Imagine a place you can go to experience old world Tokyo; shop in quaint markets, visit a monumental shrine, buy plastic food and take a cruise down the Sumida river in a futuristic ferry. More than other areas in Tokyo, Asakusa blends the old with the new seamlessly.
Located in Taito-ku, Asakusa is an easy jaunt from anywhere in central Tokyo. Step off your train and walk into what was once a booming entertainment and pleasure district. Heavily bombed in World War II, Asakusa rebuilt and maintained its reputation as a place to be entertained. Although you may now find more pleasure palaces outside this area, Asakusa retains the title for the oldest active Geisha district in the big city.
Now tourists flock to see the very impressive, 7th Century Senso-ji Temple and its surrounding grounds. Thanks to the prevalence of the many shrines and temples in Asakusa, the area has the pleasure of hosting quite a few major events including the much celebrated Sanja Matsuri in May, one of Tokyo’s largest festivals. If you have the chance to catch it you can expect to see a parade, portable shrines and traditional music and dancing.
Another great festival to catch if you can is the annual Asakusa Samba Carnival. With a large Brazilian population in the area there is wonderful samba dancing and all around frivolity to take part in. People from all over Japan come to be a part of the excitement and it’s an excellent opportunity to get a real feel for a local experience. The carnival is usually held on the last Saturday of August near the Senso-ji Temple.
After drinking in the temple tranquility or partaking in one of the many exciting festivals, you may find yourself in the bustling Nakamise Shopping Arcade. This is one of the best places in Tokyo to buy souvenirs and gifts. Here you can find kimonos, fans, post-cards, key chains and a myriad of other crafts and trinkets all at very reasonable prices. While you’re shopping, consider trying out some of the local snacks at the food stalls. I highly recommend the waffle-fish filled with custard and served warm in a little paper sleeve. Also worth trying are the senbei rice crackers—famous in the area and found at a number of stalls. The local brandy cocktail called a Denki Bran is also a favorite and can be enjoyed in most restaurants.
Looking for a slightly more unique souvenir? Head to the surprisingly interesting Kappabashi-dori better known as kitchen street. Here there are many stores specializing in incredibly realistic plastic food of varying shapes and sizes. The fridge magnet sushi is practically mouth watering. This street is where many of the local restaurants across Tokyo buy supplies for their kitchens. If you walk a bit further past the plastic food stores you’ll find a huge range of kitchen gadgetry, nicely made crockery and probably a few surprises too.
Asakusa is also home to Tokyo’s most recent pride and joy, the Skytree. This incredible tower is the second tallest structure in the world and has a beautiful viewing deck offering great views of the city.
Once you have finished exploring Asakusa you may be interested in taking a boat back to your hotel or onwards perhaps to the futuristic Odaiba Island. If so the Sumida River Water Bus is surely the most stylish way to travel, and certainly a unique way to see the city.
Getting around Asakusa is very possible on foot however as it does span a large area you may look to hire a rickshaw for all or a part of your tour. A 15 minute trip for two can average about 4000 yen.