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Asakusa

Bringing the Taste of Edo to the Present

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Main gate of Senso-ji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa, Fujin Raijin Gate, are nicknamed Kaminarimon. The red lantern weighs about 700 kg.

Back when Tokyo was called Edo (1603-1868), the temple town of Asakusa was renowned as its greatest business quarters. The neighborhood surrounding the ancient Senso-ji Temple, which has a history of 1400 years, was once streets that were busy centers for playhouses and entertainment. Preservation and restoration of these streets have been underway, leaving a trace of the good old Japan. This neighborhood is full of attractions such as traditional festivals, delicate traditional crafts made by skillful craftsmen, and also a wide variety of Japanese cuisine, attracting tourists from Japan and abroad with numbers extending to 30 million visitors a year.


Liveliness of a Festival, All Year Round

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Japan’s oldest shopping district Nakamise is said to have been established about 300 years ago. Most Tokyo souvenirs are available here.

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Only 15 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. Once you pass the main street with a queue of the sightseeing rickshaws and slip through the gates of the huge lantern, you are now at Nakamise Street, which is said to be the oldest shopping district in Japan, stretching straight toward the main Senso-ji Temple. This street of about 250 meters is constantly crowded all year round, like a festival. The 90 shops that line the street feature many unique and irresistible souvenirs from Tokyo such as handmade combs and fans, Japanese accessories such as tenugui (washcloth), Japan-made toys great for decoration such as umbrellas and kites, and replicas of Japanese swords. Chopsticks are also a popular and affordable, and the Edo Wood Chopsticks with options of choosing your own set from a variety of different materials—like boxwood and ebony, colors, shapes, and lengths are one of the bestselling items.


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Left: Sightseeing rickshaw rides pass through the Denpoin Street where you can take in the views of the Edo town.
Right: Traditional craft Edo kiriko with carved glass surface.
© OJIMA CUT GLASS

Several shops hold cooking demonstrations of ningyo yakie, a local specialty baked individually in metal molds to perfection by craftsmen. It’s always tempting on a half-filled stomach.

The Denpoin Street intersecting Nakamise Street reproduces the streets of the Edo Period. The white walls and wooden signs create a relaxed atmosphere, and the life-size figures of kabuki actors atop roofs and signs add a playful touch. About 30 stores line this street, featuring Edo kiriko glasswork, hanten festival costume specialty shops, and long-established restaurants and cafes.


An Assembly of Gourmet Shops

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Portable shrine leaving the Asakusa Shrine grounds during the Sanja Festival © ASAKUSAJINJA

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Asakusa’s calendar overflows with traditional events that decorate the four seasons of Tokyo. Among them, the festival that represents Asakusa is the Sanja Festival in May. One million visitors come out every year to enjoy the lively festival of a procession of 100 different-sized portable shrines. Sweat scattering from the shrine-bearers dressed in matching festival costumes and the encouraging shouts envelope the whole town with excitement and enthusiasm.

In addition, the Hozuki Fair gathering 100,000 planted pots of small and adorable Chinese lantern plants, the Sumida River Fireworks that light up the night sky with 20,000 fireworks and the Asakusa Samba Carnival modeled after the samba carnivals of Brazil are big events indispensable for a summer in Tokyo. The annual Hagoita Fair takes place every December, and the line of stalls selling beautiful hagoita (battledore) New Year’s decorations depicting 3-dimensional scenes from Kabuki bring on the festive feeling of the upcoming New Year.


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Left: Sukiyaki featuring the rich tastes of marbled beef © ASAKUSA IMAHAN Kokusai Street Head Restaurant
Right: Tendon with deep-fried seafood and vegetable tempura overflowing from the bowl (courtesy of Asakusa Aoimarushin)

Asakusa is also known as a place where you can enjoy a variety of traditional and local cuisine, and foodies flock to many of its well-known shops. The salty-sweet casserole dish sukiyaki, made with beef and vegetables stewed in a warishita soy sauce stock is also a local specialty. There are old shops established over 100 years ago, serving Edo-style sushi with delicately flavored fresh seafood, crunchy deep-fried prawn tempura, or eel with an appetizing charcoal-grilled aroma.

There are also plenty of cafés serving elegant and traditional Japanese sweets in a relaxed atmosphere. Simple imo yokan, featuring the rustic flavors of sweet potato, and anmitsu, made with crunchy and unique kanten agar, sweet bean paste and fruits are a great accompaniment to hot Japanese green tea.

On the other hand, the alcoholic beverage that is also a popular souvenir is denkiburan, a brandy cocktail mixed with wine, gin, curacao and medicinal herbs. The name is said to have been derived 130 years ago when Japan was heading towards modernization and called everything that was fancy and Western, denki (meaning “electricity” in Japanese).

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Imo yokan features the tender sweetness of the ingredients. A bite of the colorful anko dama bursts with sweetness.
One of the representative sweets of Japan, anmitsu, is enjoyed with a variety of toppings such as fruit and ice cream.
Denkiburan is an Asakusa specialty since 1882.

Sentimental Sumida River

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Left: The Bee Tower at amusement park Hanayashiki celebrated 160 years since its opening.
Right: The new event TOKYO HOTARU (TOKYO HOTARU Festival) takes place at the Sumida River with the theme of coexistence of city and nature. (Amanogawa Project®) 
© TOKYO HOTARU

Walking around the town of Asakusa is filled with the fun rediscovery of Japan. The retro roller coasters you can experience at Japan’s oldest amusement park Hanayashiki, the trained legs of the dashing rickshaw drivers, and the sound of shamisen if you listen carefully in the street… And a walk along the Kappa Bridge Tool Town known to have every kind of cooking utensil will awe you with the stunning workmanship of food samples that are more mouth-watering than real food.

Another view you must take in by all means is the view along the Sumida River. If you take one step away from the hustle and bustle to take a walk along the river at dusk, the view of the sight-seeing boat Water Bus going back and forth on the river will surely arouse a sentimental feeling. The view of houseboats floating along the river contrasted with the newly built 634-meter tall radio tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, on the other side of the Sumida River is a photogenic and breathtaking view. The new event TOKYO HOTARU that floats 100,000 LED lights in the Sumida River just began in 2012, but has aroused attention as a new Tokyo tradition.


Asakusa, the town where the past and present live in harmony is like a time tunnel connecting Edo and Tokyo.

(September 2013)

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