Tokyo Asakusa District Meeting Old and New
The huge, bright red Kaminarimon Gate (translated as “gate of thunder”) will take you to Senso-ji Temple, a symbol of the city. Enter the incense-smoking hall, leave the traditional five-yen offering, and you can address the goddess Kannon.
Try the street food, store and feel the atmosphere of the past in the Asakusa district, which is a must-visit if you come to Tokyo.
- Visit the famous Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise shopping street
- Sip Danqui-Bran and Hoppy cocktails that local bars have been famous for since the post-war era.
- Take in the view from the Tokyo Skytree at Sumida Park.
How to get there
There’s a lot to see and do in the Asakusa area, but the main attractions are centered around Senso-ji Temple.
The temple stands next to Asakusa station (five minute walk), which can be reached by taking the Ginza, Asakusa and Tobu lines.
The spiritual center of the neighborhood
There is a legend about how the magnificent Senso-ji Temple was founded. Long ago, in the year 628, two fishermen brothers fished out a statue of the Goddess of Mercy Kannon in the Sumidagawa River. They tried to throw the statue back into the river, but it kept coming back. They and the village chief then founded the Senso-ji Temple for the goddess, which was completed in 645.
For centuries, an endless stream of visitors have come to pay homage to the goddess and pray in the main hall of the temple. Next to the main building is the five-story Goju-no-To Pagoda, several smaller structures and charming little gardens, one of which features the oldest stone bridge in Tokyo. To the right of the main hall is the Asakusa Shrine, erected in honor of the temple’s three founders.
After passing through Kaminarimon Gate, you’ll find yourself on the bustling shopping street of Nakamise, where handicrafts, colorful kimonos and Japanese sweets are sold. Try traditional delicacies such as dorayaki, manju fried cakes, and moti on skewers.
Walking around the neighborhood, you’ll find dozens of smaller shopping streets that are pleasant to walk through. The most interesting are Dempoin-dori, Kannon-dori, and Asakusa Chuo-dori. The atmosphere of the past is still preserved here. People in rickshaws pass by the bright red lanterns on the ancient bridges.
If you’re interested in modern shopping, head to nearby Rocca. There are big department stores, discount stores, and entertainment centers, including Rockza Cabaret, where comedian Beat Takeshi (aka filmmaker and actor Takeshi Kitano) started his career.
Twenty-first century landmark
The newest landmark of the Asakusa district, the enormous 634-meter-high Tokyo Skytree Tower, can be seen from the grounds of Senso-ji Temple. This futuristic structure offers panoramic views of the city. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji. The tower is impressive at any time of year, but in springtime many people come to Sumida Park to take pictures of it surrounded by cherry blossoms.
Everyone loves festivals, and Asakusa district residents are no exception. Throughout the year, several beautiful festivals are held here. At the end of May, during the Sanja matsuri festival, mikoshi shrines are carried through the streets, and in summer the sky is lit up with lights during the Sumida River Fireworks Festival. Senso-ji Temple holds annual fairs, including Hozuki-ichi (“fisalis fair”) in July, Tori-no-ichi in November, and Hagoita-ichi in December.
Most tourists go to the Shibuya and Roppongi areas in search of a fun nightlife. But locals have been relaxing after sunset in Asakusa for decades, if not centuries. Stop in here and try the delicious local food and famous classic cocktails.
A little west of Senso-ji Temple (which is worth admiring in the evening light) is Hoppy Street. It was named after a mildly alcoholic drink that tastes like beer. This is also the name of the classic cocktail in which a strong drink, soju, is added to Hoppy. Many restaurants on this street put tables outside. Try yakitori straight from the grill or beef stew soup and be sure to stop by Kamiya, the oldest Western-style Japanese bar. It’s famous for the brandy-based Denki Bran cocktail.
The Asakusa neighborhood (Jap. 浅草) in one of Tokyo’s Taito districts has long attracted tourists and visitors to the capital of Japan with its sights. The first of them is the oldest Buddhist temple Senso-ji, the second one is Tokyo Skytree, and the third one you can choose from in the list of attractions below, that’s for sure!
Asakusa is the place to go to see old Tokyo, have fun, buy something authentic, Japanese-style real, and see how everyday Tokyo lives, how it breathes and what it dreams about. The streets here are always crowded – people enjoy the sights of the so-called lower town – Shitamachi, where for centuries lived poor Tokyo citizens, the working class of the capital.
Just across the river Sumida-gawa you can see Asakusa, one of the main sightseeing districts of Tokyo, where you can see the Thunder Gate, Senso-ji Temple, old shopping centers, including Nakamise, ride a rickshaw and enjoy cherry blossoms in spring and huge fireworks in summer.
If you combine the map of Asakusa and neighboring Ueno, you get one of the seven official subcenters of the capital of Tokyo – Fukutoshin. Nowhere else in the capital you’ll find the same scenery of historical Tokyo, life here is as unhurried as in years past, people live in close-knit communities, they know each other to the tenth degree, everywhere – the atmosphere of the old Edo (the name of Tokyo before 1868). The hotels in Asakusa are plentiful too, and there are numerous hearty hostels, so you won’t have any trouble sleeping there.
1. Sensoji Temple or Asakusadera or Assakusa Kannon – a temple of the Shokannon school of Buddhism in the Asakusa district of Taito, Tokyo, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Nakamise-dori shopping street, photo
2. Nakamise-dori (Nakamise Avenue) is the oldest shopping street in Tokyo and leads to Senso-ji Temple.
Tokyo Television Tower, Asakusa district, photo
The Tokyo Skytree, or “Tokyo Sky Tree”, which is 634m high.
Sumida Aquarium, Asakusa , photo
4. the Sumida Aquarium, opened in the Tokyo Television Tower in 2012. Here you can see penguins, seals, giant jellyfish and fairy fish.
Kappabashi Dogu Shopping Street, Asakusa Tokyo, photo
5. Kappabashi Dougu Street is a centuries-old shopping street located between Asakusa and Ueno in Shitamachi (old part of Tokyo).
Hanayashiki – An amusement park in Asakusa, photo
6. Hanayashiki (Asakusa Hanayashiki) – An amusement park in Taito, rebuilt in 1949 on the site of a huge chrysanthemum and peony flower park from the Edo period (1863).
Kaminarimon – Gate of Thunder, photo
7. Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) – The Gate of Thunder, the outer gate leading to Senso-ji Temple.
Theater Asakusa Engei Hall and a Japanese rickshaw cart, the Asakusa district of Tokyo, photo
8. Asakusa Engei Hall is a theater in Taito, Tokyo that tells fun and entertaining stories – rakugo.
Asakusa Cultural Tourist Information Center
9. Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center – Provides services to tourists exploring the area.
A map of the sights of the Asakusa quarter
Sanja Matsuri Festival
The first thing worth mentioning is the largest festival that takes place near Senso-ji Temple, at its eastern end, by another temple, Asakusa (Jap 浅草神社, Asakusa-jinja). The name of the festival is Sanja Matsuri or Three Shrine Festival. It is held on the third Sunday in May in honor of the founders of the temple – two brothers who found the statue of the bodhisattva Kannon. The first such festival was held in 1649, the year Asakusa jinja was completed.
Sanja Matsuri Festival in Tokyo Asakusa
Other festivals in the same area:
- Asakusa Samba Carnival – in August
- Hagoita-ichi (Hagoita Market), a market for shuttlecocks. Held in the second half of December to celebrate the traditional game of hanetsuki.
You can order a traditional rickshaw ride at the entrance to Senso-ji Temple. A young, muscular Japanese man dressed in traditional coat-like clothes – Happi , with a hachimaki bandage on his head, will take you for a ride around the block, showing you interesting places in Asakusa.
- Ride price – from 4,000 yen ($35)/1 passenger, from 3,000 yen ($26)/ 2 passengers
- Lasts 20 min.
Hanayashiki Amusement Park
The Old Park with a Smile (Hanayashiki) as it is called by the people of Tokyo was opened on the site of an old floral park from the Edo period. As for entertainment, it offers various attractions, a 3-D movie theater, active games and of course, shopping.
- Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Address: 2-28-1, Asakusa, Taito-ku 111-0032, Tel. 03-3842-8780.
The Edo Shitamachi Traditional Crafts Museum is open every day and on Saturdays and Sundays there are workshops for basic crafts such as making glassware, silverware, and trying to make Japanese dolls. It’s easy to find the museum – it’s located next to the Hanayashiki amusement park.
On the large shopping street of Kappabashi (Kappabashi-dogu-gai) you will find an array of small authentic Japanese catering outlets with more than 100 years of history. In addition, almost 1 km on Kappabashi there are more than 150 stores specializing in the sale of goods necessary for the restaurant trade and Japanese cuisine, a huge range of kitchen equipment, Japanese knives, dishes, furniture, clothing for kitchen staff and so on. This is where to look for a totally unique gift from Tokyo for your foodie friends. For those who like it hot, look for the Rock-za striptease show here as well.
Asakusa Kannon Onsen.
This is a traditional Japanese Shitamati bathhouse, or Sento as it’s called here. Located north of the pagoda and Drum Museum.
Miyamoto Inosuke Seten
Miyamoto Inosuke Seten (Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten) is a historical store that sells traditional Japanese musical instruments, holiday clothes – Happi coats, etc. You will find it on the fourth floor of the Miyamoto Department Store.
Attractions near Asakusa
From Asakusa, if you have time, it’s worth moving to the Ueno area, famous for its rich cultural heritage. It is only three stops west on the Ginza subway line.
Ryogoku, the Sumo district of Tokyo
Another curiosity is Ryogoku, Tokyo’s sumo district and its excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum, located a little further south, across the Sumida River. It’s also easy to get there – take the Oedo subway line at Kuramae station (about a 10-minute walk south of Kaminarimon) and ride just one stop.
Some of the inexpensive hostels and hotels you can find in Asakusa and Taito include:
1. Richmond Hotel Asakusa – All the beauty of the Asakusa district is within walking distance, with a view of the temple and a direct train station from Narita airport nearby. Price approx. 75 euros.
2. Asakusa Hotel Fukudaya – Taito district, rooms decorated in Japanese style, subway station ten minutes walk away. Prices are about 29 Euros.
Soho Asakusa Hotel – The Soho Asakusa Hotel is very conveniently located in the heart of the quiet streets, but close to the subway station (10 minutes walk). Nearby temples, lots of interesting stores, very nice and atmospheric. The price of about 40 euros.
4. K’s House Tokyo – Backpackers Hostel – Just a minute walk from Kuramae subway station. Budget rooms, shared kitchen and terrace, self-service laundry. Free Wi-Fi. Price approx. 30 euros.
5. Asakusa Hotel Wasou – a popular cheap hotel, rooms are decorated in Japanese style, you can quickly get to Narita Airport by train with one change. It is almost always full, which emphasizes its popularity among visitors to Tokyo. Cost from 18 euros.
The Cultural and Tourist Information Center in Asakusa, Tokyo will offer more information.
- Opening hours: daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Address: 2-18-9 Kaminarimon, Taito, Tokyo, tel. 03-3842-55-66.
Another tourist service center, where you can order a tour guide for sightseeing, can be found on the first (basement) floor of Asakusa Station, Tobu Line.
How to get there
Asakusa can be reached by electric train (Oshiage Station) on any of four rail lines:
- Ginza Subway Line
- Asakusa Subway Line (Asakusa Subway Line) – has its own Asakusa station
- Tobu Skytree Line
- Tsukuba Express Line
Another interesting way to explore Asakusa is by taking the Tokyo Cruise Company’s water bus from the Odaiba or Hamarikyu marina. You can navigate the neighborhood by following the riverbed of the Sumida Gawa.