Shitamachi: A Walk from Edo to Tokyo

Commonly known as Kaminarimon, Furaijinmon is the main gate of the Senso-ji Temple. The gate has two lively statues: Fujin (God of Wind) on the right and Raijin (God of Thunder) on the left.

Strolling in the city of Tokyo is full of surprises. You will encounter many special things, both old and new, in the crisscrossing streets. You might find a tiny traditional shrine sandwiched between modern, futuristic buildings or a little plaque in a shopping mall that tells the interesting history of the spot. This is because of the city’s complicated history.

The development of Tokyo basically began when the Tokugawa Shogunate declared it the capital of Japan in 1603. During the Tokugawa reign––what we call Edo Period––the lifestyle of commoners improved and their culture blossomed. Once feudalism was replaced by a modern, democratic government in 1868, the new government started absorbing Western concepts and cultures, and Tokyo’s modernization began. Many of the buildings and urban systems of this era, however, were lost in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and then during the bombing of World War II. All the buildings destroyed were rebuilt in more modern styles while trying to preserve historical landmarks. This explains why Tokyo is so complex, multilayered, and fun for travelers.

Literally translated as “downtown,” Tokyo’s Shitamachi, an extensive residential and commercial area in the western part of the city, is a particularly good source of the city’s history. If you have only one day in Tokyo, take a walk from Asakusa to Tokyo Skytree Tower. Asakusa, already popular among foreign tourists, easily transports you back to olden times. The main attraction there is Senso-ji Temple, established about 1,400 years ago. As the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, it has a long history, but it really thrived during the Edo Period, when the Tokugawa government protected and refurbished it. Vendors were allowed to sell food and products along the long walkway from the grand Kaminarimon Gate to the main temple, attracting more and more visitors to the temple. It is now called Nakamise and has close to 90 shops and food vendors. In the Senso-ji Temple precinct, there are more temples, gates, and a garden, as well as a five-story pagoda.

Outside the precinct of Senso-ji Temple there are many landmarks, traditional restaurants, and food vendors. Owariya (a soba restaurant founded in 1870), Kameju (a traditional Japanese pastry shop), Yagenbori (a custom blend togarashi––spicy seasoning––shop), and Iriyama Senbei (which sells handcrafted rice crackers) are some of the stores that have waiting lines. If you don’t have time to do research in advance, just hop on a sightseeing rickshaw and take a tour.

Looking at Tokyo Skytree Tower and the headquarters of Asahi Beer from Asakusa

Tokyo Skytree Tower rises 2,080 feet above the ground and is now one of the most crowded tourist destinations in Tokyo. The tower is located within walking distance from Asakusa––just walk over the Sumida River on Azuma Bridge, take Asakusa-dori Avenue, and facing the headquarters of Asahi Beer, make a left at  Narihira 1-chome to cross a branch of the Sumida River again, and you will arrive at the SkyTree in about 20 minutes.

Finished in 2012, the tower was designed to be earthquake-safe. It has two observatories––at 1,150 feet and 1,480 feet. These observatories offer 360-degree panoramic views of an extensive part of the Kanto Plain. If weather permits, you can see Mount Fuji in the southwest. Skytree Tower is part of the extensive Tokyo Skytree Town, which also includes Sumida Aquarium, the Soramachi shopping mall, and a planetarium––all modern structures that contrast with old Asakusa.

Both located in the Shitamachi area, Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree provide you with totally different and unique experiences. Visiting both back to back, you can witness 400 years of transformation in Tokyo.

What you should eat in asakusa

What You Should Eat in Asakusa You’ll find many delicious-looking things to eat in Asakusa, many of which are offered as takeout, so you can enjoy traditional treats while walking around the old town.

Ningyo-yaki is a traditional, molded pancake filled with sweet red bean paste. In the Nakamise shopping strip, you can not only get a freshly made ningyo-yaki, but you can also watch a craftsperson making it.
You can also enjoy melon pan, round bread covered with a cookie crust to look like a muskmelon.

Famous for its fluffy dorayaki, a pancake sandwich with sweet red bean paste, Kameju always has a long line.

Many senbei (rice cracker) shops are also found in Asakusa. Senbei was one of the most popular snacks of the Edo Period (when there were neither potato chips nor Pocky!).
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