Asakusa Walking Tour Guided by Volunteer Organization Offering Travel Guides for People from Abroad
Previously, we shared the story about TOKYO SGG CLUB in "TOKYO SGG CLUB: Volunteer Organization That Offers Travel Guide for Visitors from Abroad". Since the government eased the border restrictions, we asked the volunteer organization to guide us around Asakusa. I joined as one of Comfort Japan's staff, and despite I have been to the area, the experience changed my perspective.
The staff told us stories about 12 attractions, and I would like to share some of them with you along with how I felt about them.
I hope this helps you get useful information whether you have been there or not.
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
Touring Route of the Day
The starting point of the TOKYO SGG CLUB's Asakusa Walking Tour was Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center.
隅田川 Sumida-gawa (Sumida River)
雷門 Kaminari-mon (Kaminari Gate)
仲見世商店街 Nakamise Shotengai (Nakamise Shopping Street)
弁天山 Benten-yama (Benten Mountain)
宝蔵門 Houzou-mon (Houzou Gate)
五重塔 Goju-no-tou (Five-storied Pagoda)
浅草寺 本堂 Senso-ji, Hondo (Senso-ji Temple, Main Hall)
浅草神社 Asakusa Jinja (Asakusa Shrine)
影向堂 Yogo-do (Yogodo Hall)
淡島堂 Awashima-do (Awashimado Hall)
ホッピー通り Hoppy-dori (Hoppy Street)
鎮護堂（伝法院庭園）Chingo-do, Dembo-in Teien (Chinigo Hall, Dembo-in Garden)
1. Sumida-gawa (Sumida River)
If you turn to the Sumida River from this spot of Asakusa, you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree and a gold-colored head office building of Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd. with a golden flame-shaped object on the right side. Take a close look at the golden office. The body of the building was designed to resemble a mug filled with beer and its top was to look like foam. The golden object next to the office is said to represent "a flaming heart of Asahi Beer's employees who are thriving for the new century". This golden flame was designed by a world-famous French designer, Mr. Philippe Starck.
Alongside the river, I saw people taking a walk, jogging, sunbathing, singing a song with a guitar in hand, etc., which soothed my heart.
2. Kaminari-mon (Kaminari Gate)
The red lantern is an icon of Kaminari-mon. On the lower part of it, I saw the name, Konosuke Matsushita who founded Matsushita Electronic Industrial (Currently Panasonic), so I asked a reason for that. According to the guide, the red lantern was donated by him as a token of his gratitude because he had been suffering from joint pain, and the chief abbot at that time prayed for him then his pain went away.
Statues of the deities, Fujin (deity of wind), and Raijin (deity of thunder) are standing still on the right and left side of the red lantern to protect the temple from evil spirits.
When you pass through the gate, it would be interesting to see the founder's name on the lantern and a wood carving of a dragon (a deity of water that prevents fires) on the bottom of it.
3. Nakamise Shotengai (Nakamise Shopping Street)
A variety of shops and food stands including old and new ones are aligned on both sides of the street. Shops of hand fans, Asakusa's specialty, Kaminari Okoshi, Ningyo-yaki, Japanese sweets with cooking demonstrations, and photogenic fruit items caught my eye. Nearby the street, there is a glassware shop that sells artistic Edo Kiriko (cut-glass products made in former Edo, Tokyo, from the end of the Edo era). Just walking along the street would be entertaining. You can hear the story of how this street was born from the guide.
4. Benten-yama (Benten Mountain)
Benten-do (Benten Hall)
Toki no Kane (Bell of Time)
This is a hall to enshrine a deity, Benzaiten. The bell house on the right side is called Toki no Kane (Bell of time) and was said to be used to indicate the time in the Edo era. Tolling was made in a relay style starting from Nihon-bashi. There seemed to be clocks at that time, but not everyone had one, and such people could know the time by hearing the sound of the bell.
5. Houzou-mon (Houzou Gate)
Our Guide taught us why its name has the letters, "宝(hou: treasure)" and "蔵 (zou: storage)".
I saw a huge straw sandal after passing through Houzou-mon!
Do you know what the straw sandal represents?
6. Goju-no-tou (Five-storied Pagoda)
It is said that the bones of the Buddha (a founder of Buddhism) sent from a temple in Sri Lanka are stored on the top story and the mortuary tablet is on the lower story of the pagoda.
7. Senso-ji, Hondo (Senso-ji Temple, Main Hall)
Senso-ji is Tokyo's popular temple which lots of people visit. "浅草寺" can be read as "Asakusa-dera", but it is read as "sensou-ji".
This is the oldest temple in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
8. Asakusa Jinja (Asakusa Shrine)
Asakusa Jinja sits next to Asakusa Shrine, and "浅草神社" is read as "Asakusa Jinja". It is located on the right side of Senso-ji, and two fisherman brothers and one educated person are enshrined as deities. Our guide taught us the reason why the three people are enshrined while we were walking from Nakamise-dori to Senso-ji.
On the right side of Asakusa Jinja, portable shrines for Sanja Matsuri (Sanja Festival) are stored. Sanja Matsuri is a festival to worship the three deities. The crest placed in the middle of the door is a fishing net, which is said to represent the deities.
9. Yogo-do (Yogodo Hall)
Buddha who supports the preaching and excellent work of a deity of mercy is called "影向衆 (Yogo-shu)". Eight Buddhas who protect the 12 animals of the Japanese zodiac are enshrined.
Visitors can get a goshuin, a stamp that used to be a certificate to prove a devout Buddhist copied the sutra and offered it to the temple, but is given as a visiting certificate now.
10. Awashima-do (Awashimado Hall)
Awashima-do was built to welcome a deity of Kii no Kuni (currently the southern area of Wakayama and Mie Prefecture). On the right side of the hall, there is a stone monument to thank and pray for broken sewing needles.
When heading for the next destination, Hoppy-dori (Hoppy Street), I saw Hanayashiki which is full of retro atmosphere and said to be the oldest amusement park in Japan alongside the road. According to our guide, the roller coaster runs very close to houses, which is so thrilling. Surely, it looked scary! When I took a closer look, the roller coaster looked as if it would crash into the residential area.
11. Hoppy-dori (Hoppy Street)
Hoppy-dori is a busy street with lots of izakaya restaurants, many of which have outside tables. It starts getting crowded in the morning, especially on weekends, holidays, and in summer. This street used to be considered a place for "ossan (middle-aged and old men)", but these days, age and gender are irrelevant. On a street next to Hoppy-dori, there is a place called "捕鯨船 (Hogei-sen)" where the world-famous movie director, Mr. Kitano used to go often when he was young as a comedian, Beat Takeshi. Hogei-sen is famous for its whale cuisine and support for comedians.
12. Chingo-do, Dembo-in Teien (Chingo Hall, Dembo-in Garden)
Chingo-do is located behind the busy hoppy-dori (located in the west seen from Nakamise Shotengai). This place was saved from fires both in the Great Kanto Earthquake on September 1st of 1923, and the Great Tokyo Air Raid from April 18th of 1942 to March 10th of 1945, and is believed to prevent fire and theft.
Behind Chingo-do, there is a garden designated as a scenic spot, and are six important cultural properties. Although they used to be open to the public, now they are kept closed. Our guide told us that the gap between the busy street and the silent garden is inexpressibly good. Why not visit this place when it is open?
Walking around Asakusa being guided was totally different from exploring without it. Though I have been to this area, I found spots and discoveries I had not recognized and learned trivia from the guide of TOKYO SGG CLUB.
The staff of this organization thoroughly research the food in Asakusa and establishments where English is available. So, if you request what you want, they will give you a list of them.
People from around the world, please check the website of TOKYO SGG CLUB and join their walking tour with a guide, and it would be also fun for your family member(s), or your friend(s) when coming to Japan.