Asakusabashi Area

I can tell you’re already asking yourself: why would anyone want to get off the train in this obscure neighborhood? Come with me, and let me show you the three hidden wonders hiding amid the drab streets of Asakusa-bashi!

These dolls aren’t toys—they have the power to heal, grant wishes and delay a daughter’s marriage if left out too long

#1: The dollmakers

This is the neighborhood where they make and sell the amazing doll sets for Girls’ Day, and miniature samurai armor for Boys’ Day. And they aren’t just decorative – the dolls made here can countermand curses, heal illness, and (if left out too long after the Doll Festival) delay marriage for daughters in the family. And because they’re sacred, they can’t be thrown away when they get old – they have to be cremated in a special ceremony at a shrine.

Not surprisingly, these dolls have been elevated to a high art, and sets made by the most famous artisans can cost upwards of $10,000!

A full set includes seven ranks of dolls: the emperor and empress at the top, followed by three shrine maidens, five court musicians, the Minister of the Right and the Minister of the Left (no, seriously, that’s what they were really called!), five wise men (who are usually portrayed grimacing in the three stages of drunkenness – anger, weeping & laughter – then two steps arrayed with household goods
The hina-sama usually get their day in the sun on their own version of the Red Carpet, but in families scrabbling for ways to spend even MORE money, some get their own palaces
These sacred dolls are also works of art, and some sets cost upwards of $10,000.
But let’s take a closer look at the empress dolls. They’re usually dressed in ju-ni-hitoe, the twelve-layered kimonos that were fashionable in Heian times
If your favorite part of The Tale of Genji is the descriptions of how the twelve colors were layered to send seasonal messages of love and longing as eloquent as any poem, you’ll go a good kind of crazy looking at real-life examples of every possible combo on these dolls
In April, armor displays for Boys' Day go on sale.
For most of the year, the showrooms are filled with Girls’ Day dolls, but after March 3rd, they’re replaced by armor displays for Boys’ Day (May 5th)

There are doll sellers sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, but the grandest emporium is Kyūgetsu, right across from Asakusa-bashi Station.


But dolls aren’t the only reason to come to Asakusa-bashi. The reason I’m usually there is to drop some cash at one of Tokyo’s best-kept shopping secrets…

Reason #2 – Shimojima!

Shimojima is an eight-story store that sells everything from killer origami kits to Mr. Toast masks. This is a great place to get gifts for people back home, or to stock up on only-in-Japan must-have items for yourself, at bargain prices!

Who wouldn’t want an origami sushi kit?
Or some excellent Japanese and Western kitchen gadgets, like these letter stamps that I nearly wear out on every holiday cookie and pie season
Or these gift boxes that you don’t even have to put anything inside of to make people feel like they scored the best present ever

Here’s a detailed guide to what’s on every floor, or go on your own magical treasure hunt and discover its delights for yourself!


And the third reason to come to Asakusabashi is for crafters (although if you don’t want to check a second bag on your way home, I’d recommend you save yourself and stay away!) because Asakusabashi is home to a whole bunch of stores that are…

#3: Crafter Heaven

The beading and jewelry-making stores have every kind of bead, finding and chain you can imagine, in every size and color
Including some kits with only-in-Japan designs
And if you can’t resist working on what you bought RIGHT NOW, some stores have workrooms you can use for free, complete with all the tools you’ll need
But it’s not just bead stores – shops catering to paper crafts are common too, with all kinds of swoon-worthy equipment, like these punches

Most stores open from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm


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

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