Asakusa, its market and the Senso-ji shrine are all important parts of any visit to Tokyo. But more than elsewhere, there is a special vibe, the Asakusa vibe which is present in that area and makes so lovable, despite the huge number of tourists.

The senso-ji market

The first thing tourists encounter when exiting the metro at the final station of Asakusa is the Nakamise shopping street. The second next thing is a lot of ladies and gentlemen in kimonos, but you should be aware that most of them are Asian tourists.

Asian tourists dressed in kimono
Many Asian tourists rent kimonos to pass the day taking pictures in kimono in Asakusa.

The main attraction of Asakusa market is probably the sweets and souvenirs (mostly made in China, but check the shop in a back alley selling knives). As a souvenir, you can get a samurai sword to open your letters!

Nakamise street another angle
Nakamise street and the bustling activity

Senso-ji the focal point of Asakusa

A previous post did talk about Senso-ji and the importance it had for Tokyo inhabitants as the oldest shrine of the city. To translate this in Western terms, you would have to imagine that Senso-ji occupies about the same affective and emotional space in the heart of Tokyoites as Notre Dame does for the Parisians.

Senso-ji shrine and the Tokyo radio tower
Senso-ji shrine and in the background, you can see the Tokyo radio tower.

It is also beloved by tourists, mainly because of that “Asakusa vibe”, where for a couple hours, you can imagine being a Japanese coming to this shrine (and mostly taking selfies).

Asian tourists in Yukata in front of senso-ji
Asian tourists dressed in Yukata (rather unusual in November) go to get the incense fumes on them as a blessing.

For Japanese, themselves, Senso-Ji is the place to go for praying for success, for thanksgiving and for a variety of other reasons. Something very interesting in Japanese shrines is the relative dearth of statues. Japanese pray to spirits (kami), and hence have no real need to see a statue, unlike, for example Chinese.

Kaminarimon
The Kaminarimon gate of Sensoji

Touristy occupations

Besides visiting Senso-ji, the Asakusa area is filled with shops offering to rent kimonos to tourists. Beyond dressing as Japanese, many tourists love to experience the feeling of being pulled in a hand-drawn rickshaw.

Asian tourists in kimono going for a rickshaw ride
Many tourists love to take a rickshaw to tour the Asakusa area.

And then, of course, there is the shopping for souvenirs. I found some cute designs in a shop selling bags made out of the fabric used for kimonos.

Japanese use a lot bicycles to move around for short distances, and it was the occasion for me of doing some panning shots in the low razing winter light.

Dance show

I was lucky as near Senso-ji, a folkloric group performed a traditional dance, one of those danced during the summer “matsuri” (the festivals).

A japanese girl performs a traditional dance
A japanese group performs a traditional dance

A lot of the tourists grouped around to watch the performance, Chinese tourists, of course, taking the lion’s share (a heavy and much present group all over my trips in Japan).

The show was great if short, but I believe that watching an actual matsuri in summer really allows you to experience the beauty of these ancestral traditions.

Japanese ladies at a Matsuri
Japanese ladies at a Matsuri in summer (from Pixbay)

Japanese folklore is every bit as complex and as refined as the society and it is a pleasure to watch it.

Asakusa: the place to be!

Even if the more trendy aspects of Tokyo appeal to you, make sure however that you give Asakusa a try. Despite the heavy touristic presence, you can still see traces of the original Japan there.

Be respectful and polite however, as this is a place of worship, and you should respect the beliefs of the Japanese. Japanese, if you are polite and kind, generally will understand and be very glad if you ask them if you can take a picture of them.

Two young girls in kimono
The two young girls very kindly posed for me with their ceremony kimonos.

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