[Special Edition] 30 Things to Do in Asakusa, One of Tokyo’s Most Popular Areas
Asakusa, which is a working-class area of Tokyo, is one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in all of Tokyo. It has been a flourishing area ever since the Edo period (1603 - 1867), as it was the town built around the famous Sensoji Temple. This article will introduce plenty of things to do in this historical area!
How to Get to Asakusa
The area of Asakusa is located in Eastern Tokyo. There are actually four separately-located stations called "Asakusa Station," and each one is operated by a different rail company (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Subway Asakusa Line, Tobu Railway Isesaki Line, and the Tsukuba Express Line). Among them, the Asakusa Station on the Toei Subway Asakusa Line is the most convenient, as it is also a stop on the Keikyu Main Line and Keisei Oshiage Line, and has direct access to both Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. It is roughly 20 minutes from Tokyo Station and around 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station by train to Asakusa.
The Best Time to Go
The city of Tokyo has a relatively warm and temperate climate throughout the year. The best seasons to visit are spring and autumn. While there are a few cold days at the beginning of spring, by the time May rolls around you will be able to spend every day comfortably in short sleeves. You can enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) every year around the beginning of April. As for fall, there will begin to be many clear autumn days (called "akibare" in Japanese) starting in October, and the beautiful autumn foliage can be enjoyed during this time as well.
Recommended Spots and Activities
With that, it is time to introduce some things to do in Asakusa, from historical spots to delicious foods!
Visit Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate after Taking a Photo
If one were to choose a landmark to represent the old district of Asakusa, it would have to be Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo built in the year 628, and its main gate, Kaminarimon Gate (official name: Furaijinmon). In particular, the giant red paper lantern held up by the gate is a famous and classic spot for taking commemorative photos. The lantern is 3.9m tall, 3.3m wide, and weighs around 700kg! Facing the gate, you will see statues of Fujin, who controls the wind, to the right, and Raijin, who controls lightning, to the left.
Please visit the temple after taking your commemorative photo at the gate. This temple is beloved for granting all types of wishes, and there are many places to visit within its grounds, such as the Hondo (main hall). For example, those who wish to pray for recovery from sickness can do so at the hall called Yakushido, and those who want to wish for success in business can do so at Zenizukajizodo.
Visit Asakusa Shrine and Get a Daijobu-mamori
Asakusa Shrine is the local shrine for all of the Asakusa area. It enshrines the three men who founded the nearby Sensoji Temple, and is known for answering wishes for household harmony, safe travels, and success in business. If you visit this shrine, you will definitely want to pick up the popular daijobu-mamori protection amulet (500 JPY). This amulet is said to grant divine protection from all of life's worries and allows people to live in peace of mind, and is embroidered with the Japanese word "daijobu" ("it's okay").
You Have to See the Exciting Sanja Festival!
The Sanja Festival is a religious festival put on by Asakusa Shrine that is famous and beloved for heralding in the beginning of summer in Tokyo. It takes place for three days every year from the 3rd Friday in May until the following Sunday, a tradition that has continued for over 700 years! There are various impressive traditional dance performances to see, but the most important part of the festival is the mikoshi (portable shrines). Men and women wearing happi (traditional Japanese coats) gallantly parade around the streets carrying various mikoshi along with the sounds of joyous cheering.
Buy Some Japanese Souvenirs on Nakamise Street
Nakamise Street (Nakamise-dori) is a shopping street that stretches for 250m between Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate and Hozomon Gate. This has been the bustling main street of Asakusa ever since the Edo period, and incorporates around 90 shops that flank both sides of the street. In addition to shops that deal in traditional Japanese items and clothing, such as folding fans, hair ornaments, and paper lanterns, there are also shops that sell classic, working class sweets like kaminari okoshi (snack made with crispy rice mixed with sugar and syrup). It's the perfect place to shop for souvenirs! It's fun to just take a stroll around this lively area, where you can see craftsmen of Japanese sweets put on product demonstration, as well as other sights.
Enjoy the Edo Atmosphere on Denbouin Street
There is a wide variety of shops along the shopping street Denbouin Street, which runs perpendicular to Nakamise Street. This street is also full of the playfulness that conveys the way of life of the Edo period to the present day. Most of the shops that line this street sell traditional crafts that illustrate the skills of the craftsmen. For example, there are shops selling zori (Japanese sandals) and geta (Japanese wooden clogs), and other footwear that goes with kimono, as well as shops that sell beautiful crafts made of glass. The designs of the shop interiors and the signs also make one truly feel the Edo atmosphere. Along the street there are dolls of thieves that show up in Edo kabuki (type of Japanese theater performance), as well as Nezumi Kozo, the chivalrous thief who is known as a hero of the Edo period. Look out for them when walking around the area!
Ride a Roller Coaster at Asakusa Hanayashiki, the Oldest Amusement Park in Japan
Asakusa Hanayashiki opened in 1853, making it the oldest amusement park in all of Japan. It is a very popular facility, and has 22 different attractions packed into its relatively small area. Roller Coaster, which, at 65 years old, is the oldest roller coaster still in use in Japan, and is particularly popular. You can enjoy a thrilling ride on the roller coaster, which goes at a max speed of 42km/hr. There is also the popular Space Shot, a thrilling ride in which riders are shot 60m into the air. It is recommended to sit in an east-facing seat, as you will get views of Sensoji Temple and the TOKYO SKYTREE from high in the sky.
Admission (rides are charged separately): 1,000 JPY/Adult (junior high school student to 64 years old), 500 JPY/Elementary school student and seniors (65 and older), Free/Children (under elementary school age)
Try Making Glass Crafts at Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan
Sumida Edo Kiriko-kan is a specialty museum that showcases a traditional Japanese craft called "Edo kiriko glass," which is known for its beautiful and intricate cut glass. It also displays techniques and tools from long ago. In the annexed shop, there is a selection of around 350 products, including everyday-use items as well as gifts and collector's items. You can watch artisans at work through a window and admire their skills up-close. There is also a hands-on workshop in which visitors can make simple crafts. Follow the expert's guidance to make your very own original glass work!
Edo Kiriko Glass-making Experience (*visit the official homepage for more details)
・90 minute-session (reservation required)
・Cost (including cost of materials): 4,320 JPY/Adult (High school students and above) (overlay glass), 1,080 JPY/Elementary and junior high school students (glass paperweight)
*All prices include tax
*The image shows Edo Kiriko
Eat and Walk along Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street
Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street is beloved by tourists as the largest shopping street in Asakusa. 108 shops and restaurants line this 380m shopping arcade, which is made up of 5 sections. If you visit, you must try out the street food! From hand-grilled senbei (rice crackers) to taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes filled with sweet red bean paste and other fillings), there are tons of delicious foods you can order for take out from the various shops here. Among them, the nikuman (steamed bun filled with pork) (230 JPY each) from the long-established store Sekine is particularly recommended. You'll want to scarf down the juicy, hot steamed bun right there on the spot!
Buy Kitchen Goods on Kappabashi Dougu Street
Kappabashi Dougu Street (Kappabashi Kitchenware Street) is a shopping street located between Asakusa and Ueno with a history spanning over 100 years. The street stretches for roughly 800m north-to-south, and holds around 170 specialty stores that sell a variety of goods, including tableware, lacquer ware, appliances for making sweets and bread, kitchen equipment and utensils, packaging, and more. This is a popular area for tourists as a place where you can purchase professional standard items. There are also many high-quality Japanese knives, which are a popular item with foreign tourists.
Buy and Make Your Own Food Samples
Food samples are a popular souvenir item, particularly with foreign tourists. While there are many stores in Kappabashi Kitchenware Street that sell food samples, the most recommended one is Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya Kappabashi Store, which has a history spanning more than 85 years. In addition to a variety of food-themed goods that look just like the real thing, there is also the opportunity to take part in a hands-on workshop to make your own! While the specific theme and details changes often, this experience will let you make delicious-looking food samples through an old technique using wax (reservation required, Japanese only).
View the Cherry Blossoms at Sumida Park
Sumida Park covers both banks of the Sumida River, which separates Taito Ward and Sumida Ward. In the spring, around 510 sakura (cherry blossom) trees of several varieties burst into bloom, making this a popular spot for hanami. It is recommended to enjoy the view of the rows of cherry blossom trees on either side of the river and the TOKYO SKYTREE from a boat or water taxi. The park is also popular for its night-time illuminations, which give the whole area a whimsical appearance.
Typical flower-viewing season: Late March - early April
Watch the Sumida River Fireworks Festival
The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is a popular event that represents summer in Tokyo. There are two festival grounds, and around 20,000 fireworks are set off in a brilliant display, mesmerizing the spectators. This popular event usually draws around 750,000 visitors. As it is incredibly crowded, if you're going to the event it is recommended to purchase your return train ticket as soon as you arrive at the station. Also, it would be a good idea to plan out a meeting place with your friends ahead of time, as the cell phone network can get congested due to the sheer number of people there. The recommended place to view the fireworks is from within the Sensoji Temple precincts, which tend to be relatively uncrowded despite being close to the festival grounds.
Visit the World Bags & Luggage Museum
This museum is operated by the iconic Japanese bag manufacturer ACE. They display a collection of rare bags from over 50 countries across 5 continents. Additionally, you can also learn about the history of bags and bag-making techniques, as well as about the latest in bag-making technology. You'll be happy to hear that entrance to this museum is totally free!
Wander around Asakusa in a Rental Kimono
Dressing in traditional Japanese clothing really seems appropriate in a place like Asakusa, in which the atmosphere of old Japan is palpable. It can be quite fun to rent a kimono, put it on, then go for a nice stroll. There are many places to rent kimono within the Asakusa area, but Rental Kimono Kosode Asakusa Branch is particular recommended for its convenient location just a 30-second walk from Asakusa Station. They have various rental plans, such as the "Asakusa Sansaku Plan" (2,700 JPY and up (excl. tax)), which lets you rent a kimono, a bag, and even Japanese sandals. Telephone assistance in English is available.
*Image is for illustration purposes
Tour Asakusa's Famous Spots on a Rickshaw
A rickshaw is a good option for those who want to see all of Asakusa in a more time-efficient manner. There are many companies to choose from, but Ebisuya, which lets customers get on from in front of Kaminarimon Gate, is particularly popular with foreign tourists. You can recognize these drivers from the "雷" ("kaminari") character emblazoned on the back of their shirts. You can either choose a course for a set time, such as 30, 60, or 120 minutes, or simply ask the driver to take you to the places you want to visit. You can either make a reservation in advance from the official website, or simply call out to a driver when in Asakusa. There are drivers who can speak English, Chinese, and Korean.
Example Course: 30-minute Rental Course (7,000 JPY and up per person)
Kaminarimon Gate → Denbouin Street → Nitenmon Gate → TOKYO SKYTREE Viewing Spot → Denbouin Temple → Kaminarimon Gate
*Image is for illustration purposes
Watch the Asakusa Samba Carnival
A spectacular festival takes place in Asakusa at the end of August each year as the finale of summer. It is the Asakusa Samba Carnival, and in 2019 it will celebrate its 38th anniversary. Authentic Samba groups from all around Japan gather to create the largest samba parade in the country. The highlight is seeing the various colorful outfits worn by the dancers from all the different groups. You can also enjoy the up-close sight of their powerful dancing!
Admire the Weeping Cherry Trees in the Denbouin Temple Garden
Denbouin Temple is the honbo (head priest's living quarters, as well as a place to hold memorial services and receive important guests) of Sensoji Temple. Most of its grounds are covered by a splendid garden, which has even been designated as a place of scenic beauty by the national government. The garden was constructed between 1624 and 1644, and has an area of approximately 12,200 sq.m. It is a kaiyu-shiki garden (garden designed for strolling around) that consists of small paths that go around a central large pond, and as you walk around the circuit you can enjoy the ever-changing scenery. While the garden is not generally open to the public, it is open for special periods during hanami season and koyo (fall foliage) season. The beautiful weeping cherry trees are not to be missed. You can enjoy the beautiful contrast of the cherry blossoms with the 5-story pagoda and TOKYO SKYTREE in the background.
Typical viewing period: Late March - early April
Sample admission fee (information from the 2018 fiscal year): 300 JPY to enter the garden and view the large ema (wooden plaque on which to write one's wishes) and temple treasures
View the "Two SKYTREEs" from a Water Taxi
Ride a water taxi for something a bit different when it comes to exploring Asakusa. Leaving from Asakusa, there are four routes that head toward Hama Rikyu, Hinode Pier, Odaiba Marine Park, and Toyosu. There are countless photogenic views that can be seen from the water taxi, but the view of the "Two SKYTREEs" is particularly spectacular if you can get the timing right. A few minutes after departing from Asakusa you will pass by the Asahi Beer Headquarters Building, and if you look at that perfect moment you will see the TOKYO SKYTREE reflected in the golden surface of the building, making it look just like there are two SKYTREEs! It's a view that only lasts for a fleeting a moment, but it's still a must-see!
View the Huge Main Hall of Higashi Honganji Temple
Higashi Honganji Temple is a temple of the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism, and is said to have been constructed between the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. There are many temple buildings within the precincts, such as Shiuntei, where you can see beautiful painted sliding doors called "fusuma-e." In the center you will find the gigantic and magnificent Hondo (main hall), which had to be reconstructed on a few occasions after experiencing multiple fires. Anyone can enter the temple freely between 7:00 am - 4:00 pm, so by all means, stop by for a visit if you have the chance.
Feel the Showa Retro Atmosphere at Asakusa Chika Shotengai
The term "Showa Retro" refers to the the atmosphere of the time period in Japanese towns between the 1950s and 1970s, and there is somewhere in Asakusa where you can still feel that nostalgic mood to this day. That would be the Asakusa Chika Shotengai (Asakusa Underground Shopping Street), established in 1955, which is the oldest underground shopping street in all of Japan. It can be accessed from 4 different locations, including from the Ticket Gate of Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. When you walk down the staircase and enter the shopping street, it will feel like you've entered a retro landscape where time has stopped. There are many long-established shops, such as Fukuchan, a famous yakisoba (fried noodles) shop that is over 50 years old. There are also new shops as well, such as NINJABAR, a standing bar where the staff is dressed in ninja costumes, making it a very popular spot with foreign tourists.
Get a Panoramic View of Asakusa from the Observation Deck at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
If you're visiting Asakusa for sightseeing purposes, you will want to stop by the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, which is located in front of Kaminarimon Gate, and is run by Taito City Hall. With a concept of "search, show, support," this center provides various forms of support and information to tourists in English, Chinese, and Korean. It's also equipped with free Wi-Fi, currency exchange, and ticket-purchasing services, making it highly convenient. Its free observation deck on the 8th floor, from which you can see TOKYO SKYTREE and the Sensoji Temple grounds, is very popular with tourists!
Take a Photo of the Asahi Beer Headquarters Building
The headquarters of the iconic Japanese brewery Asahi Beer is a famous building that is known as one of faces of Asakusa. It's amber-colored glass walls and white roof were designed in the image of a pint of beer with a frothy top. Furthermore, the curious golden object next to it is called the The Asahi Flame. It is said to represent the "burning heart of Asahi Beer towards a new century" and was designed by the world-renowned French designer Philippe Starck. If you come to Asakusa, you absolutely must take a photo of these unique buildings!
Pray for Love at the Cat-filled Imado Shrine
Imado Shrine is devoted to Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who are said in Japanese myths to have been the first gods to get married. It is, therefore, known as a shrine that answers the prayers of people looking for love. While there are many theories as to why, such as that this is the birthplace of the maneki-neko (beckoning cat) statues that are said to welcome good fortune, this shrine is full of cute cat decorations and motifs. There are also many rumors, such as one that if you take a picture after petting the Nade Neko ("cat for petting"), a pair of female and male cat statues, and then make it your phone background, your wishes will be granted. Another rumor states that if you meet Nami-chan, the real cat that lives on the premises, then you will attain happiness! Why not try paying this shrine a visit and praying for love yourself?
Buy Souvenirs at Marugoto Nippon
Marugoto Nippon sells and displays rare items and regional products from all around Japan, making the popular shopping facility the perfect place to purchase souvenirs. You can taste Japanese gourmet treats to your heart's content on the first floor. This is where all the items related to food are located, including Japanese seasonings, alcohol, sweets, and other items that were procured by the shop's expert buyers. The second floor is comprised mainly of a lineup of regional everyday products. For example, there are wooden products made in the nature of Nagano Prefecture, slippers made by a long-established shoemaker from Okayama, and many more items.
Purchase a Canvas Bag from Inujirushi Kaban Seisakusho
Inujirushi Kaban Seisakusho is a bag maker that has been operating in Asakusa for a long time. They make bags with simple designs using mostly canvas, which is suited to bag-making for its strength, lightness, and color. There are many varieties of bags available, from totes to shoulder bags. Their logo features a dog next to a bag, and there is a reason for this design. Just in the way that rescue dogs in the Alps carefully carry around a barrel around their necks to save people, Inujirushi Kaban Seisakusho wants its customers to know that their bags will protect their customers' belongings in the same way. What do you say to getting one of these diligently-made, high-quality bags as a souvenir?
Finally, this article will introduce 5 delicious dining and drinking options in Asakusa.
Eat Ningyoyaki from Kimuraya Main Branch
Ningyoyaki is well-known as one of the famous sweets in Asakusa. This traditional confection consists of a batter made with flour and eggs stuffed with sweet red bean paste and cooked into various shaped within a metal mold. The long-established shop Kimuraya Main Branch is famous for having the best ningyoyaki in Asakusa. Here, you can taste the flavor of ningyoyaki that hasn't changed since the shop first opened in 1868. They are also characterized for their shapes, which include the 5-story pagoda of Sensoji Temple and the lantern and statue of Raijin from Kaminarimon Gate. They are also popular for their moist, chewy texture and refined sweetness. You can get a pack of 10 or more for 800 JPY and up (incl. tax).
Enjoy Drinking on Asakusa's Hoppy Street
If you leave Denbouin Street from Nakamise Street, you will come across Hoppy Street (Hoppi-dori), a street lined with restaurants fashioned after food stalls and various kinds of izakaya (Japanese pub), making it very popular with the drinking crowd. The name of the street comes from the famous drink called "Hoppy," which is a low-alcohol-content carbonated beverage made with malt and hops that is usually served mixed with shochu (a type of Japanese alcohol). There are plenty of places where you can drink Hoppy, beer, and other beverages. As for food to eat along with the beverages, item such as stewed motsu and suji (types of offal) of beef and pork is the popular choice.
Feast on Tempura Rice Bowls from a Long-established Shop
Asakusa is known for having a lot of restaurants serving tendon (rice bowl dish with tempura and a sweet and salty sauce), and there are many popular locations that have lines out the door every single day. Recommended among them is Owariya, a restaurant with a history spanning 160 years. It is common in Japan for soba (buckwheat noodles) restaurants to serve tendon, and Owariya is a long-established soba restaurant. The combination of fragrant shrimp tempura fried in sesame oil, deeply-flavored tare (sauce), and the freshly cooked rice is simply magnificent. You can even get takeout! Meals are available from 1,600 JPY and up (incl. tax). English menu is available.
Try Jumbo Melonpan, a Must-Eat in Asakusa
Among all the famous food items in Asakusa, the Jumbo Melonpan (220 JPY (incl. tax)) from Asakusa Kagetsudo Main Shop is one of the most popular. On weekends, it sells over 3,000 of this hugely-popular item per day! Melonpan is one of the classic Japanese treats, and consists of thinly stretched biscuit batter wrapped around bread dough and baked. This particular store takes three times the usual time to make melonpan, letting them sit and rise at low temperatures for a long time, which gives the outside a crispy texture and the inside a lovely fluffiness. These melonpan are also known for their huge size, measuring 15cm in diameter! You will surely be hooked on the fragrance and light sweetness of this pastry after the first bite.
Drink Denki Bran at Kamiya Bar
Kamiya Bar is known as the first bar in Japan, having opened in 1880. This famous bar was loved by people of culture such as famous authors, and the main building has even been registered as a Tangible Cultural Property. The highlight of the menu at Kamiya Bar is the Denki Bran (270 JPY and up), a cocktail invented by the founder of the bar. The brandy-based cocktail contains gin, wine, curacao, and other ingredients, adding up to an alcohol percentage over 30! It is characterized by its warm, amber-like color and its subtle sweetness. What do you say to enjoying your night in Asakusa with this cocktail, which has been loved for a long, long time?
That is the end of the list of things to do in Asakusa. Please visit them whenever you are in Tokyo!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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