I spent a full day in the north of Tokyo, and while it’s an interesting and charming place to visit, it wasn’t really high on my list of priorities. I’m torn between wishing I scheduled more time there, and thinking that I spent just the right amount of time. Maybe if I spent a day or two more, I wouldn’t have this longing to revisit, because as it stands now, I wouldn’t mind going back there again.
Asakusa used to be a popular entertainment district during the Edo period, and was known for its kabuki theatres and red light districts, it’s also Tokyo’s oldest geisha district! As a lazy human being, I tend to save the act of walking around on foot for holidays, and Asakusa is perfect for that. I felt quite proud of myself for resisting a ride on the jinrikisha (a man-pulled Japanese rickshaw), though as I understood is – I missed out on an experience. The jinrikisha operators double as tour guides, and can give you explanations of local attractions. As it was, I had my phone in hand, and Google to answer my question. But honestly, nothing beats actually chatting to people to find out the local stories the internet rarely serves up. So maybe next time, I’ll dig out my wallet for a ride!
One of the main attractions in Asakusa is the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple which was built in the 7th century. Inside the temple, there are o-mikuji stalls where you can consult oracles to answer questions that have been niggling at the back of your mind. At the time I decided that my questions were best unasked, so instead I hung around the temple’s garden, before heading out for food. Because there’s a lot of food. Sensō-ji’s surroundings gives you a glimpse into Japan’s past, as you can find traditional shops and eating places around the area. It’s hard to pick a place to eat since everything looked good, so like most people I decided to see which place garnered the most interest.
Outside of Sensō-ji I encountered a long queue leading up to a tiny shop that smelled really good. I decided to join in to see if whatever was served lived up to how it smelled. I had inadvertently stumbled on the queue for the Kagetsudo Jumbo Melon Bread! The 45 minute wait was so totally worth it, the warm bread was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and it practically melted in my mouth. Just the memory of the taste has my stomach grumbling. For those not familiar with the melon bread, it’s a Japanese pastry that’s named for its shape, and not necessarily the taste – although some do have melon flavouring.
You can also find the Asakusa Shrine nearby, it was built to honour the men who founded the Sensō-ji. It’s one of the few buildings that survived air raids during World War II, and it’s designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum might also be of interest for history buffs, and manga/anime fans alike. It contains the history of Tokyo during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), manga/anime fans might be familiar with some of the historical figures usually featured in history-based fiction that make an appearance in the museum. The museum was established in 1993, and visitor can see the life-sized replicas and scale models of important Edo sites.
A well-known site in Ikebukuro is Sunshine City, Tokyo’s oldest complex of buildings, and you can find a lot of Namco-related stuff at J-World Tokyo and Namco Namja Town. J-World Tokyo is like a mini amusement park, or like a gaming centre centred on Shonen Jump stories and its characters. If you love Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto and the like you can have a lot of fun taking pictures using the props there. A lot of the rides are more kid-oriented though, so if you’re only there for photos, you might as well just use the entrance only ticket. I kind of left my shame at the door, I jumped around a lot and posed shamelessly. I’m a tourist anyways – it’s not like anyone there will know me.
Nearby there’s also Namco Namja Town, which has more of the cutesy, kawaii stuff. There seems to be a lot of cats there. Ice cream cats, gyoza cats, waffle cats – you name it, and you can probably find it there. I think I preferred J-World more, just because the characters are a lot more familiar, I mean ‘riding’ on Goku’s flying nimbus is like fulfilling my childhood dream!
Hanging out at Asakusa definitely was more my cup of tea while exploring the north side of Tokyo, and while I might have enjoyed my trip to Ikebukuro, it might have been more enjoyable if I had my nephew around. It’s weird, I just now realized how much of Japanese history I learnt from the stuff I used to read, Tokugawa Ieyasu was basically a fictional character for me, I only realized he was a real person when I started becoming interested in Japanese history. What Japanese manga/anime characters did you grow up with? And were any of them real historical figures?