TOKYO — Asakusa is a great neighborhood to spend some time in and, dare we say it, base your weekend in Tokyo around. It’s close to both airports (Haneda and Narita) by train, full of shops and interesting sights, has a nice old-Tokyo character, and has many restaurants to eat great food.
♠ Following are some highlights and tips for Tokyo’s Asakusa district. We spent a quick weekend there and enjoyed it. Arriving at night, in the pouring late November rain, we checked in at our beautiful hotel, then walked down the pretty streets and were saved by the overhead roof of the Shin-Nakamise Shopping street, which gave us hours of entertainment away from the cold and rain and with ready access to great inexpensive food. Although late at night temples and shops are mostly closed, everything is illuminated and picturesque. For part of a day in Tokyo, we took the easily accessible trains to other areas of the city (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tsujiki, Akihabara, etc.) before retreating to our home Asakusa neighborhood in the late evening. The last day, we spent shopping, eating, petting owls at an owl cafe (yes, really), and enjoying the atmosphere of the area. Read on.
DO: Definitely visit Sensoji Temple, a main tourist attraction in the area (it’s Tokyo’s most-visited temple!) and worth seeing, as the city’s oldest temple, as well. Definitely see the neighboring Kaminarimon Gate which is at the entrance to the temple, and can be found by looking for the busiest photograph-taking area along the main street. Try the Tokyo Water Bus, from Asakusa Pier, to more distant places like Odaiba (the only thing that kept us from riding the Water Bus was the length of time it’d take to get to Odaiba). The Asahi Beer Tower, the beer company’s official headquarters, is adorned with the area’s infamous yellow sideways flame (it has been called the “golden poo” to give you an idea) atop the building which kind of mutates the area’s skyline but has a few restaurants and a bar with nice views (although pricey). Another idea: owl cafes, popular in Tokyo, can be found in Asakusa (but be aware that you could be saddened by the experience as the owls aren’t exactly free to live normally.) Also, the Hanayashiki Amusement Park has been in business since the late 1800’s! Then, visit pretty Sumida Park.
EAT: We loved Nova Sushi for its fair prices, futuristic ordering system (complete with screens for ordering food which arrives quickly on a conveyor belt), and good food. We wonder how many years before we see such an incredible system in Canada. We were lucky to stumble upon this place! As well, Asakusa has lots of izakaya and yakitori restaurants, and tons of ramen places. We stumbled upon Ramen Yukikage and thought it was fantastic. Try the Egg Tempura. Then stroll around the area and try some random treats, like the match-cream-filled waffle fish. Like beer? Check out Campion Ale, a British-style brewery, or Miyata Beer, a small local brewery across the river. Asakusa has a few 24/7 spots and we had fun one late night at with some good late-night eats (funny enough, we still cannot figure out the name of it as it seemed to only be printed in Japanese – if anyone knows the English name of the restaurant in the left photo below, please let us know!).
SHOP: Walk through the Nakamise Dori shopping area, which takes you to the temple, but don’t stop to spend money unless you want to pay inflated prices for ultra-touristy goods. It’s certainly a pretty picture, though. We really enjoyed Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street as it was full of restaurants and shops, some offering good deals on quality goods. Kappabashi Shopping Street (aka ‘Kitchen Town’) is restaurant-related shops catering to the food industry which we weren’t able to visit but would’ve loved to check out (although it’s not the place to go for food!). Timeout calls it “every chef’s dream district”. Don Quijote is a 24/7 one-stop-shop for everything you might need and we found it a great place for souvenirs, alcohol, and any type of late-night shopping. ROX is a department store that has a 24hr grocery section.
SEE: The view from the Tokyo Skytree would be worth seeing, but it’s higher up and views can depend on the weather (and I prefer to see the surroundings from a lower viewpoint), and Tokyo Cheapo calls it “expensive tourist trap we suggest you avoid”. Besides, the best views include the Skytree, a really cool building, so why would you pay a lot to see the area without the Skytree in the background? I would recommend the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center for an 8th-floor observation deck overlooking the area (as well as free wifi, a cafe, and tourist info). For a great view from your hotel, we loved the view from the 12th floor lobby and 13th floor bar (open to guests only) at the The Gate Hotel (see below under ‘Stay’). Further: while in Asakusa, look for Geisha, which you may not see many of anywhere else in Tokyo!
STAY: We would highly recommend The Gate Hotel Asakusa Kaminarimon by HULIC, which is right in the middle of it all and offers great views, a great 13th-floor terrace, and a comfortable stay (see our full review here). There are a lot of good hostels (for example, Bunka Hostel looks intriguing) and other types of stays in the area. The best part of staying in Asakusa is that prices tend to be lower than staying more central (yes, Asakusa is further on the outskirts of Tokyo but still really quick and easy to get anywhere).
♣ Overall, we loved Asakusa moreso for the atmosphere and the low-rise, old-town atmosphere set amidst the big metropolis of Tokyo, a taste of the old Tokyo. It offers a change of pace from the big-city hyperactivity in some of the more popular (more expensive) areas of the city.