Asakusa (浅草) is most famous for the Sensoji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. For most of the twentieth century, Asakusa was the major entertainment district in Tokyo. Today Asakusa is festive and quaint. The crowds are drawn by Sensoji Temple, the Five Storied Pagoda and the traditional Nakamise shopping arcade. But for visitors between the sixteen and eighteen hundreds, the attraction was somewhat different - Asakusa contained the notorious "Yoshiwara", the city's licensed pleasure quarter. In its role as a pleasure district, it has now been surpassed by Shinjuku and other colorful areas of the city.

With so many religious establishments in the area, there are frequent matsuri (Shinto festivals) in Asakusa, as each temple or shrine hosts at least one matsuri per year, if not per season. The largest and most popular is the Sanja Matsuri in late spring, in which roads are closed from dawn until late in the evening.

In a city where there are very few buildings older than 50 years (owing to wartime bombing), Asakusa has a greater concentration of 1950s-60s buildings than most other areas of Tokyo. There are traditional ryokan (Japanese Inns), homes and small-scale apartment buildings dotted throughout the district.

In keeping with a peculiarly Tokyo tradition, Asakusa hosts a major cluster of domestic kitchenware stores on Kappabashi-dori, which is visited by many Tokyoites for essential supplies.

Next to the Sensoji temple grounds is a small carnival complex with rides, booths, and games called Hanayashiki. The neighborhood theatres specialize in showing classic Japanese films, as many of the tourists are elderly Japanese.

Cruises down the Sumida River depart from a wharf only a 5-minute walk from the temple.

The River Commuter runs between Asakusa, Hinode pier and Odaiba. With commentary on board, the boat goes along the Sumida River and takes about 40 minutes. Operation hours are between 9.50 am till - 6.00 pm daily. The terminal is next to Azumabashi Bridge.

Just over the bridge, you'll notice the Asahi Beer Hall Building. The golden piece of artwork on top was designed by a French artist and despite a number of controversial interpretations, it is in fact a flame!

Because of its colorful location, downtown credentials, and relaxed atmosphere (by Tokyo standards), Asakusa is a popular accommodation choice for budget travellers.

Asakusa is also home to one of the geisha districts in Tokyo.


Sensoji Temple has three gates. Kaminarimon Gate is the main gate. The original was destroyed in the air raids of 1945, so this is a reconstruction built in 1960. On the right, notice the God of the Wind, and on the left, the God of Thunder.

Once through the gate you'll be in Nakamise Shopping Arcade. The street is lined with colourful, lively stalls selling traditional knick- knacks, festival foods and rice crackers. Hanzomon Gate marks the end of the street. Reconstructed in 1964, the treasures of Sensoji are stored inside.


As you get nearer the temple look out for the large incense burners. Incense is wafted over the body as an act of purification. Also notice the large wooden fortune telling stand. To use it, first select a stick from one of the metal cylinders. Next give the stick to the temple official who, in return, will issue you with a slip of paper. If the paper says you have bad luck, by then tying it to the branch of a tree or the special rack provided, it will apparently blow away.

Sensoji Temple dates back to 645, but with the original destroyed in the air raids of March 10 1945, today's building is a 1958 reconstruction. At the top of the steps, as a mark of respect, clap twice and bow your head. It's also customary to make a small offering by tossing coins into the wooden rack.

The Five Storied Pagoda was built in 1973 and amongst others, it stands in honour of comedians! It's 53.32 meters high, reinforced with concrete and steel, and like all pagodas, running down the centre is a giant pillar of Japanese Cypress tree wood. Around this, the five stories are loosely packed, resulting in a highly flexible structure able to withstand earth tremours.

To the left of the temple, you'll see Hanayashiki Amusement Park. This, and the streets that surround, was once the site of the Yoshiwara, the licensed pleasure quarter of the city of Edo. Many a kabuki play and other works of art were inspired by life in the Yoshiwara. But conditions were appalling - arson was often the women's only revenge. Finally in 1923, the whole area was completely destroyed by fire - ironically though, a non-deliberate fire caused by the earthquake.

In the 1930's the area came alive again. But as foreign films were the latest big attraction it was cinemas that moved in and the area thrived. For each film, live translations and sound effects were provided by a "benshi". One benshi would use a number of different voices to act out all the parts. Some would also add in the odd little impromptu joke or two, and many would even do things like burn incense during funeral scenes!

Twenty years later however television came and the benshi were gone. Cinemas closed; pachinko parlours, game centres and strip clubs moved in. As a result, in terms of entertainment, many say Asakusa has died.