Tokyo is famous for its city feel, but those seeking the opposite end of spectrum – light years away of the blaring mayhem of neon and meowing robot cats – should head to Asakusa.
Asakusa district is considered the center of shitamachi – or ‘low town’ – and sits along the banks of the Sumida river. In a city where millions commute via subway, this urban waterway offers an attractive and relaxing alternative: the Suijo-water bus. From Asakusa it is a scenic ride of about half an hour to Hama-rikyu gardens. While savoring wild teas at one of the garden’s teahouses (firmly on the ground, at a quiet pond, where it belongs) it is hard to imagine that you are smack in the middle of the largest metropolitan area in the world, where 35 million people live, work and play.
Asukasa is also the location for a rare remnant of the Tokyo of yore that boasts a chaos of its own; the matsuri (festival). The greatest and most important matsuri of all is Sanja Matsuri, around Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. Known as one of the city’s wildest, it takes place at the end of spring and lasts four days. But Senso-ji is also a year-round attraction. Western tourists are just a recent addition to a constant procession of pilgrims that have come to visit the holy site throughout the centuries.
Nakamise-dori, a commercial arcade of countless stalls and hawkers that crowd the way to the entrance of the temple, has been around since Edo times. The only difference today is that the traditional assortment of sweet rice snacks, kimonos and wooden sandals has expanded to include all kinds of knickknackery (Hello Kitty!). Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion to whom this temple is dedicated, now appears on key rings.