Asakusa is a famous district in Taito and my favorite area in Tokyo. The “rokku”, meaning sixth district, has a history of being Tokyo’s entertainment spot during the Edo period between 1603 and 1886, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. This era was characterized by economic growth and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. As a result, Asakusa became the neighborhood of theathres, geisha houses and cultural events.
Over the years Asakusa has been surpassed by Shinjuku in its role as a pleasure district. Hard to believe it was the city’s hot spot. Strolling through its streets today, it seems quiet, serene and zen. There are many beautiful temples, shrines and old shops selling fabrics, tea and sweets. It is the traditional side of Japan, which I personally enjoy the most.
Enter the giant lantern gate and be amazed! Initially constructed in 941 Kaminarimon, the 11.7m tall “Thunder Gate” is the outer of two large entrance gates that leads to the Senso-ji temple.
The gate features the statues of the Shinto gods Fujin and Raijin. Fūjin, the god of wind, is located on the east side, Raijin, the god of thunder, on the west side. Two additional statues stand on the reverse of the gate: the Buddhist god Tenryū on the east, and the goddess Kinryū on the west side.
In the center under the gate hangs the giant red chochin that is 4 meters tall, and weighs 670 kilograms! During festivals the lantern is collapsed to let tall objects pass through the gate.
Time to indulge in shopping and street food! Passing through the gate you can encounter Nakamise dori which is believed to be the oldest shopping street in Tokyo. The extremely popular 250m lane towards Senso-ji temple offers plenty of Japanese style goods and folk art products like Japanese clogs, wooden dolls and chiyogami (colored paper), diverse souvenirs and street food. Various mochi variations, sweets, macha ice cream and other delicacies await here.
The famous age-manju booth in the picture below is a must try! The fried manju cakes have sweet or salty fillings. There are a lot of variations to try from pumpkin, sweet potato to red bean and cherry blossoms. Hot, fresh and crunchy, they are addictive!
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple and hosting sight of Tokyo’s largest and most popular festival, Sanja Matsuri. Entering the temple grounds I get overwhelmed by a feeling of admiration and awe for this graceful architectural masterpiece.
Enjoy the atmosphere and take it all in, it is a magical place. In the center of the quad you will find a huge urn with burning sage and locals around it waiving its smoke onto their heads. This ritual symbolizes the healing of the head for better smarts.
Step up, don’t be shy and donate some coins for a prayer or wish. Afterwards, for 100 YEN you can buy a fortune in the main hall. It will tell your prospects about work, health, marriage, travel, moving, an awaited person and other life aspects. There are about four levels of fortunes from very good to not so great.
OLD ASAKUSA AREA
Explore more of the Asakusa area with its plentiful old fashioned pottery, fabric and crafts shops, it is a great neighborhood for an afternoon stroll or if you feel like browsing through some boutiques.
The locals are very friendly and enjoy travellers from all over the world visiting their beloved Asakusa district. The owner of the moving street booth in the picture down below challenged the guys of our group. Carrying the traditional stand takes a certain technique…
While you are in the area, I absolutely recommend a climb onto Skytree. The broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower is 634 meters tall which makes it the tallest tower in the world. The observatories are located at 350 meters and 450 meters. The ticket for the lower one is about 20.000 YEN.
The wait for the elevator can take up to 40 minutes. If you reach the top in the early evening, you might be lucky enough to catch the sun set. Seeing the sun go down over all of Tokyo is definately a highlight for evey visitor and seeing the city at night is just incredibly cool.
Hungry from all the excitement? Stick around and find an old fashioned restaurant/pub. Asakusa is famous for its excellent tempura and okonomiaki. The omlett pancakes filled with various ingredients like veggies, meat and seafood are topped with sauce and mayo and make for a satisfying, hot meal.
We found a place with grills inside the tables where you can either order the raw ingredients and prepare it yourself or have your cooked food delivered onto your hot grill. Feeling like major tourists it took a while to get comfy on the floor next to the slightly drunken Japanese after work loungers. But after some sake we fit right into the local scene…kind of.
Check out more Asakusa impressions from our travel vlog!