Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Asakusa at Twilight
If I had only a couple of hours to spend in Tokyo, I'd spend them in Asakusa. I'm so fond of Asakusa that I went back there today, my final day in Tokyo, for a second visit. It has almost everything to give a visitor a taste of the best in Japanese culture: historical interest, a Buddhist temple, a Shinto shrine, a lively shopping district to purchase souvenirs and traditional handcrafted goods, a feel for an older and more charming Tokyo in some of the small back streets. There is even a theatre showing old Japanese films and an old fashioned amusement park if that's what you're into, or boat cruise down the Sumida River.
The food stalls just around Sensoji add to the atmosphere by offering the types of snacks generally found at festivals. You can get freshly made rice crackers, fried mochi, tako-yaki, yakitori and many other treats. Or have a meal at one of the many good restaurants in the vicinity. For a quiet tea break and a sampling of traditional sweets, I recommend a little shop called Matoi.
Make sure you visit my favorite stationery shop in the city, Kurodaya, which has been in business since 1856. It's located just to the right of Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate). You'll find beautiful handcrafted paper products, post cards, kites, antique wood block prints, washi and chiyogami.
Yes, the place is packed with tourists and there are plenty of kitschy things for sale, but many of these tourists are Japanese, so it makes good people watching. People visit the temple to offer prayers and purchase charms. I love arriving in Asakusa late in the afternoon, so I can experience its transformation as the day shifts into twilight. As darkness settles in, lights come on to brighten walkways and give the temple and gates a more dramatic mood.
Here's a great resource on the sites of Asakusa, edited by a resident: Asakusa Samurai.