No visit to Tokyo should go without touring Asakusa which has been the city’s entertainment hub for centuries. This is one of the oldest and most extensive neighborhoods in the metropolis that brings together cultural sights, dining and entertainment in vibrant surroundings that are historic and modern at the same time.
Be prepared to travel back in time and admire ancient temples, old houses, ricksaw drivers, kimono-clad young Japanese ladies and centuries-old tempura restaurants. The area has a lot to offer and deciding what to do and see can be a bit overwhelming. Thus, I compiled my Top 10 Things To Do in Asakusa so that you can make most of your visit and don’t miss any important sights.
- VISIT SENSO-JI COMPLEX
The historic highlight and the heart and soul of the neighborhood is the famous Senso-ji complex known for its 17th-century Shinto shrine, Asakusa Shrine, as well as its Dembo-in garden and the wild Sanja Festival in May.
Start at the Kaminari-mon, Thunder God Gate which serves as an entryway to Sensoji’s grounds. It might be one of the busiest spots in Asakusa with endless stream of tourists trying to get a clear shot of the gate. And selfies.
As you go through, you will see Nakamise-dori, a long passageway lined up with food stalls and artisan and souvenir shops leading to another, equally spectacular inner gate as well as the five-story pagoda on its left.
Proceed through that gate as well and finally you will see the shrine. Here, the souls of the three men who built Senso-ji are enshrined.
Most Japanese stop at the huge bronze incense burner, in front of the Main Hall, to bathe their hands and faces in the smoke, believed to ward off illnesses, before climbing the stairs to offer their prayers. These three cheerful girls walked into the frame right as I was taking the photo. I couldn’t be happier.
If you have a special wish, purchase a wooden placard, write your message on it and leave it for the gods.
Make sure you walk around the grounds to admire the shrine from all angles. I found its facades were stunning when seen from the side angle.
Also, when you are facing the temple make a point to walk to the east side and enjoy the smaller shrines there as well as a little Japanese garden with a pond.
- WANDER BACKSTREETS OF ASAKUSA
Once you are done admiring the shrine make a point to wander off a little to the side streets and soak in the atmosphere of the Edo-period Tokyo. These alleys have so much authentic character you will inevitably fall in love.
Asakusa Roku-ku Broadway is also worth checking out. A 300-meter shopping street that runs through the center of Asakusa was formerly a district where large numbers of famous performers would appear at the exhibition venues and theaters that lined the street. Throughout the town you can find celebrity autographs and statues of people considered comedy gods, giving it even today a nostalgic feeling of that time’s pleasure quarters.
Stop at the Don Quixote shopping complex there to rummage through pretty fascinating Japanese goods.
- TAKE ASAKUSA RICKSAW TOUR
If you don’t feel like walking much let the ricksaw driver do the work for you while s/he also gives you a tour of the neighborhood. Some of them speak English really well. You can spot them anywhere, but the best spot would be Kaminari-mon.
- ENJOY ASAKUSA STREET FOOD
Street food culture is less prevalent in Japan compared to other Asian countries, however Asakusa is filled with food stalls selling snacks that is definitely worth trying.
You can choose to sample some of the sweets along Nakamise-dori like I did last week. Alternatively, you could opt for savory bites sold along the backstreets like these deep-fried pork meat and curry buns. Yum!
- GO SOUVENIR SHOPPING
Nakamise-dori is definitely a kitsch-souvenir central where you can buy anything from a key chain to a kimono.
Although, it is worth noting that the stuff here is slightly overpriced, so if you are not in time-crunch I’d browse the numerous side streets for some interesting and more reasonably-priced memorable knickknacks to take back home.
- VISIT HANAYASHIKI AMUSEMENT PARK
If you are not in a rush and feel like pleasing your inner child, head to the east side of the Senso-ji temple to have fun at Tokyo’s retro amusement park which was established in 1853. Expect a wooden rollercoaster, a haunted house, Ferris wheel and merry-go-round.
- GO SHOPPING IN KAPPABASHI-DORI KITCHEN TOWN
If you love to cook or are simply keen on renewing your kitchen supplies then there is one place in Tokyo that will make your heart flutter.
Kappabashi-dori is a street lined up with little shops selling a mind boggling selection of kitchen items. Read a full review of the place and galore of kitchen things to buy in Kappabashi in my blog post.
- DEVOUR TOKYO’S BEST TEMPURA
Before or after all the walking you might need a hefty meal to fill you up with energy. I’ve got just the right spot for you.
In fact, Asakusa prides itself on one of the best tempura restaurants in town. Mr. B and I had a great lunch at 129-year old restaurant Daikokuya where we enjoyed a delicious selection of perfectly deep-fried battered seafood and vegetable.
- STROLL ALONG THE SUMIDA RIVER
Asakusa is located very close to Sumida-gawa River which boasts with impressive waterfront. The Sumida River Terrace, with its open-air cafes and street performances, could be a relaxing spot for a leisurely afternoon walk while taking in the view of the river and the city’s skyline.
- VISIT TOKYO SKYTREE
Once you are done exploring historic part of Tokyo it might be a good idea to enjoy the marvel of the 21st century and spend your evening at Tokyo Skytree. Besides the tallest tower in the world you will find numerous shops, restaurants, aquarium and so much more in this entertainment mega-complex. You probably won’t be surprised that I have a few great dining spots for you there. For great sushi, head to Toriton Kaitenzushi where we had a fantastic lunch one time. For something more European, try Beer & Spice Super Dry. We quite enjoyed a beer tasting and some delectable snacks here.
Afterwards, you can treat yourself to all-you-can-eat dessert buffet at Salon de Sweets.
I hope my guide will be helpful when you visit. I will keep adding more neighborhood guides to these series each week. Let me know if there is particular information you’d want me to include in the future. :)
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