There’s a lot to see in Asakusa which is why it has become one of the biggest tourist attractions of Tokyo.
The area around here is known as shitamachi (lower city), where you can get a feel of old Japan inside of the new Tokyo. The alleys, the artisans, temples, and theatre — and even the mom and pop shops have an old-world feel — a refreshing change of pace from the bustle of modern Tokyo.
Explore the Asakusa Station Area Without a Plan
The nice thing about pretty much any train station, but in particular this train station, is there are a plethora of things to find around them.
In fact, if you wanted to forgo an itinerary and do your own thing, you can’t go wrong just exploring around here without a specific plan.
Enrich Your Soul at the Historic Senso-Ji Temple
Founded more than 1,000 years before Tokyo even existed, Senso-Ji is the capital’s oldest temple. Legend has it two fisherman brothers pulled a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, out of the nearby Sumida River.
This temple was built to memorialize it. You’ll usually enter Senso-Ji at the first gate you come to after exiting Asakusa Station: the Kaminarimon Gate.
Check out the Dragon Engraving on the Kaminarimon Gate
“The Kaminarimon (雷門 “Thunder Gate”) is the outer of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Sensō-Ji (the inner being the Hōzōmon) in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. […] It stands 11.7 m tall, 11.4 m wide and covers an area of 69.3 m2. The first gate was built in 941, but the current gate dates from 1960 after the previous gate was destroyed in a fire in 1865.” –Wikipedia
Pro tip: Check out the lantern. The base of it is a really cool dragon engraving.
Go Souvenir Shopping on Nakamise-Dori, aka Nakamise Shopping Street
“Get a feel for old-school Tokyo at one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets, Nakamise-dori, which dates back to the 17th century. Most shops in this arcade have been run by the same families for several generations, serving souvenirs, top-class street food and irresistible snacks.” –JNTO
Note: “-dori” means street in Japanese. You’ll also hear Nakamise-dori referred to as Nakamise Shopping Street.
Pro tip: Most of the shops will close around 5:00 pm. But if you hang out you’ll be in for a nice surprise. The Senso-Ji temple area at night is beautiful.
When the shops close they pull down a shutter. Many will have intricate artwork painted on them. It’s quite a sight seeing rows and rows of murals.
Take Photos of the Grand Hozomon Gate
“The Hōzōmon (宝蔵門 “Treasure-House Gate”) is the inner of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Sensō-Ji […] A two-story gate (nijūmon), the Hōzōmon’s second story houses many of the Sensō-Ji’s treasures. The first story houses two statues, three lanterns, and two large sandals. It stands 22.7m tall, 21m wide, and 8m deep.” –Wikipedia
This is the gate you see in all the pictures about Senso-Ji. The massive gate “protecting” the main hall of the temple. It’s significantly larger than the Kaminarion Gate — and more interesting to look at too.
Stand in Awe of the 5-Storied Pagoda
The 5-storied pagoda is just a tiny bit past the Hozomon Gate. It’s easy to walk past it when you spot the main temple and head that way.
But it’s a pretty cool architecture to see so you should take some time to see it while here.
Learn About The Cheeky Tankuki at Chingo-do Temple
A relatively unknown temple, it’s actually a part of Senso-Ji but it has a separate entrance — so many miss it. I recommend it because it’s a tribute to the tanuki — a fun, merry, raccoon-like Japanese folklore character said to protect against fire and theft.
Which is why restaurants and homeowners often put them out in front as protection and good fortune.
Bang on Some Drums at the Taiko Drum Museum
With a massive variety of drums from all around the world, this is a place you want to check out while you’re here.
Of course, they have a good mix of the traditional Japanese taiko — but do you wanna know something really cool? This is not just a museum that you’ll find exhibits to look at but you can actually play them!
Watch Impressive Craft Demonstrations at the Edo Taito Traditional Crafts Center
If you are into old-Japan crafts and artisan exhibits and traditions, you’re in luck here this place is amazing.
They demonstrate the Edo-era cut glass techniques and more. It really is quite an experience to see. The Japanese have exceptional crafting traditions.
Don’t let the size fool you, the place is quite small but loaded with interesting things to see.
Watch Traditional Japanese Theater at Asakusa Mokubakan
Almost a decade back, I used to come here every New Year’s with my in-laws to watch the season’s new theatre works. It was a blast, even if I couldn’t understand what was being said.
This place is very popular among locals. You will find it very busy with the older crowd, as it seems the older generations appreciate this art form more.
As I mentioned, the price is ¥1,700 per person and they have two showtimes a day. One starting at 12:00 (noon), and the other at 5:00 pm. Both are 3.5-hour shows.
Laugh at Japanese Stand Up Comics at the Asakusa Engei Hall
The area around here is interesting because there are a plethora of little shops selling unique snacks, Japanese crafts, and even rickshaw rides.
The main attraction of the Engei Hall is the stand-up comedians who will play here from time to time. And yes, you can get in to see them if you buy your ticket quickly — they can sell out early.
Find All Sorts of Weird Goods at Don Quijote Asakusa
And last but not least, Don Quijote.
There are Don Quijote branches all over Tokyo, but there’s a reason I included it here.
The bright lights and fun architecture!
It’s straight outta Hollywood feeling. Like an old-time movie theater mixed with excellent architecture. It is a sight all by itself.
And it’s kind of fun to look around through all the unique and sometimes odd products they have for sale.