Sunday, September 27, 2015

Discovering Asakusa in Tokyo, Japan

When I first went to Tokyo in 2010, I did plenty of research on where to stay, and, consistently, Shinjuku came out on top, with Ginza a close second for its proximity to Tsukiji Market and to high-end shops. I loved the energy of Shinjuku but we didn’t get to do our hotel booking early enough this time. We ran out of rooms in the places we were considering.

A store selling those popular rice crackers
I started looking for options in AirBNB. I opted out of Shinjuku because I was afraid we would end up at the red light district. I saw some promising apartments in Roponggi, Asakusa and Ginza. Mon, who lived in Tokyo for some time and was conversant in Japanese, said we were better off staying at either of the latter two neighborhoods.

We opted for the apartment in Asakusa because it looked really promising in pictures. The posting indicated that it could accommodate 10 people so there should be more than sufficient space for four. The first time I came to Tokyo, I stayed in a highly recommended hotel in Shinjuku where the room can hardly accommodate two people with luggage.

What a fantastic choice it ended up to be. We had a hard time getting our bearings from the Asakusa train station but once we figured out where we were supposed to go, transportation became less of a concern.

There's plenty of small, quaint restaurants but they fill up fast so come early and be prepared to wait
The historic district of Asakusa has a more traditionally Japanese atmosphere than other Tokyo neighborhoods. It has plenty of small, family-run restaurants and shops in narrow streets that are a pleasure to get lost in. It also has the oldest geisha district in Tokyo, although we didn’t see one during our stay.

Yuka’s Apartment turned out to be a great find because it’s right on the fifth floor of Rox 3G, which is one of three annex buildings of Rox, the only shopping mall you’ll find in the area.

The building and unit were both spotless. It must be obsessively cleaned because there’s not a spot of dirt even in the hard-to-scrub grout. The apartment was a great model of Japanese aesthetics—clean, well-structured, understated. I loved how storage is built into the walls, and how the different areas are partitioned with sliding doors so that you can enjoy the open structure and still have privacy when it’s called for. The entire place was equipped with necessities for cooking, bathing and cleaning, and stocked up with supplies including rolls of toilet paper, towels, beddings, etc.

Tokyo SkyTree

Senso-ji Temple
 From the balcony or through the glass doors of the living room, you can enjoy a view of the Tokyo SkyTree and Senso-ji temple. After an entire day of walking, we loved sitting together in front of the television with our munchies to relax. To get all that at half the price of a tourist hotel in Tokyo was a big stroke of luck.

One of the best things about it is its proximity to Nakamise and Shin-Nakamise Shopping Streets. Nakamise is lined with small vendor stalls selling items and local snacks. Shin-Nakamise or new Nakamise is a shopping arcade with interesting shops and restaurants. It runs perpendicular to the old shopping street. You can spend and entire day there because there’s plenty of interesting things to see.

Local snacks
I could spend all day sampling bites at Nakamise
A cluster of street-side bars where you can drink all night


Asakusa is small enough to discover on foot but if you don’t have enough time or want to discover the neighborhood comfortably seated on a high perch, book a rickshaw tour. Asakusa is the only place in Tokyo rickshaws are allowed to operate. Tours are offered in different languages.

One of the unexpected benefits of riding a rickshaw was getting an insider recommendation to a fantastic yakiniku place, which I will feature in the next post.

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