Asakusa used to be a key ‘pleasure’ district in Tokyo, famous for its geishas and red light establishments, traditional kabuki theaters, and modern entertainment venues such as movie theaters. During WWII the area was largely destroyed by the US bombing raids, and while it was entirely rebuilt since then, it never regained its previous popularity as an entertainment district.
Today, the focal point of Asakusa lies in the area surrounding Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple dating back to the 7th century. Much like everything nearby, the Buddhist temple was severely damaged as a result of the bombings of 1945 and was later reconstructed from scratch to its current state. The tourists, foreign or local, mostly flock around Senso-ji and its immediate surroundings abundant with traditional shops and eateries. In contrast, the rest of Asakusa is quaint, relaxed and low-key. Asakusa is in the north-eastern part of Central Tokyo, about 2 miles from Ueno. It is most easily reached by the Ginza Subway Line (from Shinjuku take the orange JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa).We were arriving from Ueno and we chose to walk the presumably short distance to Asakusa. Unfortunately, after coming out the southern end of Ameyoko Arcade we ended being a little too far south which added another mile to our already long itinerary for that day.
The main streets along our way were lined up with stores and restaurants, but the back streets were predominantly residential, very quiet and laid-back. Not too many people on the sidewalks, mostly kids coming home from school (or at least that’s what we concluded when we saw the uniforms).A brief consult with Wikipedia tells me that school uniforms are a popular choice for both public and private educational institutions in Japan.
As I looked at the above picture, I couldn’t help but also consult on the subject of wearing surgical masks in public. People walking around with half their face covered are a common sight around Japan. As I understand this is done mostly to protect the mask-wearer from germs or to avoid general disease transmission. But many others just wear their masks by default, as a precaution to whatever harmful ‘something’ may be going around in the air.
While we’re on the topic of cultural differences, I’d like to mention the ever-pervasive ‘V-sign’ or ‘piece-sign’ pose which I noticed, Japanese (and South Korean) girls (and some boys) love to do while they get their pictures taken. We were on our way to Senso-ji, when we passed by Kappabashi Dogugai (合羽橋 or kitchen town), a shopping street with a congregation of stores selling every imaginable tool of trade for the restaurant business – from cooking utensils and furniture to plastic display food samples and lanterns.By the time we reached Asakusa, our feet were aching so badly, that we could think of nothing but sitting down for a while. Luckily, there was a little garden right next to Hōzōmon gate with a few, albeit densely-populated, benches. We stayed a bit and I used the last minutes of daylight to snap a couple of random photos.The rain cut our break short; it had been going on and off all day but the grouchy skies promised more than a sprinkle this time. We bought souvenirs from Nakamise dori, the centuries old shopping street that stretches between the Kaminarimon and Hozomon gates, and then headed back.
We hardly got wet on the way to Ueno Station (yes, another 2 miles of torture for sore feet), but our next destination completely fell through because of the pouring rain. We disembarked the train in Shibuya, the enormous station, possibly even more confusing than the Times Square subway station in Manhattan and I merely ran outside to take a few snaps, while holding an umbrella in one hand and the camera – in the other. This was our final stop in the tour around Tokyo.
The next day, no later than 6am (…yeah), the ‘Friendly Limousine Bus’ was scheduled to take us back to Narita Airport where we were going to board our flight to Jeju Island, South Korea. Can you guess which suitcases were ours?