Guide to Asakusa Shops
Asakusa is located Tokyo's Shitamachi, or "lower city". The Shitamachi district of Tokyo is a place where the old ways not only survive but flourish alongside modernization. It is named the "lower city" because, in the Edo period, this was the red light district, then considered a "lower" form of entertainment. These days the "red light" aspects of entertainment have disappeared but have been replaced with more socially acceptable forms of entertainment like shopping, cinemas and restaurants. On our way to see the Senso-ji Shrine, we passed the enormous "Don Quijote" superstore beside Asakusa station. Don Quijote sells everything from snacks, to souvenirs, costumes, electronics, cosmetics and clothes. They have over 160 stores throughout Japan but their biggest, open 24 hours, is the one in Asakusa. It is easy to spot with their giant penguin mascot front and centre, two storeys tall!
Their Halloween decorations were pouring out the front door, and I could not help but stop inside. While we were browsing, a man approached us and said, "I am so sorry to bother you, but I sat beside the two of you on the plane, and I thought it was so crazy to see you again, I just had to say hello." What a coincidence in a city of millions of people! His name was Justice (yes you got that right) and we chatted with him for a few minutes before he headed off, leaving us to our shopping. It was then we thought, that he might be able to help us out with a problem we would be struggling with all day. Dan had been attempting to buy tickets to a Wrestling event in various convenience stores this morning but had no luck. There was a certain point where the English translations just dropped off the machine, and we were left with the inability to get what we wanted. Once we realised the opportunity that had presented itself to us, we ran off in search of him. Luckily, he had not gone far, and Dan was able to enlist his help with gusto. He was so kind taking time out of his day to help us out with ours.
Alas, even Justice, who spoke and could read Japanese fluently couldn't figure it out. He had to ask the owner of the store, who then had to ask someone else, who then had to call up the company. It turns out.....they were sold out. We were so touched by everyone's dedication and kindness. Despite not being able to find the tickets, we felt very luckily to have had such a kind experience right off the bat in this new country. Justice gave us some advice about where to go and what to see while we were in Tokyo. We bought him a coffee as a thank you and said goodbye.
We headed off in the direction of Senso-ji temple. As we got closer to the temple, the storefronts changed from superstores and grocery chains to more traditional shops, selling Japanese treats and textile souvenirs. As we walked, I spotted a 'dango' stand selling fresh treats. Dango is a sweet Japanese mochi dumpling, made from pounded rice. It is often served with green tea and sold on wooden sticks. They come in all sorts of flavours, green tea, red bean and even soy sauce!
We decided to try the 'Mitarashi' dango, which are covered in a thick, glossy sauce made of soy sauce, sugar and starch. We also tried the 'Kinako' dango, which had soy flour generously sprinkled on top. The Kinako dango was delicious, the soy flour tasted like powdered sugar, and it was very sweet and the bitter green tea complimented it so well. The Mitarashi, on the other hand, was not our cup of tea. Dan probably would have spit it right out if we were not sitting in a quiet tea room, surrounded by the chefs. He politely set it back down and whispered quietly to me, "nope...nope...nope" I tried to like it, I wanted to like it, but I just didn't. It was much too savoury, and the sauce was cold as ice. Either way, we were proud to have given it a shot and trying something new. We finished our tea and tried to hide the remains the best we could as we snuck out the side door.
Along the side streets of Asakusa, leading towards the temple, were soft serve ice cream shops selling the most vibrantly coloured treats! They had a myriad of flavours to choose from and the line up for these delightful treats was pooling out the door.
Another treat you can spot along your walk to Asakusa is their famous 'senbei rice crackers'. These crackers are grilled and then wrapped in seaweed. These shops also sell senbei rice crackers which are like American "rice crispy squares". They are made from sweet rice, peanuts and syrup, but their squares have been sold on streets like this since the Edo period. Long before Snap, Crackle and Pop got their act together.
Filled with treats, we continued on our way to Senso-ji temple.