History of Asakusa
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!
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. 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.
Before entering Sensoji Temple, you'll first pass through Nakamise shopping street. The street is over 100 years old and 250 meters long. The name means “inside street”, as the road is technically located within the temple grounds. You'll pass under the Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate" as you enter.
These days the shops mainly sell different types of tourist souvenirs, and although you might seem dubious to buy anything here since it looks like a tourist trap, I found that the prices here were more than reasonable! Shops like these have served up traditional Japanese food and local crafts for more than hundreds years. So don’t be afraid to pick something up! I’m not saying you’ll get the best deal, but by no means are you paying top dollar. This is one of the reasons I like going through the back. This way you get to experiment all the wonders of the temple, and then shops to your heart's content.
This is the perfect place to get all your souvenir shopping done. One of my favourite gifts to bring home are chopsticks. So many people use them and the unique and beautiful designs they have here are sure to impress whomever you buy them for.
If you're looking for a traditional Yukata or Kimono there are hundreds of different patterns and designs to chose from here. You can also find some gently used sets which are just as gorgeous but much less expensive. The shop owners are happy to assit and find you the perfect fit.
If you're visiting in the warmer months, these fans are an adorable accessory to any outfit.