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Asakusa hotels, Tokyo

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Exploring Tokyo’s Asakusa District

Tokyo’s major entertainment and theatre district until after WWII, Asakusa is part of the Shitamachi (Old Town) area of the vast city of Tokyo. Set on the north-eastern fringe of Tokyo’s downtown area along the banks of the River Sumida, Asakusa is famed for its Senso-ji Temple and is home to the city’s most popular festival, the Sanjo Matsuri in May, which sees millions of Tokyo residents and visitors crowding around the narrow streets.

The shopping street between the temple’s Thunder Gate and the entrance has been a hub for traditional stores for hundreds of years, and its side alleyways lead to Asakusa’s massive covered market streets. Although the district suffered major destruction and rebuilding during the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, it’s one of the few places where the tiny, traditional wooden houses, ryokan inns and traditional bathhouses can still be found. Geishas no longer wander the streets, and the entertainment venues have moved on to Shinjuku and Roppongi, but Tokyoites still adore the area for its ancient heritage.

Sights nearby

Spending an afternoon, or even a day, wandering around Shitamachi and its varied districts including Asakusa is the best way to get to grips with the fascinating history of Tokyo and of Japan itself.

Senso-ji Temple
The temple grounds begin at the Kaminarimon gate, flanked by its guardians and featuring a giant black and scarlet paper lantern decorated to suggest thunder and lightning. The gate leads to Nakamise-dori Street with its tiny shops selling yukata (summer kimonos), traditional hair ornaments, fans and combs, religious items and other peculiarly Japanese artifacts and snacks. The Hozomon Gate at the end of the little street leads to the inner complex of the temple itself, the oldest in Tokyo, and its massive pagoda. Dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the structure is reputedly home to a magical image of the goddess and is set in a beautiful Japanese garden.

Nishinomiya Inari Shrine
This charming small Shinto shrine and its torii gate are found behind Senso-ji and were built in 1727 to guard the temple from unfriendly spirits. The deity Inari, supported by his fox-spirit messengers, is revered for his protection of the country’s business community, with Inari shrines easily identified by their proliferation of small torii gates and fox images. The main shrine, Fushimi-Inari, is found in the southern part of Kyoto and is a must-see if you’re planning to visit the city.

Kappabashi-Dori
Kappabashi Street lies at the edge of the Asakusa district, and is crammed with shops selling not only essential kitchen tools and equipment such as the amazingly sharp Japanese cooking knives, but also the incredibly lifelike models of traditional foods and ingredients displayed by the plateful in the windows of local restaurants all over Japan. The replicas make great souvenirs as well as making it easy for non-Japanese visitors to order their lunch or dinner by just pointing at their preferred dish.

Eating and drinking and shopping nearby

Although there’s a great choice of hotels in the Asakusa district, including traditional ryokans such as Ryokan Kamogawa as well as modern hotels including Hotel Keihan Asakusa, it’s fun to wander the district in search of a local eatery and its traditional recipes. Sushi, sashimi and noodle dishes are popular here although in the covered market area you’ll find fast food outlets and supermarkets offering ready packaged meals. The covered market isn’t just about food as it’s crammed with tiny shoe and clothes stores, kimono shops, homeware outlets and jewellery shops.

Public transport

Getting into Asakusa via the excellent Tokyo Metro network is easy, as the district is the terminus of the Ginza Line, which runs through the downtown area close by major hotel districts. The suburban commuter Toei Asakusa line stops at Asakusa’s rail station close to the Sumida River just a short walk from Senso-ji, and taxis are easily hired on the street.

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