Asakusa Shopping, Tokyo 浅草 買い物
Historically Asakusa was the pleasure quarters of Tokyo, full of geisha houses, thanks to wealth generated by rice warehouses located a little further south in Kuramae.
Asakusa retains more of Tokyo's old look than almost any other part of the metropolis, having escaped much of the World War Two bombing that devastated many other parts of Tokyo. Asakusa caters to visitors who want to enjoy old Tokyo's delights: its food (restaurants and traditional snacks and confectionery), transport in the form of rickshaw rides, handcrafted traditional souvenirs, and entertainment with its vintage Hanayashiki amusement park, and even real, live geisha--a few of whom still work the world's oldest profession here.
Here are some of Asakusa's shopping and eating highlights. Be aware that Asakusa is by no means a nightlife district, and that, apart from a few restaurants here and there, it's basically lights out by about 9pm.
Shopping streets of Asakusa
Asakusa's streets are few, and form a grid. The four north-west running streets are quite short: no more than 5 minutes' walk in length, and traversing even the longest of the east-west running streets will take you no more than a 10 minute amble.
The east-west running streets tend to be more orientated to the needs of the local population—albeit with no shortage of shopping and dining options for tourists, too. The north-south running streets are more tourist-oriented.
However, Asakusa is not a very big area, so the best way to enjoy it is to wander and explore. Who knows what you will find?
Nakamise is Asakusa's most famous shopping street - a long narrow north-south boulevard extending the almost 300 meters from the imposing Kaminarimon gate of the famous Sensoji Temple up to the main temple building. Nakamise is lined with dozens of stalls selling snacks, beverages, souvenirs edible and otherwise, toys and temple-related trinkets. They are all great fun to stop at and sample as part of the Sensoji experience. However, if you're looking for that something special, whether in the way of really flavorsome edible treats or something to treasure, the surrounding streets may well offer more for your money.
Denpoin-dori is a street running crossways to Nakamise-dori, right where Nakamise-dori ends in front of the main temple building. Denpoin-dori is equally worth strolling down as Nakamise-dori. Denpoin-dori is a braod shopping street that consciously maintains the old-time atmosphere of a pre-modern Tokyo high street. It is the most spacious in feel of any of Asakusa's streets, so offers some relief from what is often the cramped hubbub of the covered arcades. With its rows of fascinating little shops and its antique ambiance, Denpoin-dori is a memorable, atmospheric must-do.
Denpoin-dori becomes Rokku-dori a little further west, leading to the spacious, modern Rokku District.
Kannon-dori runs north-south almost directly up to Asakusa Shrine, which is just to the right of Sensoji Temple. Kannon-dori offers a touch more elegance in terms of dining and souvenir-buying opportunities.
Italia no Gelato-ya serves an ever-changing selection of Asakusa's (perhaps eastern Tokyo's) finest made-on-the-premises gelato. Mainly take-out, there is seating inside for about four or five people. Japanese craftsmanship is brought to ice cream, and the results are delicious.
Mangando is a venerable Asakusa confectionery presence famous for its signature imo-kin sweet-potato delicacy. The Asakusa area is dotted with sweet-potato confectionery stores, but none of them, in our experience, come close to Mangando for quality and moreishness. Besides imo-kin, Mangando offers a variety of traditional sweet potato snacks - tasty and healthy!
Dining options in Asakusa are many and varied, ranging from the omnipresent fast food chains to Japanese establishments that have been part of the Asakusa landscape for hundreds of years. Whether it's sushi, shabu-shabu, eel, Western-style or traditional Japanese takeout or course cuisine, Asakusa has them all. The best sign of a good place to eat is a queue out the front, but if time and appetite are pressing, a few minutes' strolling will reveal plenty of other more than acceptable options. The upper end of Kannon-dori, the end beyond the covered arcade nearer Asakusa Shrine, has some elegant dining, such as the traditional old Kikko.
Asakusa Chuo Dori is the best single street for dining, lined with old-style restaurants suiting all budgets, and one of Asakusa's most picturesque streets. Asakusa Chuo Dori is parallel to, and just west of, Nakamise-dori.
Ceramics, pottery, glassware
Asakusa offers the visitor some very collectible (and usable) traditional crafted items of pottery and glassware.
For the ultimate in dyed-in-the-wool Asakusa dining and drinking grunge, try the Asakusa Underground District (Asakusa Chigagai) - if you dare!
Yamakichi is an English-language-friendly store offering a variety of styles of ceramics from all over Japan: Kiyomizu ware from Kyoto, Tokoname pottery from Aichi prefecture, lacquer ware from Wakasa and Aizu, Kutani porcelain from Ishikawa prefecture, Arita porcelain, and Edo Kiriko cut glass from Tokyo. Yamakichi has two stores: on the corner of Kaminarimon-dori and Orange-dori, and on Shinnakamise-dori.
Edo Kiriko Ojima is a cut-glassware studio. Edo Kiriko cut glassware is a craft native to Tokyo. Precision-cut glass bowls, drinking glasses and other vessels have been crafted in the capital for centuries, and Edo kiriko is distinctive for letting the intricately cut glass speak for itself, with no colors added, as opposed to Satsuma kiriko from Kyushu, which is colored. (Modern examples, however may deviate from this tradition somewhat.) Beautiful, authentic Edo kiriko can be inspected and purchased at this store on Deonpoin-dori run by the craftsman who founded the studio in 1960.
Japanese washi paper
The Japanese love affair with paper is well-known through the art of origami, and the quality and variety of traditional paper made in Japan is unbeatable. Kurodaya is a Japanese paper shop located just to the right of the Kaminarimon Gate selling an array of exquisite Japanese paper products that make wonderful gifts and keepsakes, including unique stationery and beautiful decorative Japanese woodblock prints.
A tenugui is a special Japanese cloth, roughly translatable as "hand towel" but which is very versatile and often used as a bandanna, for example. A tenugui is usually about 35 by 90 cm (about 14 x 35 inches), made of cotton, and, most importantly, dyed—usually decoratively. Kururi is a small tenugui store located just behind Nakamise-dori, very near Sensoji Temple. Kururi has a wide assortment to choose from, belying its size, tastefully designed and of the finest quality.
Kawaii ("cute") goods based on Japanese anime characters, dolls, action figures, and more, are to be found at Asakusa's most famous toy store, Toys Terao, on Nakamise-dori. The goods here are not traditional, and do not reflect Asakusa as such, but Toys Terao is a little paradise for aficionados of Japanese kawaii culture nevertheless. Just a couple of blocks east, on Kannon-dori, is another branch of Toys Terao specializing in Monchhichi dolls.
Ekimise ("eh-kee-mee-seh") meaning "station stores" (the name is modeled on the above Nakamise) is a big shopping complex at the east end of Asaskusa. Ekimise is the area's best-known large-scale retail presence. This nine-floor emporium (including one underground food floor) incorporates Asakusa Station, the terminal station of the Tobu Skytree Railway Line, on the second floor.
The roof of Ekimise is called Asakusa Halle Terrace and features a viewing platform for the nearby Tokyo Skytree, a clock tower, outdoor dining, and the building's Shinto shrine.
The 7th floor of Ekimise is called Restaurants & East Tokyo Market, and comprises mainly restaurants--Japanese, Western, ethnic--and stores selling souvenirs, most of them quality handcrafted items using genuine materials. Among them are specialist stores such as Fairy Closet selling silk goods. The 7th floor Japanese-style restaurant Toro-mugi is particularly recommended for good, tasty traditional Japanese meals at reasonable prices.
The 1F and B1 floors, operated by the Matsuya department store, may also interest the visitor with their grocery stores, delicatessens, bakeries, takeout food shops, including a lot of traditional Japanese food and alcohol.
Stores: 10am-8pm, Restaurants: 11am-10pm. (Varies by store/restaurant). 1-4-1 Hanakawado, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Asakusa Underground District
The Asakusa Underground District (Asakusa Chikagai) is a small, grungy underground shopping alley connecting Ekimise with Shin-Nakamise-dori (the shopping street across the road from the West Exit of Ekimise). Not really a "District" at all, Asakusa Underground District is little more than a dirty, dingy tunnel lined mainly with hole-in-the-wall bars and eateries, and is of interest only in that it is an authentic, largely forgotten hangover of downtown Asakusa preserving its bygone look (and smells!). Accessible from the B1 floor of Ekimise, off the passageway leading to the Ginza Subway Line's Asakusa Station, from a signboarded entrance in front of Ekimise (Exit 8 of Asakusa Station on the Ginza Subway Line), and from a nondescript entrance way (Exit 6 of Asakusa Station on the Ginza Subway Line) on Shin-Nakamise-dori, on your left upon entering Nakamise-dori arcade after crossing the road from Ekimise.
Home to the iconic Asakusa branch of Monju, a stand-up, on-the-fly counter eatery serving soba noodles at the bottom of the stairs of Exit 8. Asakusa Underground District also has cheap coin lockers.
Rokku ("District Six") at the western end of Asakusa is the broad, modern face of the area, with spacious pedestrian boulevards and big, recent buildings. There is a wealth of shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities in Rokku.
Asakusa has its own, typically massive, branch of the Don Quijote super-store chain, with 7 floors jam-packed with almost all merchandise imaginable. Don Quijote Asakusa is more airy and spacious than the typical Don Quijote branch. Several restaurants also have space in the store. Don Quijote Asakusa is open 24 hours, and located at the west end of Asakusa, very near the Tsukuba Express Line Asakusa Station.
This area used to be known as Rokku ("District Six"), and had a concentration of popular entertainment establishments such as theaters and cinemas. The old Rokku district has been making a comeback recently, and Don Quijote is a major contributor to the revival of this formerly bustling quarter that used to draw fun-seekers from all over Tokyo.
Marugoto Nippon is four modern floors of traditional Japanese food, sold from dozens of small stores and counters that line that tastefully decorated aisles. There is fresh produce from all over Japan, and brewed-in-Japan alcoholic beverages on the first floor, handcrafted goods on the second floor - making for superb mementos and souvenirs, changing events - often food-related - on the third floor, and restaurants serving Japanese cuisine of all types on the fourth floor.
1F–2F 10am-8pm, 3F 10am-9pm, 4F 11am-11pm (hours vary by store)
2-6-7 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Asakusa Rox is a cluster of three modern shopping buildings plus a game center, also in the Rokku quarter, at the west end of Asakusa. Asakusa Rox is the main 9-floor building full mostly of clothing shops, including Uniqlo, with the Seiyu supermarket on the B1 floor. Rox 2G is dominated by the Tsutaya CD/DVD sales and rental store on the 2F and 3F, but with fast food on the 1F and a restaurant on the 4F. Rox 3G is five floors with numerous restaurants on the 1F, and a range of various goods and services on the 2F - 5F. Rox Dome is two floors an amusement (games) arcade on the 1F and a batting center on the 2F.
The Yumemachi Gekijo Theater in Asakusa Rox is the venue for lively entertainment showcasing Japanese culture, including the popular half-hour That's ZENtertainment.
Kappabashi Homeware Street
Kappabashi is Tokyo's biggest homeware and kitchenware street, about 500 meters west of Asakusa. The products include many with a distinctively Japanese flavor such as paper lanterns, hocho carving knives, and other traditional Japanese restaurant paraphernalia.