Asakusa Area

The Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) – gateway to Senso-ji temple and the Nakamise-dori shopping street

This is where I often take people on their first day in Tokyo. It’s everything you think Japan should be – traditional festivals, a secret garden, temples & more. Asakusa is a lively, traditional, truly Japanese neighborhood. There’s a huge Buddhist temple, and shops that sell goods and food still made the way they’ve been doing it for centuries.

First, let’s take advantage of Nakamise-dori, the shopping street leading to Senso-ji temple.

Most of the shops along this street have been making and selling traditional Japanese goods for generations

Start at the Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) and ogle the fun stuff in the stores as we pass.

Shichi-go-san store
This store sells all the accessories girls need to go with their kimonos on the Shichi-Go-San childrens’ coming-of-age day.
You can find lots of fun only-in-Japan stuff on Nakamise-dori too.
You can find lots of fun only-in-Japan stuff on Nakamise-dori too.
Snacks like taiyaki (filled with sweet red bean jam) and sembe (rice crackers) are still made fresh each day in Asakusa.
Senso-ji temple is at the very end of the shopping street
Incense urn
In front of the temple is a huge incense urn. Waft the smoke toward yourself for good luck and good health. Once I even saw someone capturing the smoke in a ziplock baggie to take home to an ailing relative.

Let’s buy a bundle of incense for ¥100 at the window to the right. We’ll light it in the burner near the window, then stick it upright in the giant urn and go up the steps and look into the temple itself. Make an offering and a wish if you like. At Buddhist temples, you don’t need to clap – just toss your offering coin, bow, fold your hands, make a wish, and bow again before you leave.

The side gate changes color as you watch as you watch
At night Senso-ji temple is lit up like an amazing stage set. The side gate lighting changes color as you watch!
Even in the rain, this temple is spectacular
At night, this temple is spectacular.
The buildings are all theatrically lit, and it’s well worth going out of your way to stroll through it after dark
Old and new side by side in Asakusa: the pagoda at Senso-ji temple and Skytree

Back down the steps, let’s turn left. See the little park with all the statues in it? From here, it’s a short walk to two more fun spots – the Lucky Cat Matchmaking Shrine

The Imado Shrine is where you go to shriek “kawaii!” at the adorable kitty stuff and pray for the perfect SO.


and the shop where they sell the world’s most beautiful lollipops.

The master artist at Ameshin hancrafts each of his animal lollipops using age-old techniques. You can watch him work and browse the lollipops for sale, each more beautiful than the last.


Asakusa is home to some of Tokyo’s most spectacular traditional festivals. Find out if one is happening while you’re in town here.

Festivals are accompanied by many special outdoor performances, vendor booths, and exhibitions of traditional craft making. Asakusa’s Senso-ji attracts an especially lively variety of traditional jugglers, singers, and storytellers, as well as offering activities like archery booths and carnival-like games of skill. Traditional festival food booths are well-represented: yakitori, oden, yakisoba, and of course, beer and sake.

Monkey trainers and other traditional Japanese entertainers often come to Asakusa festivals.
On festival days, there’s even a portable shrine for the children to carry through the streets

Especially good times to go to Asakusa:


•New Year’s (1/1-3): Many people visit the temple wearing kimono. If we come before midnight on New Year’s Eve, we can watch them ring the temple bell 108 times to bring in the new year.


• Setsubun (2/3 or 2/4): Bean-throwing ceremony. Many celebrities come to throw the beans at Senso-ji.

• Hari Kuyo (2/8): Memorial service for used sewing needles.

Needles are stuck into a block of tofu to give their spirits a soft place to rest after a lifetime of diligent service.


Cherry blossom season turns the walk along the Sumida River into a pink wonderland



• The hidden garden of Denpo-in is open to the public from the end of March to the second week in May.


• Flower Festival (4/8): Celebrating the birth of Buddha


The famous Sanja Matsuri is one of the biggest, most raucous festivals in all of Japan.

The portable shrines are carried through the streets for hours


• Bon Odori: Traditional dances take place at night to welcome back the spirits of ancestors.


Around the first weekend of November, the White Heron Dance is held in front of Senso-ji temple
Around the first weekend of November, the White Heron Dance is held in front of Senso-ji temple

Shichi-Go-San (11/15): For the “7-5-3” ceremony, families with children at these special ages flock to the temple for pictures, all dressed in their finest kimono. Although the actual day is the 15th, you can see many families visiting the temple in all their finery during the two weeks leading up to the actual day.


• Lucky Rake Festival: Rakes are sold in order to “rake in” money in the new year.


• Battledore Festival (12/17-19): Battledores – fancy decorated stylized badminton-like paddles – are sold for baby girls who have not yet turned one by New Years.

Several times a year, ceremonies with period costumes take place. This one is for the mounted archers, who shoot at targets from a galloping horse.

To check the current dates and details of festivals happening while you’re in Tokyo, zip over to Tokyo Cheapo.

The Asakusa Shrine (next to Senso-ji Temple) is a prime wedding spot. Weddings take place most often on Saturdays and Sundays.

Ready to leave Asakusa? Maybe we should ride the water bus! It’s fun to ride down the Sumida River, under many bridges, stopping at the Hama-Rikyu Gardens, Hinode Pier (Hamamatsu-cho Station), and Odaiba. The water bus is a great way to see all the cherry trees in bloom along the river in late March to early April (although the ticket line is long that time of year).

Tokyo’s newest tower – the Skytree – joins the Asahi beer building in the view along the Sumida River.


The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: