Asakusa is one of the must see places in Tokyo. For any resident, however, it’s a place to avoid, unless you live in the area. It’s a typical tourist location. There is really only one thing to do in the area, but it can take up to half a day to complete it. Asakusa itself is one of the oldest entertainment districts in Tokyo, and one of the oldest neighbourhoods. If you take the Shitamachi bus line from Tokyo Station, you will essentially be travelling in the oldest areas of Tokyo once you reach Ueno. You can see some of the oldest houses in the area if you know where to look. You can also enjoy the beautiful Sensoji temple or shopping for very kitsch souvenirs. Be aware that this being a tourist trap, you may want to keep a closer eye on your wallets and purses. It can get very busy, which can bring out the pickpockets. Do note that this is still Japan, so the chances of a pickpocket are still extremely low.
The best thing to do when arriving in Asakusa is to get there early, say 9 or 10am and head straight for Sensoji. Head to exit 1 from the Ginza line and A4 from the Asakusa line. From here, you can head straight to Kaminarimon, or Kaminari Gate. This is the main entrance to Sensoji, and Nakamise Shopping Arcade. This gate will be very busy and any pictures are sure to include other tourists. This spot is also popular for hiring rickshaws. Prices can vary and they are all eager to take you around the streets for a private tour. Prices start at 5000 Yen for one person, for 30 minutes, 8000 Yen for two people, all the way up to 30,000 Yen for over 2 hours. These people can be very colourful, but do your best to find someone who can speak English, at least a little, so that you can understand the history of the area better. The gate itself is fairly large and lit up at night. There are four large statues located within the gate. The two facing the street are Shinto gods, while the opposing two are Buddhist gods. While these are not the most fascinating statues in Japan, they are the easiest to access and it provides a taste of what you can see in other areas of Japan.
Once past the gate, you will be within the Nakamise Shopping Arcade area. This area is where tourists tend to buy everything. You can get things from key chains, head bands that say “Japan” with the rising sun logo, and even yukatas. While you may think you are buying a kimono, do note that you are more than likely buying a basic yukata. There are a few shops selling these clothes and they can be very beautiful. It may not have a traditional print, but for most tourists, it’s still very popular. You may even get a small deal if you buy a few of them as gifts. If you are looking for real kimono, you would be looking at spending at least 100,000 Yen for a very basic one. About half way up the street, there is a small branch leading to Shin-nakamise Shopping Arcade. This one offers a more modern style shopping and it feels like you are in a smaller Japanese city. There are shoe shops, drug stores, and various restaurants and snack shops. It’s worth a quick romp, but do note that things probably won’t open until 10am. Towards the end of Nakamise, there are lots of food shops selling Dorayaki, a pancake like sandwich with sweet red bean paste inside, and senbe, a Japanese rice cracker. These places aren’t the cheapest, but they are very good and made fresh. I’d suggest buying some if you want to try traditional Japanese junk food.
This is Part I of a II part series. Please continue reading about Asakusa in Part II.
Asakusa (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English): http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese): http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Rickshaw Information (Japanese): http://www.jidaiya.biz/kanko-j.html
Tokyo Shitamachi Bus: http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/bus_guide.html