Tokyo, Japan’s capital, is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. In addition, this ever-busy capital is one of the world’s most modern and high-tech cities. Alongside all the glamorous high life and neon-lit skyscrapers lies the rich cultural history of Japan. The best way to soak in the old Tokyo atmosphere would be to head to Asakusa in the East. Let this article bring you on a 1-day nostalgic trip to the great food and sights around the bygone downtown in Tokyo!
1. Start your day with a visit to the icons of Asakusa - Kaminarimon, Nakamise Dori and Sensoji Temple
A good base to start your 1-day tour in Asakusa district would be the Kaminarimon (浅草雷門) near the Asakusa Station exit. It is the entrance to Sensoji Temple (浅草寺), Tokyo’s largest and oldest Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. Before proceeding into the temple, take your customary shot in front of this iconic dignified gate, which has been here since the Kamakura period.
As you walk towards the famous Sensoji Temple building, do not forget to slow down your footsteps. Known as Nakamise Dori, this 250-metre (820 feet) long stretch of historical shopping street is the biggest souvenir market in Tokyo. End your souvenir search at Nakamise Dori where you can find all sorts of exquisite Japanese-style souvenirs, such as yukata, Japanese clogs and wooden dolls. Even if you end up buying nothing in the end, it is also a lovely place to relish in the shitamachi (downtown Tokyo) ambience as you walk along this ancient shopping street that has existed since the Edo period.
At the end of the shopping street, enter the gigantic Hozomon Gate to reach Sensoji Temple’s main hall. Be awestruck by the impressive Five-Story Pagoda standing at 53.3 metres (175 feet) tall as you approach the main hall. As a national designated cultural property, there are many notable spots within the temple grounds that you can admire and appreciate.
The main red and white Kannondo Hall houses a golden image of the Goddess of Mercy (kannon) discovered by three fishermen in the 7th century. There is a large cauldron of incense placed in front of the hall, and it is believed the smoke from the incense bestows good health. To the right of the Kannondo Hall is the historical Asakusa Shrine that has amazingly escaped war-time bombs since its establishment in the year 1649.
Sensoji Temple (浅草寺)
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0032
Opening Hours: always open.
Duration: around 2 hours required.
Access: short walk from Asakusa Station.
Contact: +81 3-3842-0181
2. Wine and dine at the oldest Western-style bar in Tokyo
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Traditionally, Asakusa was a working-class neighbourhood, so you would be able to find many affordable local restaurants and street food in the many alleys here. Continue to soak in the old Tokyo feel from the Sensoji Temple area to dine and wine at Kamiya Bar (神谷バー). Established in the late 1800s, the 3-storey Kamiya Bar is the oldest Western-style bar in Tokyo. Be transported back to the late 1800s as you enter the legendary bar that remains popular even today. Its ambience feels exactly like that of a typical working-class neighbourhood - smoky, noisy and sometimes rowdy. Even though night has not arrived yet, you can still chill and relax with the house Denki Bran (Electric Brandy) for a sweet blended taste of wine, gin and brandy.
Kamiya Bar (神谷バー)
Address: 1-1-1 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0032
Opening Hours: 11.30am - 10pm daily. Closed on Tuesdays.
Access: short walk from Asakusa Station exit A5.
Contact: +81 3-3841-5400
3. Enjoy the breeze and seasonal sights with a stroll along Sumida River
After eating so much good food, it is time to burn off some calories. About 5 minutes by foot from Asakusa Station is the beautiful Sumida Park along Sumida River, where you can enjoy a breezy stroll lined with about 1,000 Sakura (cherry) trees. In spring, Sumida Park is a popular spot for viewing the pretty Sakura blossoms. On the last weekend of July, you can also check out the great Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival here. Walk along the west side of the river and enjoy views of lovely sights such as the Tokyo Sky Tree.
Sumida Park (墨田公園)
Address: 1-1 Hanakawado, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0033
Opening Hours: always open.
Duration: around 30 minutes required.
Access: 5-minute walk from Asakusa Station.
4. Visit Kuramae - the Brooklyn of Tokyo
Just 1 train station away from Asakusa, the Kuramae neighbourhood is where trendy Tokyoites are flocking to nowadays. Arrive at this hidden gem after walking about 20 minutes from the west side of Sumida River near Asakusa Station. During the Edo period, Kuramae was filled with warehouses to store rice, which was then used as payment for servants of the feudal government. Now home to many chic cafes and grocery stores, this stylish neighbourhood is a stark contrast from the retro neighbourhood atmosphere still surrounding the neighbouring Asakusa. Welcome to the world of modern indie styles in Kuramae.
If you love handmade personalised stationery, you must make your way to Kakimori (カキモリ), a representative shop in Kuramae selling customised handcrafted items such as notebooks and fountain pens. Furthermore, cafe lovers should not miss the famous Dandelion Chocolate Factory and Cafe from San Francisco, its first overseas shop floor opened in 2016. Dandelion chocolate is delicately hand-crafted from cocoa beans with same origin. Enjoy the taste of freshly made chocolate, alongside homemade pastries in the cosy cafe.
Address: 4-20-12 Kuramae, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0051
Opening Hours: 12pm - 7pm (Tuesdays to Fridays) and 11am - 7pm (weekends & public holidays). Closed on Mondays.
Access: 3-minute walk from Kuramae Station.
Contact: +81 3-3864-3898
Dandelion Chocolate Factory and Cafe
Address: 4-14-6 Kuramae, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0051
Opening Hours: 10am - 8pm daily. Last order 7.30pm.
Access: 5-minute walk from Kuramae Station.
Contact: +81 3-5833-7270
5. Explore Asakusabashi - a traditional Japanese handicraft wholesale district
Next, walk further down along the Sumida River to arrive at Asakusabashi neighbourhood, a place where wholesale traders of dolls, models, and clothing have gathered for ages. There are more stores on the east exit of Asakusabashi Station compared with the station’s west exit. Asakusabashi is a truly local neighbourhood with hardly any tourist spots to speak of, but that is also exactly where the charm lies.
Right in front of the station’s east exit is a store often seen with a long queue of locals lining up for lottery tickets. Known for having a high rate of winning tickets, you may want to join in the queue here, just for some fun. Who knows, you may turn out to be the lucky one to strike lottery! Across from the station, there are plenty of traditional Japanese doll shops to check out. While most of them are established stores selling expensive dolls mainly patronised by locals, the budget conscious traveller will appreciate Kyugetsu Doll Store, which carries a wide variety of dolls catering to different budgets.
Kyugetsu Doll Store
Address: 1-20-4 Yanagibashi, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0052
Opening Hours: 9.15am - 6pm daily.
Duration: around 1 hour required.
Access: short walk from Asakusabashi Station exit A3 or A5.
Contact: +81 3-5687-5176
6. End your nostalgic Tokyo tour at the electronic shopping hot spot of Akihabara
For the electronic fans out there, you cannot miss Akihabara, the hot spot for electronics shopping. Just continue further down along Sumida River to Tokyo’s electric town. Alongside the numerous electronic stores, Akihabara is also the centre for otaku, or geek culture, with countless anime and manga (Japanese comics) shops dispersed in the neighbourhood. Enjoy your shopping spree of electronic products in the latest technology or check out the huge collection of manga titles. In between your shopping, you can fuel yourself up with delicious food in the many uniquely themed cafes and restaurants in the district too.
Travel through several centuries within a day around Asakusa
Historically, Asakusa was the downtown of Tokyo, where the working class gathered for food, shopping and entertainment. Compared with other neighbourhoods in Tokyo, this is where the old town feels much more traditional with the ancient sights, food, shops and entertainment enjoyed during its prospering times. Enjoy the peculiarly unique time travel from the bygone era to the modern times in its neighbouring districts, all within a day!
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