Even though we’ve been before (a couple of times!), we took one of our afternoons in Tokyo last week to have a wander around Asakusa.
It’s definitely a neighbourhood of two halves: a very touristy side and a more authentic side.
I think we saw both.
We’d spent the morning wandering around Ueno Park in the winter sun, then decided to walk to Asakusa, rather than get the metro. The sun was out and we were dressed for the cold. Plus, I’d skipped the gym (again!) and was in need of burning a few calories to work off the previous evening’s gluttony…
The walk between the two was essentially a straight line, but across a part of Tokyo I think tourists rarely see. Domestic neighbourhoods, small businesses, people going about their normal day. As far from the likes of Ginza as you can imagine. We enjoyed a nice chat and stopped to look into the windows of various small shops – sometimes just trying to figure out what they actually sold. We weren’t always successful…
I really enjoy simply ducking down Tokyo’s backstreets to have a nose about. You often see the most amazing things, well off the beaten track. Though it sometimes leads to getting lost, you’re always safe and either Google Maps or a friendly local can get you back to where you’re headed.
Arriving in Asakusa, the first thing you notice is the volume of people taking photos. It reminded me of last year’s visit to Kyoto, when we spent a morning climbing through countless Tori gates in the sunshine… Selfie-sticks galore!
The highlight – for visitors, at least – is the Senso-Ji, a temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy. Wonderfully intricate and bright, it attracts tourists like a magnet, everyone wanting to get the perfect photos. I wasn’t immune to its charms, as the photos below demonstrate.
Once you’ve had a wander around the temple and the various other buildings in the plot, you pass through the very impressive Hozomon Gate, with its huge lanterns. Then, if you’re not paying attention, you get sucked into a long street with stalls on either side, packed to the gills with tourist tat! It’s fun to look at – if you can make it through the crowds – but seriously, there’s nothing worth buying there. If it’s small gifts for people at home you’re after, you can get better and cheaper elsewhere in Tokyo.
The hardest part of getting down this street is the crowds – both tourists and locals, all trying to get served at the stalls – particularly, the food stalls. We wandered off the beaten track and stumbled across the most amazing set of shopfront shutters that had been decorated with quasi-traditional Japanese figures. I just had to stop and take a look. And several photos!
If you’ve never been to Tokyo, combining Ueno Park (and its museums) and a quick look around Asakusa is a nice way to see some traditional perspectives and well-known sites in a single day. The park is especially beautifully landscaped and there are a few places to stop and grab a coffee. We lingered for quite a while, sitting outside a large Starbucks, sipping coffee and enjoying the feeling of sunshine on our faces.
All in all, a very relaxed afternoon in Tokyo.