In yesteryear Asakusa was famous for being a rough and bawdy spot suited to both gangsters & Geisha. Today it’s one of Tokyo’s trendiest tourist spots and home to Tokyo’s oldest and most visited temple-Sensoji.
Long before Tokyo was but a twinkle in the eye the temple stood on the banks of the River Sumida. Famous for its massive gate of thunder and a set of “divine sandals” Sensoji temple was established in 628. At least that’s how legend records it as the temple serves to enshrine a statue of the goddess of mercy caught in a fisherman’s net the same year.
A Journey Back in Time
The temple complex is first entered through the main gate- Kaminarimon (gate of thunder). From that point the senses are assailed from all sides by an old-school shopping street. Small shops form a several lane highway of trinkets and titbits and make up one of the more exciting souvenir shopping experiences in Tokyo.
Known as “Nakamise”- this short walk makes up one of Tokyo’s oldest shopping streets.
30 Million to One
Odds are you will not be alone on your visit to Sensoji Temple. Over 30 million visitors make the visit annually but the complex can be quiet early morning and after sunset- with the exception of New Year when it is thronged. The night lights tend to add to the atmosphere and a perfect time for uninterrupted selfies!
There are plenty of other things to do in the area besides visiting the temple.
The nearby Tokyo Skytree tower- the tallest structure in Japan- affords wonderful views of Tokyo from its observation decks but can cost anywhere from 2-4,000 yen. For a cheaper view try the 7th floor view from the Asakusa Culture Information Centre- a wonderfully designed building by architect Kengo Kuma- open all year and free with great birds-eye views of the below temple complex.
Beer & Poo Walk
The Sumida River Walk is another attraction offering a relatively quiet river walk with riverside café options. Of course you’ll have plenty to spot on the walk including the infamous “Asahi Super Dry Hall” – a beer company with a difference they can’t be all that proud of. The HQ of Asahi Beer is capped by the Philippe Starck designed “Asahi Flame”. The 360-tonne golden flame is meant to represent the burning heart of Asahi beer but it’s not heartburn that comes to mind first. Commonly known as the “Golden Turd” (Kin no Unko”) the whole building has come to be known as poo building. The fact that the adjacent golden brewery building actually does look like a mug of beer shows that there were clearly 2 different designers involved in this project. The results- beer and poo! Wonder which
one is still in a job.
Top Things To Do in Asakusa
Take a Rickshaw Tour
Sounds ultimately touristy- and it is! Perfect for 1 or 2 people or a couple with small kids. A personal, fun English-speaking guided tour on 2 x wheels. Rickshaw tours are available all over Japan but are best suited to the hustle and bustle of Asakusa.
Pre-booking is not essential for Asakusa as they are everywhere around Sensoji Temple but to find out more check out:
Visit Kanji House
This is a real gem and quite possibly one of the most memorable tours as you get to take home your own name written in Kanji (Japanese alphabet based on Chinese characters). Pre-booking is required as the initial process is like an interview to work out what characters best suit you. After that you sit back and watch a skilled Japanese calligrapher give you a new name- framed and ready to take home.
The Kanji House itself is tucked away on a side street near Sensoji Temple but there are easy to follow directions on their website!