Happy new year! In Japan, it is a common custom to pay a visit to a shrine or a temple for a new years wish. It is called "Hatsumode." Well, I have to make a confession that I went to Kawasaki-daishi Temple for Hatsumode on the 3rd, my dog and I were so overwhelmed by the crowd when we pay a visit.
Recently Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has announced, the number of Overseas Residents' Visits to Japan in 2016 has reached 240 million! As we are based in Tokyo, the most visited city in Japan, it is difficult nowadays to walk around the city without bumping into a tourist from abroad. Among Tokyo, Asakusa is one of the must visit areas. Let's stroll around and find out the reason why Asakusa attracts so many people.
This is a view from the observatory of the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center, which reopened in 2012. You can see the entire Asakusa from here, such as the symbols of Asakusa Kaminarion Gate and Senso-ji Temple. You can also see Tokyo Sky Tree as well.
Here you can get the tourist information brochure in English, Chinese and Korean, it is a good place to start walking around the area especially if it is your first visit. Also, you can use free wifi, and even exchange money here. Now that I get the overview of the area, let's start strolling around the city.
Kaminarimon Gate is better to look at close by than from above, look how crowded it is around it! It is surprising that people from all over the world gathered under this giant chochin lantern.
Asakusa Nakamise-dori Street is the pathway to Senso-ji Temple, which is filled with various souvenir shops. You can find a lotof unique souvenirs like sword-looking umbrellas, rubber-made shrikens (throwing knife), T-shirts with Kanji printed on, etc.
Among those items, Japanese masks attracted many tourists from abroad. The picture below is called Okame mask, which is used in various traditional performing arts in Japan.
I am surprised to find out that these masks gathered such an attention, but then I realized that these "very Japanese" items are new and different for them.
Once you go through Asakusa Nakamise-dori Street, you are enveloped with the aroma of incense sticks, Senso-ji Temple emerges in front of you. There were many foreign tourists gathering to get an Omikuji, a Japanese fortune slip.
There is English explanation on the slip, which made it easier for foreign tourists to appreciate the meaning of it. These efforts of welcoming the tourists from all over the world perhaps is one of the secrets of why Asakusa is so popular.
When I finished reading my fortune slip, I found a couple were struggling with Omikuji. In order to do Omikuji in Senso-ji Temple, first you have to shake the silver cylinder so that the wooden stick can come out from the small hole on the top of it. On the wooden stick, you will find the number written in Kanji, and you take out the fortune slip from the drawer with that number on it. The couple were having a trouble finding the drawer because the number was written only in Kanji.
I helped them with the procedure and got them the slips. One of them drew Daikichi (大吉, Great Blessing), and the other drew Kyo (凶, Curse). They looked a little disappointed by the Kyo Omikuji, but on the slip said;
"If you draw Daikichi(大吉), be careful not to behave in an arrogant manner, because such a behavior could lead you to Curse (凶). And if you draw Curse (凶), you will be given a blessing if you lead an honest life."
Although this part wasn't translated, Omikuji tells us that our fortune depends on how we behave each day.
To the back alley of Asakusa
While I was walking through the back alley of Asakusa, I saw many closed shops and restaurants. It was a Wednesday afternoon, which is a convenient time to close. Because places like Asakusa can never close on busy weekends. So if you are planning to visit Asakusa on weekdays, I recommend checking the opening hours of the shops and the restaurants.
At the back alley, I found local coffee shops and grocery stores, old theater and Izakaya restaurants. There are also a public bath where locals gathered. Although it is only a couples blocks away from the center of Asakusa, you can feel the daily life of the locals in Asakusa. I saw few tourists wandering around the alley, who seemed fascinated by the atmosphere. I also realized that Asakusa is not only about the temples and souvenir shops.
Why does Asakuka attracts so many people?
Asakusa is the place where you can easily feel and appreciate the Japanese culture, whether you are a Japanese or a foreigner. That's the reason why Asakusa has been such a popular tourist spots for a long time.