Located in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, Asakusa was once considered its leading entertainment district. Today, it is a notable tourist attraction known for its many temples and a place where one can get a genuine sense of what old Tokyo was like.
The 7th century Sensoji Temple is the most popular of Asakusa’s temples and easily recognized by its Furai Jin-mon (Gate of the Wind God and the Thunder God), adorned with a large red paper lantern that bears the inscription “Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate).” The temple enjoys a constant flow of visitors and worshippers throughout the year.
Upon approaching the temple, tourists encounter a centuries-old shopping street known as Nakamise, where you can purchase traditional souvenirs and snacks from the local region. Next to the temple grounds is a small amusement park called Hanayashiki, which originally opened as a flower park in 1853 and is the oldest amusement park in Japan.
Aside from Sensoji Temple, visitors to Asakusa can enjoy a cruise down the Sumida River which departs from a wharf located within a five minute walk from the temple. The Tokyo Skytree, is a mere twenty minute walk across the Sumida River from Asakusa.
Although it is relatively easy to get around Asakusa on foot, you may consider taking a guided tour of the area in one of the many rickshaws available. A 30-minute tour generally costs around ¥8,000.
An interesting fact about Asakusa is that the area was heavily damaged by U.S. bombing raids during World War II, particularly the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. Consequently, there are very few buildings dating back to the pre-1950s. However, one can still find traditional ryokan (guest-houses), homes and small-scale apartment buildings scattered throughout the district.
With so many religious establishments, there are frequent matsuri (Shinto festivals) in Asakusa, as each temple or shrine hosts at least one matsuri a year, if not every season. The largest and most popular is the Sanja Matsuri in May, when roads are closed from dawn until late evening.
The district is also famous for its senbei (rice crackers), grilled on the spot, flavored with soy and usually wrapped in seaweed. There are many competing shops in the Nakamise arcade serving these delicious treats and the Japanese locals typically purchase packages of senbei as souvenirs for family and friends.
Regardless of what draws you to Asakusa, the district remains one of Tokyo’s top destinations for foreigners and locals alike.