Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world. However, you can still find places in Tokyo that feel like a traditional Japanese town. Today I want share a few tips about where to find traditional Japanese architecture and cuisine. I spend a day in Asakusa enjoying the small town vibe and great food. Here is a small Asakusa travel guide for how to find and enjoy Asakusa.
Asakusa: Visiting Tokyo’s History
Asakusa has many quaint shops and lots of restaurants. The area is one of the oldest untouched parts of Tokyo. Asakusa has a reputation for continuing traditional Japanese culture.
Kimono shops line the streets. In warm weather you can see many of the shop owners dressed in yukata, or colorful summer kimono. The word yukata literally means bath clothes because yukata were originally a garment that was worn after bathing. Now yukata are casual kimono. You will often see them worn at summer festivals. If you visit a ryokan, or traditional inn, you will have a chance to wear a yukata.
Asakusa has its own station on the Ginza subway line. When I got off the subway, I first stopped at the covered shopping arcade. The shopping arcade is a great place to shop for souvenirs for your friends and family. Some of the more expensive items such as kimono and swords sell for better prices elsewhere. Tokyo Cheapo has a great guide to buying kimono without spending a fortune.
Sensouji: Tokyo’s Famous Temple
Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction in Asakusa is Sensouji (Asakusa Kannon Temple). Sensouji is Tokyo’s oldest and most important temple. The temple is dedicated to Kannon boddhisattva, the Buddha of compassion. The story goes that the temple was founded in 628 CE. Legend has it that two fishermen found a statue of Kannon in the Sumida river. When the head of the village heard about the discovery, he took vows as a monk and built a temple in honor of Kannon.
Sensouji is one of Tokyo’s largest temples. The grounds at Sensouji even have Shinto shrine inside! The temple is famous for its bright red gates with giant paper lanterns. The main street leading to the temple, Nakamise-dori, has over two hundred years of history. Lots of food vendors and souvenir shops line Nakamise-dori. Come hungry and enjoy the unique taste of Japanese sweets. I really enjoyed the sakura buns and mango shaved ice!
The bright red Hozomon gate is an important cultural property. The second floor of the gate has a large collection of historical artifacts. Unfortunately, these cannot be viewed by the public. However, many of the halls are open to the public. When you walk past the main gate, you are hit with the smell of incense and the sound of chanting. I first stopped at the ritual purification fountain followed by a visit to the main hall. The highlight of the main hall (Kannondo) is the beautiful statue of Kannon bodhisattva . Next to the Kannondo is a five story pagoda which reportedly houses some of the ashes of the Buddha. Currently the pagoda is under renovation. Renovations will finish in 2017.
On weekends Sensouji fills with tourists. Come early if you want to avoid the crowd. The side buildings and gardens are much quieter. I took a moment to walk through the gardens next to Yogodo Hall. The gardens have a lovely waterfall.
Asakusa is the last station on the Ginza line. Sensouji is a short walk from the subway station.
Via Tokyo Station:
Take the Yamanote Line. Connect to the Ginza Line from either Ueno or Kanda Station. Exit at Asakusa Station.
Via Shinjuku Station:
Take the Chuo Line to Kanda Station. Connect to the Ginza line from Kanda Station. Alternately. take the Chuo line to Asakusabashi Station. Switch to the Asakusa line for Asakusa station.