The Old Town: Asakusa

Asakusa Collage

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Ginza Line

Asakusa is easily accessed through the Metro Ginza line. If you are coming from major city centers such as Tokyo or Ikebukuro, the best way to connect into the area is by taking the JR Yamanote line to Ueno and changing lines. Take the Asakusa exit, and you’ll be able to follow the crowds easily.

CULTURE

Asakusa - Culture

Asakusa is the place to find the flavor of old Tokyo. Although it is easy to walk around the city on foot, you may want to try taking a rickshaw. Most rickshaw drivers do know how to speak English and would be able to give you a guided tour. However, they are expensive costing around eight to ten thousand yen for half an hour.

One of the main attractions of the city is Senso-ji. “Senso” is another name for Asakusa and “ji” means temple. The Kaminari “Thunder” gate will greet you before you enter, followed by the street Nakamise Dori. This street stretches from the gate towards the temple itself. It’s made up of over 50 different souvenir shops. While it is convenient to do your shopping here all at once, the better alternative is to go to the side street where the souvenirs are cheaper. At the end of the street is another gate called Hozomon, guarded by gods. It is distinct from Kaminari because there is a giant Wajari “Straw Sandal” hung on one side.

As soon as you enter the main gate, you are welcomed by the Kannon Hall. Worshippers step in to waft incense towards them. On either side, you will also find a row of boxes containing fortunes. Everyone is encouraged to make a small offering, usually 100 yen. If you get a bad fortune, it’s customary to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to the metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple. They say that the bad fortune will wait by the temple rather than fasten itself towards the bearer.

Located on the right side of the temple is the Temizuya or water pavilion for Misogi “water purification”. Worshippers scoop up water in a ladle with their right hand and pour water over the left and vice versa. They use the remaining water to rinse the ladle. Sometimes, worshippers also pour water on their left hand and rinse their mouths with it. You cannot touch the ladle with your mouth. This step is optional. One thing to note also is that you only use one scoop of water for the whole ritual. They say this ritual washes away impurities from the heart and body.

Upon entering the shrine, you bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once to pray. Offerings are also made by throwing a coin to the offering box and ringing the bell.

Other notable places to see is the Asahi Beer Tower and Tokyo SkyTree. During the third weekend of May, a Shinto festival called Sanja Matsuri is held in honor of the three founders of Senso-ji. With traditional dances, banging of drums and large parades, it is easily known as one of the liveliest and entertaining events in Asakusa.

EAT

Asakusa - Food

Asakusa is famous for two things: tempura and senbei. In Nakamise Dori, traditional senbei “rice crackers” is cooked, flavored and sold on the spot. It is easily one of the most popular souvenirs for tourists. Personally, I enjoy ningyo-yaki more. This is a sweet pancake-like pastry filled with red bean paste. One of my favorite shops in Nakamise actually makes these on the spot. It’s only one for 60 yen! It goes together with green tea ice cream sold around the streets. Some seasons, you will also see a lot of pop-up street vendors who sell yakisoba, karaage (fried chicken) and my favorite, roasted sweet potatoes.

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