Having taken a beating in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War
II, Tokyo's historic downtown area bears little trace of its Edo or Meiji period
cityscape. But in the Asakusa district, whose name is virtually synonymous with
old downtown Tokyo, a piece of this old cityscape still survives on the streets
of traditional shops and restaurants surrounding Sensoji temple. These streets
were bustling back in the Edo period and continue even now to draw a steady stream
of visitors throughout the year. Nakamise-dori, a 260-meter-long shopping arcade
that leads to the temple gate, has some shops that have been in business for over
100 years. Here and there throughout the arcade, one can hear the vigorous shouts
of shopkeepers selling their wares, which include old-fashioned toys, ornamental
flower hairpins used by geisha, and sweets and crackers that have been made and
enjoyed since Edo times. Nakamise-dori is a feast for all of the senses.
Although Asakusa is a lively place year round, it really goes wild during the
Sanja Festival, held annually in May. The highlight of this festival is a parade
of mikoshi, or portable shrines, representing each neighborhood association.
Groups of men dressed in festival attire (usually happi coats, kimono-like cotton
garments) hoist the palanquin-like structures on their shoulders. The parade winds
through the narrow streets and ends up at Sensoji. Over a million visitors crowd
into Asakusa to see this festival each year, creating a Carnaval-like atmosphere.