Asakusa is as close to the old shitamachi downtown atmosphere as it’s possible to get in modern day Tokyo. Centring on Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa is vibrant, festive, and somewhat nostalgic: very little has changed from the 1950s when the area was re-constructed. Senso-ji Temple, red, and pleasantly crowded with pigeons and sight-seers, is the oldest and most important Buddhist site in Tokyo, home to a small golden statue of the goddess Kannon which is so sacred that it cannot be viewed. Senso-ji’s main entrance is marked by an impressively large lantern that hangs suspended below the kaminari-mon gate. The temple also boasts a lovely five storied pagoda, and is a popular spot for Tokyoites and visitors alike.
On the third weekend in May, Tokyo’s largest festival, the Sanja Matsuri, starts from the Asakusa Shrine, and makes its riotous way through the streets near Senso-ji Temple. The festival attracts nearly two million visitors who come to enjoy the spectacle of huge mikoshi (portable shrines) being carried on the shoulders of dozens of men, women, and children.
Even outside of May Asakusa’s streets are busy and festive, lined with stalls selling freshly grilled rice crackers, Buddhist charms, and paper fans. The buildings in the area mainly date back to the years immediately post-war, though some are older, and the local cinemas play old films, catering to nostalgic elderly Japanese tourists and pilgrims who remember when much of Tokyo looked very similar.