Asakusa is a blend of old and new Tokyo, featuring an ancient temple alongside the modern spectacle of iconic skyscrapers. For new visitors, it is definitely worth putting on the bucket list of sites to visit in Tokyo. A good place to start would be at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre. They have a free observation deck, and the elevation offers a nice view of the main attractions and some respite from the crowds below. If you have more time to spare, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre also offers walking tours, and cultural experiences for tourists such as Japanese calligraphy, Shamisen music or Nihon Buyo dance. It is a great (and free) way to enjoy a taste of traditional Japanese cultural activities.
Kaminarimon Gates is unarguably the landmark that tourists look for upon arrival in Asakusa, as they make their way through narrow streets of shops and restaurants to reach the famous Sensō-ji Temple. Sensō-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and visually arresting as well with its iconic red architecture, its lanterns, and sprawling grounds. It is a little slice of the past sandwiched between the newer buildings that have since sprouted around it.
You can also view modern architecture in Asakusa. There is the iconic Tokyo Skytree, the Asahi Group Head Office Building designed like a beer glass, and the accompanying Asahi Flame, whose inventive design has unfortunately earned it a naughty little nickname from locals. Can you guess what it is?
Located just behind Sensō-ji Temple is Nakamise Shopping Street. It is easily a star attraction in its own right. It is lined on both sides with shops selling local souvenirs, traditional snacks and everything you never knew you wanted. Vendors compete for your attention at every turn, and you might just find yourself picking up some lovely Japanese fans, a new umbrella, or more than a few hair accessories. It is quite popular to rent Kimono or Yukata as well, and why not, when there are so many fantastic opportunities for photographs here. During festivals and special occasions, the entire street is also decorated, making it even more colourful and attractive.
All that shopping is bound to make you hungry, but there are many good choices here for a quick snack break! Melon Pan (bread) is one of the snacks that you must try in Asakusa, and it is said that it got its name from the sugary crust that gives the impression of melon skin. The bread is sweet, with a crispy cookie-like crust and soft interior. It can be enjoyed on its own, but is sometimes paired with ice cream or a sweet filling.
One of the most famous Melon Pan shops in Asakusa is Kagetsudo Asakusa, and you will easily find it because of the long queues. It is one of the most famous Melon Pan stores in Tokyo! They also have a relaxing cafe space, where you can enjoy Japanese sweets such as Anmitsu and shaved ice.
Another snack worth trying would be Senbei (rice cracker). A popular shop to buy this would be at Waizumiya, where you can choose from a wide variety of flavours. There are both sweet and savoury options, such as seaweed, soy sauce, or plum sugar. They also sell a super cute neko senbei, shaped like a cat.
Follow your nose to Asakusa Menchi, where the smell of freshly fried croquettes is too tempting to resist. The croquette is made with onions and minced meat, and is always served hot and juicy. It attracts a large crowd at all times of the day, and some people even say that it is the best croquette they have ever tasted!
Juxtaposed against the ultramodern Tokyo Skytree, the streets of Asakusa seem even more quaint and charming. Asakusa somehow manages to blend both new and old Tokyo in one place. I take a step back and observe my surroundings. Around me, lots of happy tourists getting a perfect shot of the gates with the giant lantern. Above me, the two guardians of the gate stand stoic and formidable, a tribute to tradition as the world, Japan included, rolls on...
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