tokyo asakusa2

Asakusa is one of the districts where you can genuinely find a flavor of the old Tokyo. One of its main attractions is the 7th century Sensoji temple, a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon (also known as Quan-Yin in China.) The temple includes a centuries-old shopping street known as Nakamise, where you can purchase traditional souvenirs and snacks from the local region.

Although it’s very easy to get around Asakusa on foot, you might like to try riding in a rickshaw (“Jinrikisha” in Japanese) for a guided tour of the area. Most people take a half-hour tour for two, costing about 8000 yen. Longer and shorter tours are available as well.  Over the centuries, Asakusa was known as the major entertainment district in Tokyo. In the Edo Period, which lasted from 1603 until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, Asakusa was also Tokyo’s most popular red light district. Many Kabuki theaters were also situated there.

After the Meiji Restoration of 1867-9, the district became more modernized, eventually becoming home to a number of movie theatres. Unfortunately, the air raids of the Second World War destroyed a major part of Asakusa. Although Sensoji temple was rebuilt with great care, the entertainment district was not. However, the recent opening of the Tokyo Skytree, which is located just over the Sumida River, has attracted a new surge of tourists.

Kaminari Gate in Asakusa

Shrines and Temples in Asakusa
Kaminari Gate (Kaminarimon)
Open 24/7. Free Admission.
The Kaminari Gate is Sensoji Temple’s outer entrance gate. Kaminarimon means “Thunder Gate” in Japanese. Over 1000 years old, it has become the symbol of Asakusa. A traditional shopping street, known as Nakamise, connects the Kaminari gate to the temple’s second internal gate, called the Hozomon.

Sensoji Temple
Open between 6:00 (6:30 between October and March) and 17:00. Free Admission.
This is one of the oldest and most beloved temples in Tokyo. It was finished in 645 AD, but most of the temple complex needed reconstruction after it was destroyed during the Second World War. In Japanese, “Senso” is another name for Asakusa, and “ji” means “temple.”

Sensoji Temple Street

Asakusa Shrine
Open 24/7. Free Admission.
This shrine was built in 649 AD and miraculously remained standing throughout the air raids of World War II, even as the rest of the temple complex was destroyed. There is an extremely popular annual festival, known as Sanja Matsuri, held here on a weekend in the middle of May.

Dempoin Temple
Not open to the public.
At one point, it was possible to make an appointment to visit the exquisite garden inside Dempoin Temple, but now it is completely closed to the public.

Shopping in Asakusa
Most shops open between 9:00 and 19:00 daily.
This traditional shopping street leads from Sensoji Temple’s “Thunder Gate”, Kaminarimon, to its inner grounds. There are more than fifty shops here, selling traditional souvenirs and local snacks.

Most shops open between 10:00 and 20:00 daily.
Shin-Nakamise, which means “New Nakamise”, is the name of a street running at right angles to Nakamise. It is a covered arcade with a variety of restaurants and shops.

Kappabashi (or “Kitchen Town”)
Most shops open between 9:00 and 17:00, Monday to Saturday. Most shops are closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Kappabashi is a shopping street in Asakusa that is nearly a kilometer in length. It is full of suppliers to many of the local restaurant businesses (but is also crowded with tourists on weekends.) You can find all manner of kitchenware here, including cooking knives and other utensils, appliances and tableware. There is also sample food for sale, along with corporate items such as uniforms, lanterns and signs.

Rox Shopping Complex
Supermarket open 24 hours. Main shops open between 10:30 and 21:00.
Restaurants open between 11:00 and 22:00.
Rox is a department store complex with four buildings (Rox, Rox2G, Rox3 and Rox Dome.) Their specialty is women’s and children’s fashion. There is also a basement supermarket, which is open 24 hours.

Matsuya Asakusa Department Store
Open between 10:00 and 19:30 daily.
The Matsuya Asakusa Department Store is eight floors tall, and is housed inside Tobu Asakusa Station. It sells a full range of goods, from top-level brands down. There is another Matzuya Store in the Ginza.

Other Asakusa Attractions
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
This Tourist Information Center opened recently, in 2012. Immediately popular because of the striking building design, the center provides plenty of information in several languages to tourists, an observation deck overlooking Sensoji Temple, and free wifi.

Sumida Park
Free admission. Open 24/7.
This stretch of parkland has the Sumida river running through it, and is popular spot for viewing the cherry blossoms that flower during spring. The Sumida River Fireworks are held here on the last Saturday of July.

Sumida River Cruise
Operating every 30-60 minutes.
These sightseeing cruises are operated by Tokyo Water Bus, and run from Asakusa Pier to Hinode Pier, via Hama Rikyu. At Hinode Pier, you can change boats and continue to Odaiba, should you wish. There are also direct trips between Asakusa and Odaiba, but these don’t run as frequently.

Asakusa Rokku
This area has quite a history, and was pre-war Tokyo’s premier entertainment district. It was severely damaged in the World War II bombing raids, and has since been surpassed by places like Shinjuku. However, there are still plenty of leisure attractions here, including pachinko parlors, cinemas and rakugo theatres. (“Rakugo” is a form of storytelling theater where a lone performer delivers a humorous and complicated story, using only simple props.)

Open between 10:00 and 18:00 daily (longer opening hours on holidays)
900 yen admission, plus ride fares.
Hanayashiki is an amusement park in miniature, located very close to Sensoji Temple. It opened in 1853 as a flower garden, but now it boasts over 20 rides, including a small carousel, ferris wheel, Space Shot and roller coaster.

Asahi Beer Tower/Asahi Super Dry Hall
Restuarants open between 11:30 and 22:00, daily.
These buildings opened in 1989, and form the headquarters of Asahi Breweries. There are several restaurants located within the complex.

Drum Museum (Taikokan)
Open between 10:00 and 17:00. Closed on Monday, Tuesday, and during the Obon Festival and New Year.
500 yen admission.
Taikokan exhibits drums from a variety of cultures. There are also several Japanese taiko drums here. Visitors may play a number of the drums on display. The store below the museum sells a range of Japanese drums and other festival goods.

Getting to Asakusa
Situated on the Asakusa and Ginza Subway Lines, Tobu Railways and Tsukuba Express, Asakusa is within fairly easy reach of the rest of Tokyo. It is also accessed by the Tokyo Water Bus.
To get to Asakusa Station from Tokyo Station, take the JR Yamanote Line and change at Kanda Station to the Ginza Subway Line.
From Shinjuku Station, take the JR Chuo Line (the orange line) and change at Kanda Station to the Ginza Subway Line.

If you are visiting Tokyo on a low budget, Asakusa is a great place to find inexpensive accommodation. In addition to hotels, there are plenty of good hostels and dormitories, as well as budget ryokan.