Asakusa (浅草) is the center of Tokyo's shitamachi (literally "low city"), one of Tokyo's districts, where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades survives.
Asakusa's main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries.
Asakusa can easily be explored on foot. Alternatively, you can consider a guided tour on a rickshaw (jinrikisha, literally "man powered vehicle"). A 30 minute tour for two persons costs around 9000 yen. Shorter and longer courses are also available.
For many centuries, Asakusa used to be Tokyo's leading entertainment district. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the district was still located outside the city limits, Asakusa was the site of kabuki theaters and a large red light district. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, modern types of entertainment, including movie theaters, set foot in Asakusa.
However, large parts of Asakusa were destroyed in the air raids of World War Two. And while the area around the rebuilt Sensoji has regained its former popularity after the war, the same cannot be said for Asakusa's entertainment district. The opening of the 634 meter tall Tokyo Skytree, a twenty minute walk across the Sumida River from Asakusa, has led to an increase of tourists recently.
Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate)
Hours: Always open
Kaminarimon is the first of two large entrance gates leading to Sensoji Temple. First built more than 1000 years ago, it is the symbol of Asakusa. The Nakamise shopping street leads from Kaminarimon to the temple grounds.
Hours: 6:00 to 17:00 (from 6:30 October to March)
Sensoji ("Senso" is an alternative reading for Asakusa and "ji" means temple) is Tokyo's most famous and popular temple. Built in the 7th century, it is also one of its oldest, although the current buildings are postwar reconstructions.
Hours: Always open
Asakusa Shrine, also known as Sanja-sama, was built during the Edo Period and survived the air raids of 1945. The shrine's festival, the Sanja Matsuri, is one of Tokyo's most spectacular and popular. It is held every year on a weekend (Friday to Sunday) in mid May.
Not usually open to the public
Dempoin is a temple just next to Sensoji, known for its beautiful garden. Unfortunately, the temple and garden are not open to the public. Visiting the garden by appointment, as it used to be possible, cannot be done anymore, either.
Nakamise Shopping Street
Hours depend on the individual shops; typically daily from 9:00 to 19:00
The Nakamise shopping street stretches over approximately 250 meters from Kaminarimon to the main grounds of Sensoji Temple. It is lined by more than 50 shops, which offer local specialties and the usual array of tourist souvenirs.
Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street
Hours depend on the individual shops; typically daily from 10:00 to 20:00.
Shin-Nakamise or "New Nakamise" runs perpendicular to the Nakamise Shopping Street. It is a covered shopping arcade lined by various shops and restaurants.
Kappabashi Shopping Street
Hours: Most shops open from 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: Many shops are closed on Sundays and national holidays
Kappabashi is an almost one kilometer long street lined by shops catering to restaurant businesses. Items on sale include tableware, kitchen utensils and appliances, sample food, furniture, signs, lanterns and uniforms.
Hours: 10:00 to 20:00 (3rd floor until 21:00)
Restaurant floor: 11:00 to 23:00
Marugoto Nippon is a large four-story building that features made-in-Japan products from all across the country. Food products from the different prefectures can be found on the first floor while lifestyle goods can be found on the second. The third floor is an event space, and restaurants are found on the fourth floor. There is also a hotel above the shopping floors.
Rox Department Store
Shops: Daily 10:30 to 21:00 (supermarket is open 24 hours)
Restaurants: Daily 11:00 to 22:00
Rox is a shopping and entertainment complex consisting of a main building (Rox) and three annex buildings (Rox2G, Rox3 and Rox Dome). Many shops sell fashion for ladies and kids. There is a 24h supermarket in the basement.
Tobu Asakusa Station & Matsuya Department Store
Matsuya department store is open daily from 10:00 to 20:00
Tobu Asakusa Station is the terminal station of Tobu trains heading into the suburbs and prefectures north of Tokyo, including trains to Nikko. The station building also houses a Matsuya department store that spans eight floors.
Asakusa Underground Street
Hours depend on the individual shops
The Asakusa Underground Street (Asakusa Chikagai) is one of the oldest underground shopping streets in Japan. The short passageway connects the Tobu Asakusa Station to the Shin Nakamise Shopping Street and contains about 20 shops and restaurants. The arcade looks like it has remained unchanged since the Showa Period (1926-1989), and visitors may feel like they walked into a throwback alleyway.
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
Hours: 9:00 to 20:00 (observation deck until 22:00)
Closed: No closing days
The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center was newly opened in 2012, adding diversity to the streets of Asakusa with its interesting architectural design. The eight story building offers a tourist information desk in multiple languages, free wifi connectivity, a cafe, and an observation deck which provides good views looking onto Sensoji Temple and the Nakamise Shopping Street.
Sumida River Cruise
Tokyo Water Bus operates sightseeing ships every 30 to 60 minutes from Asakusa Pier via Hama Rikyu Garden to Hinode Pier, where you can transfer to a ship to Odaiba. In addition, there are less frequent, direct ships from Asakusa to Odaiba.
Hours: Always open
This riverside park stretches along both sides of Sumida River for several hundred meters. In spring it becomes a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, while on the last Saturday of July it becomes the site of the Sumida River Firework.
Rokku Entertainment District
Opening hours depend on the individual businesses.
Rokku used to be Tokyo's leading entertainment district before the war, hosting Japan's first cinema and more. However, the district has not regained its former popularity after the war. Today, Rokku offers attractions such as rakugo theaters, cinemas and pachinko parlors.
Hanayashiki Amusement Park
Hours: 10:00 to 18:00 (longer hours during holidays)
Admission: 1000 yen plus separate fees for rides
Originally opened as a flower park, Hanayashiki has a history of more than 150 years. Located just a few steps from Sensoji, the miniature amusement park offers numerous attractions, including a small Ferris wheel, roller coaster, carousel and Space Shot.
Asahi Beer Tower
Restaurants open daily from 11:30 to 22:00
The Asahi Beer Tower and Asahi Super Dry Hall with its characteristic Flamme d'Or were, completed in 1989 and host the headquarters of Asahi Breweries. Furthermore, several restaurants can be found in the complex. Behind both the Beer Tower and the Super Dry Hall is the Asahi Craftmanship Brewery. The restaurant and brewery offers diners decently priced lunches as well as Asahi craft beer on tap.
Taikokan (Drum Museum)
Hours: 10:00 to 17:00
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays, New Year and Obon
Admission: 500 yen
Drums from around the world, including Japanese taiko drums, are exhibited in this small museum. Visitors can play several of the drums. The museum is located in a floor above the Miyamoto Unosuke Nishi Asakusa store, which sells Japanese drums and festival goods.
Jakotsuyu Public Bath
Hours: 13:00 to 24:00 (entry until 23:40)
Closed: Tuesdays (open if Tuesday is a national holiday)
Jakotsuyu is a local public bath with a relatively long history. Visitors can mingle with the locals who frequent the bath. Towels and amenity kits are sold at the counter, making it convenient for travelers.
Hours: 11:30 to 22:00 (last order at 21:30)
Kamiya Bar in Asakusa opened in Meiji 13 (1880) and has been in the same location ever since. It is one of Japan's oldest bars as well as the only producer of the drink denki bran - a type of brandy concoction - in the country. The bar has three stories, and the one on street level is the most popular. Kamiya Bar also has a window store that sells souvenir bottles of denki bran.
Hours: 10:00 to 20:00
Umezono is a traditional Japanese sweets shop that started in 1854. Their menu contains classics like anmitsu and oshiruko in addition to seasonal favorites like shaved ice (kakigori). The shop also has a window store that sells yokan, dorayaki and other desserts to go.
Suzukien Nanaya Gelato
Hours: 10:00 to 17:00
Closed: Third Wednesday of the month
Asakusa Suzukien Nanaya Gelato is a collaboration between Suzukien, a green tea speciality shop, and Nanaya Gelato, a gelato shop. The store claims to have the richest and most intense green tea (matcha) gelato in the world. The popular shop offers about fourteen gelato flavors including seven matcha ones.
Hours: 9:00 until sold out
Asakusa Kagetsudo is a melon-pan store and restaurant that has been in business since 1945. Melon-pan is a sweet baked bread with a top that resembles the outer layer of a cantaloupe melon. Kagetsudo is most famous for their jumbo melon-pan which is best eaten warm, but also sells variations of their melon-pan that come with ice cream fillings. Japanese desserts, as well as savoury foods like soba noodles are also sold at the restaurant.
Hours depend on shops; typically daily from 11:30 to 20:00
There are a number of tempura shops in Asakusa, offering delicious deep fried seafood and vegetables. The area flourished in the Edo Period as a tempura location thanks to the availability of seafood products from nearby Tokyo Bay. The more well-known tempura restaurants include Daikokuya, San Sada and Owariya.
Hours depend on shops; typically 11:30 to 13:30 and 17:30 to 19:30
There are also a handful of established unagi-ya (freshwater eel restaurants) in the area with histories of at least a hundred years. Unagi, or freshwater eel, is relatively expensive with prices starting at 2000 yen for lunch and more for dinner. Well known unagi-ya in Asakusa include Irogawa, Hatsuogawa and Maekawa.
Asakusa is served by the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line, Tsukuba Express and Tobu Railways. It can also be accessed by the Tokyo Water Bus.
From Tokyo Station
Take the JR Yamanote Line to Kanda Station (2 minutes, 140 Yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 Yen).
From Shinjuku Station
Take the orange JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station (10 minutes, 170 Yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 Yen).
information source: japan-guide.com