Asakusa is one of the few traditional quarters left in Tokyo. During the Edo period, it marked the northern limit of the city. It was where the outcaste such as the prostitutes, the yakusas and the priests (as strange a blend as it may seem) lived. Yoshiwara, the (in)famous pleasure quarter, was located in the northern part of Asakusa, not far from Sensō-ji Temple.
In the Meiji era, it was in Asakusa that the first imported entertainment from the West were tested. That is where the first public cinema opened, where the first Western operas were shown (at the Imperial Theater) and where the first music hall and striptease clubs made their appearance.
Sensō-ji Temple 浅草寺
Tourists flock to Asakusa to see the Sensō-ji, Tokyo's most famous Buddhist temple. According to the legend, in 628 two fishermen found a 50 cm high golden statue of the Buddhist goddess Kannon in the nearby Sumida river. The county chief Haji Nakatomo erected a small construction to shelter the statue. The building grew over time to become the vast Sensō-ji that can be seen today.
The temple's name uses the exact same Chinese characters as in Asakusa (浅草). The explanation is the the district name is read in kun'yomi (native reading) while the temple's name is read in on'yomi (Sino-Japanese reading). Place and people names in Japan almost always use the kun'yomi, as opposed to Buddhist temples, which favour the on'yomi (because Japanese Buddhism is a Chinese import).
Sensō-ji was destroyed by th American bombings during the WWII, so the present building is actually a faithful (but concrete) reconstruction from 1950.
The Kaminari-mon Gate (雷門, Thunder Gate), more formerly known as Hōzōmon (宝蔵門, Treasure-House Gate), near Asakusa station leads the way to the temple. It cannot be missed with its huge red lantern and two evil-looking protectors : Fujin (風神, God of Wind) and Raijin (雷神, God of Thunder).
Don't miss the five-storey pagoda (五重塔 gojū-no-tō) and Dempō-in (伝法院) Temple's beautiful gardens in the same complex as Sensō-ji.
Asakusa remains a place of entertainment since do and Meiji. It still possesses a few cinema and strip-tease clubs, but hs otherwise evolved to funny-looking tiny amusement parks and conspicuous pachinko parlours.
Boat excursions on the Sumida-gawa River are a popular way to get a glimpse at the mixture of old shitamachi districts and modern towers of East Tokyo. Asakusa is the main boarding place. On the opposite side of the river rises the Asahi Beer Headquarters, with its iconic giant golden ornament. It is said to represent a drop of beer, but its shape has led Tokyoites and tourists alike to think of it as a sort of "golden turd".
Most tourists visiting Asakusa will first encounter the small souvenirs shops along the Nakamise-dōri Street, between Kaminari-mon and Senso-ji. It is the ideal place to look for traditional (imitations of) Japanese goods such as yukata, red lanterns, lacquer boxes or buddhist statues.
The Matsuya Department Store sits right above the Tōbu-line Station. It lacks the glamour of its Ginza counterpart, but is still worth browsing.
Map of attractions around Asakusa and Ueno
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