Asakusa is a vibrant town that combines the old with the new, continuing on from the Edo period into modern times.
It is best known for the Sensoji temple, but there are many other places nearby where you can feel the history of the place. In 2012, construction of Tokyo Skytree was completed near the Sumida river. It has become a popular spot to visit among foreigners and Japanese people alike as a town that combines the old with the new.
A town that keeps the spirit of the old while progressing with the new
Great access to the rest of the city
Asakusa lies in the east of Tokyo, in Taito ward. The Sumida River flows on the east side and is host to a large fireworks festival every summer. People tend to think of it as a bit removed from the rest of the city, but in reality, it lies along 4 major train and subway lines: Tokyo Metro Ginza line, Toei subway Asakusa line, Tobu Sky Tree line, and the Tsukuba Express. This makes it a great hub to get to the rest of the city. Especially the Asakusa line goes through to both the Keisei line, you can get to both Haneda or Narita airports without needing to transfer. Not many people realize this about Asakusa, which makes it a nice bonus for those who realize just how convenient it really is.
The famous Asakusa landmark, Sensoji Temple
The first image that pops into anyone’s mind when you mention Asakusa is probably that of the large Kaminarimon gate in front of the temple. It has a dramatic presence and is the face of the town. Its proper name is “Fujin-Raijin-mon”, and sure enough as you pass through the gate you can see the gods Fujin on the right and Raijin on the left. Kaminarimon has a long, old history, and was probably first built over 1000 years ago. It has burned down and been rebuilt many times since, and the current gate was built in 1960. Its biggest feature is the giant paper lamp, 3.9 meters tall, 3.3 meters across, and weighing 700 kilograms. During the yearly festival that takes place in May, in order for the portable shrine to clear the gate, the giant lamp has to be folded up, which makes for a rare sight.
Once passing through the Kaminarimon gate, there is a street lined with shops on either side that goes toward the temple. This street is called “Nakamise”, and began operating in the early- to mid-Edo period. Currently, there are 54 shops on the east side and 35 on the west side for a total of 89 shops that spread out over 250 meters. Most of the stores sell gifts and Japanese snacks, and here you can by popular traditional snacks like “Kaminari-okoshi” and “ningyo-yaki”. At one stall you can watch the Ningyo-yaki being made and buy them fresh.
Right in front of the main hall of Sensoji temple is a large incense burner, and here you can see something quite interesting. You will see many people wafting the smoke from the incense toward their bodies with their hands. There is a belief that the smoke from this incense burner has an effect on parts of your body that need healing, which is why people bring the smoke upon themselves. If you visit, why not try it out?
See the town from rickshaw
As you walk around Asakusa, you might see people riding rickshaws pulled by workers on foot. It is somewhat like an old Japanese-style taxi service, and it became a popular method of transportation from the Meiji period to the beginning of the Showa period. There are many rickshaw drivers around Asakusa, and they wear traditional costumes and call for customers in a traditional fashion. These drivers do not simple wheel you around, but they also talk about special spots or recommending things to do. It’s a great way to experience Asakusa, and there are even drivers who speak English or Korean.
If you walk east for a few minutes from the street in front of Kaminarimon, you will come across a red bridge over a river. This is the Azuma bridge over the Sumida river. The Sumida river forms the border between Taito ward and Sumida ward, and the river flows wide and smooth here because this area is close to the mouth of the river. By the Azuma bridge, you can ride a small cruise ship that travels on the river to the bay areas of Odaiba and Toyosu. The view from the river here and out to the sea is splendid.
Newest famous place downtown
【Tallest tower in the world】
Looking out on the Sumida river from Asakusa, you can see the newest famous spot in Japan, opened in May 2012. It is Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest tower in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Construction began in July 2008 and took 3 years and 7 months to complete, and it opened for business 2 months after its completion, on May 22nd 2012. It is 634 meters high, and weighs 36,000 tons. From far away it may look slim, but up close it looks quite imposing. There are observation floors at the 350 and 450 meter mark where you can see the Tokyo view in 360 degree panorama.
Tokyo Sky Tree is not just an observation tower. It is in charge of broadcasting the television and radio stations. It also broadcasts the signal necessary for radio communications of taxi drivers.。
Tokyo may be a symbol of modernity, but it also has hundreds of smaller areas with rich history. In Asakusa, you can feel the air of a Tokyo of long ago, a bit different than the lights of a place like Shinjuku. Here, you can have a taste of traditional Japanese culture without having to take a bullet train. There are places other than Asakusa where you can feel this sort of tradition, and now we hope you will want to seek them out.