Tokyo – Asakusa

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The boat ride was pleasant and provided an opportunity to observe the backwaters of the old neighborhood. The river journey passed under several bridges that connected east and west of the Sumida River. Across Asakusa pier is the sky piercing 634m Tokyo Sky Tree. In the foreground is the Asahi Beer Tower with its unique flame symbol. At a nearby bridge, bright rickshaws pulled by energetic young men and women provided an alternative to walking in this historic region. The day was cloudy but hot. A cold local desert, mocha ice cream with red beans and slices of oranges peels, was a treat in the heat of the day. Re-hydrated, we headed into the busy Kaminarimon Street towards the popular Sensoji Temple.

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Asakusa, a district in Taito, Tokyo is the centre of Tokyo’s “shitamachi”, literally “low city”. During the Edo Period (1603- 1867), Asakusa was the entertainment district, site of kabuki theatres and a large red light district. It is Tokyo’s oldest geisha district. Today it is popular as one of Japan’s premier temples, Sensoji Temple, located here on the west banks of the Sumida River. Another important feature popular with the locals, is Kappabashi, a shopping street. I found it relaxing and uncrowded. The wide streets are easy to walk with plenty of eating outlets.

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From the pier, it is a short walk to Kaminarimon Gate, “Thunder Gate”, and the gateway towards Sensoji Temple. Two gods guard the entrance on either side. It was crowded. This pathway led to the delightful Nakamise Dori. Throngs of people, some in traditional costumes, walked through the crowded and delightful Nakamise Dori leading towards Sensoji Temple. There was a spirit of festivities. Towards the end of the street was another giant red gate, the Hozomon Gate. A giant lantern hung in the center as pilgrims and visitors passed below.

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An array of snack food including “sanbei”, a baked cracker spread with miso, red bean paste filled pancakes, soft dumplings and my favorite sweet sticky “mochi”. A variety of packaged gifts including folding fans, “yukata” and decorated dolls, enticed the visitors. It was exciting to see some women dressed in traditional colorful kimono. A few side streets extended from Nakamise Dori. These streets were less crowded and gave a sense of old Tokyo. The houses built from wood, lattice windows and tiled roofs. Back on the main street, business was brisk, cries from vendors to attract visitors with their wares, sweet aroma of delicious delicacies wafted through the air. As usual, we snacked along the way sampling local specialties. Being a long weekend with Monday a public holiday, the crowd had built up. However, the flow of the human tide was smooth and casual.

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