the catering industry, but has much of interest for visitors, too. See Nearby Asakusa below.
The Asakusa Kannon Onsen - a traditional shitamachi bath-house or sento - just north of the pagoda - is a relaxing, thoroughly Japanese-style after-shopping option.
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 and has many budget hostels, popular with backpackers. 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.
The Asakusa Cultural and Tourist Information Center is an eye-catching 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
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.
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, with its famous "golden flame" on the roof.
The Kappabashi kitchen goods street is about seven minutes' walk west of Asakusa, and makes for one of Tokyo's most unique shopping experiences. Tokyo's famous Buddhist and Shinto goods street is just south of Kappabashi. The Tokyo Skytree tower is just east of Asakusa, clearly visible across the Sumida River, and one stop on the Tobu Skytree Line from Asakusa Station. The culturally rich Ueno district is just three train stops west of Asakusa on the Ginza Subway Line. Ryogoku, Tokyo's sumo wrestling district, and with its superb Edo-Tokyo Museum is a little south, on the other side of the Sumida River, and can be accessed by going to the Oedo Subway Line's (not the Asakusa Subway Line's) Kuramae Station (about a 10 minute walk south from Kaminarimon) and going one stop.
Personalized volunteer guide service around Tokyo's historic Asakusa by a resident of the district.