Did you know that there are four Asakusa Stations? As if that’s not confusing enough, all of them are owned and operated by different companies, and only three of them are connected by pedestrian passages. The terminus was one of the first underground stations built in Japan, dating back to the late 1920s. Today, it rests on top of the Ginza (orange), Tobu Skytree (blue), Asakusa (pink) and Tsukuba Express (navy) lines. This may sound convoluted, but means Asakusa is one of the most easily accessible districts in all of Tokyo.
The Asakusa Line, which is owned and operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Transport Bureau, is especially convenient as it can take you to major junctions such as Tokyo Skytree and Narita International Airport directly. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a day, you can even hop on the limited express train to Nikko, the city chock-full of UNESCO World Heritage sites, for less than 3,000 yen. Since Asakusa lies next to the Sumida River, there is a ferry that will take you around the bend to Odaiba, as well. For best results, try riding the ferry in the evening to enjoy the sea of light and color that is Tokyo’s night view.
Like most train stations in Japan, it is completely wheelchair accessible and houses a handicap-accessible bathroom (which can be found near the Tokyo Metro side). There are lockers where you can store your luggage inside each station, but admittedly they are few and far between. They range in size and price (reaching as much as 700 yen for the largest one), so if you are looking to save money, you’re better off leaving your heavy luggage in your hotel room.
Asakusa is one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo for tourists, but to truly enjoy it, you’re going to need to venture out a bit. Fear not—below is everything your to-do list should include if you’re looking to make the most out of your time here.
Shop till you drop
Above the station lies a multi-level shopping center called Ekimise, formerly known as the Matsuya Department Store when it originally opened in 1931. After a complete renovation in 2012, the complex now contains more than 150 shops. On a rainy day, you can find everything from Japanese brand clothes to electronics without even needing to step outside. Although it no longer bears the Matsuya name, the store itself still exists, in a sense. The entire basement level is dominated by the Matsuya foodstuff section, where residents shop for delicious fresh products. It is customary in Japan to bring back omiyage (souvenirs) for friends, family, and coworkers after a trip, even if it’s a small snack. To this end, head to the mall’s basement and stock up on some tasty treats. Now, I can hear you asking “Why did they rename the building in the first place?” The word “Ekimise” itself translates to “station store” and is a campy reference to another popular shopping district known as Nakamise Dori.
When most people think of Asakusa, they tend to think of this far-stretching road in front of Sensoji Temple. Nakamise Dori (otherwise known as Nakamise Street) is the perfect avenue for those in the market for traditional Japanese goods and souvenirs. There are about 90 shops in total and each one offers something different. One highly sought-after souvenir is the Maneki Neko (literally “beckoning cat”) figurine, which brings good luck to their owner. You can find these in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors to suit your preference. One thing worth noting: If you plan on shopping extensively at Nakamise Dori, be sure to arrive early. The majority of shops close at 5 pm and the inflow of traffic on weekends is high.
Spend the night
Due to its rapidly growing popularity as a tourist destination, it’s no surprise that Asakusa is also a great place to lodge. If you are looking to spend the night in the area, there are a plethora of options available. The Richmond Hotel Asakusa is a short seven-minute walk from the station and is perfect for those looking for a clean and comfortable room without having to break the bank. Furthermore, it sports a great location with various shops, stalls and izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) just outside its doorstep. Its only major drawback is that if you are looking for something more authentic featuring tatami mats and futons, you are not going to find them here. This business hotel is about as cut and dried as they come.
The Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu is a traditional Japanese inn with over 80 years of history and is less than a three-minute walk from the station. Here, you can choose between a traditional Japanese-style room or more familiar Western-style lodging. For those looking to relax and recharge, there are men’s and women’s public baths that provide a stunning view of Tokyo Skytree tower as well as the beautiful five-story pagoda near Asakusa’s famous Sensoji Temple. When it comes down to customer satisfaction and a history of excellence, you simply can’t beat this accommodation.
However, if you’re looking to pinch pennies, there is the Sakura Hostel Asakusa which is located just five minutes from the station. For a hostel, there isn’t anything too out of the ordinary here, but its greatest strengths are the location and friendly English-speaking staff. Both private and shared rooms are also available to meet your budget and needs. If Asakusa Station is just a pit stop on your travels throughout Japan, this accommodation is worth your consideration.
Have a bite
If you’ve just arrived at Asakusa Station after a lengthy trip, you are going to be hungry. For those looking to grab a bite to eat, a wide variety of dining options await you. Less than a stone’s throw from Asakusa Station’s main gate, you can find the local CoCo Ichibanya chain restaurant. These Japanese curry connoisseurs boast a full English menu and are open until midnight every night of the week. They pride themselves on their responsiveness to customer feedback, which led to the inception of their extensive vegetarian menu. Customizable options allow those who are more health-conscious to pick and choose what works for them, as well. Best of all, it’s cheap. If you’re looking for something quick and convenient, this curry house is an excellent choice.
If you’re looking for something lighter, you won’t have a hard time finding something to tide you over. After all, food stalls are a staple of Japanese culture—and Asakusa is the cultural mecca of Tokyo. A signature snack of Asakusa is melon-pan, a type of sweetbread with a hard engraving on the outside that matches its namesake. While there are countless places to procure this sugary treat near the station, they all pale in comparison to Kagetsudo. Located near the entrance to Asakusa’s Nishi-Sando street, this corner shop specializes in freshly baked melon pan that’s big enough to fit on your head. If you want to stay cool during the summer, you can even order melon pan filled with green tea ice cream (another must-try delicacy in Asakusa). Since it’s only a seven-minute walk from the station, you owe it to yourself to pick one up (or three) before they sell out for the day.
Hoppy Dori (also known as Hoppy Street) is a trail you’re sure to find yourself on should you decide to explore Asakusa. This famous backstreet is as rich in restaurants as it is history. The izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) here operate during all hours of the day and some of them even date back to the Showa era (which began almost a century ago). When the weather is good, you can even dine outside and take in the festive atmosphere of this tiny area. Hoppy Dori is located directly in front of the Richmond Hotel Asakusa, making it a bustling place full of happy (and stuffed) customers.
Whether your stay in Asakusa is a long or short one, the area enveloping the station is more than equipped with enough hotels, restaurants, shops and cultural pillars to keep you satisfied. For many visiting Tokyo, it has quickly become one of their favorite districts in the sprawling metropolis, and such a thing would not have been possible were it not for the station’s express service and reliability.Tags: Asakusa, Sensoji Temple, tokyo stations
This post was written by Chad Grover