Asakusa, Japan, let's you step back in time

Asakusa, Japan, let's you step back in time

by MC2 Matthew Duncker
NAF Atsugi

In northeast Tokyo, at the very end of the Ginza Line on the Tokyo Metropolitan Subway, lies a part of the city that has existed for over a century when Tokyo was known as Edo. This particular district of the city, Asakusa, lies next to Taito City and is known for its reverence to the past history and culture of Japan.

Asakusa was originally established as Edo’s entertainment district. While today other areas of the city, such as Shibuya and Roppongi have become synonymous with entertainment, it has not diluted this neighborhood from still being a very busy tourist destination. Asakusa has become world renowned for its temples, restaurants and shops selling traditional Japanese souvenirs.

South of Asakusa Station is the enormous Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate). This gate was originally built 941 and has been repaired and rebuilt several times over the years, the last being in 1960. The most notable features that immediately stand out are the two Shinto deities that stand watch over the gate, Raijin and Fujin, the gods of thunder and wind who are the namesakes of the gate. At its center is a giant red lantern and if you look underneath there is an ornate carving of a dragon. The gate itself is a popular spot for photos and the entrance way to the rest of Asakusa.

Once visitors pass through the gate they come to Nakamise-dōri, a long street of shops selling various goods and snacks for visitors to the area. Wafting through the air is the smell of baked sweets, roasted nuts and yakitori. Here visitors can get the aforementioned food but also buy traditional Japanese gifts such as kimonos, geta (traditional Japanese sandals) and ukiyo-e prints (wood block paintings). Various izakayas and shops are featured on streets that branch off the main strip.

At the end of Nakamise-dōri, beyond the Hōzōmon or “Treasure House Gate” lies Sensō-ji Temple, Asakusa Shrine and Asakusa Temple. Sensō-ji Temple is the most famous of the three as it is Tokyo’soldest temple, being founded around 645 AD. Sensō-ji is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, is the most widely visited spiritual site in the world with over 30 million visitors annually. Guests can participate in temizu, a Shinto washing ritual. The smell of incense permeates as a large basin in the center of the shrine area is designated for guests to light incense and pray.

While Asakusa is outside of many of the normal tourist destinations it is certainly one steeped in the history and culture of both Tokyo and the nation of Japan. It is an important area to seek and explore in a land that has a deep and storied history.

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