Threading Japan Through The Past, Today | CoolJapan

Reminiscent of old Tōkyō of Shōwa era, Asakusa is one of the oldest, most historically rooted districts in Tōkyō prefecture. An enclave that has braved the worst of disasters and has been nourished by the best of generations of its people. Past and present architectural sights sit in harmony, retaining the vibes of entertainment-centric neighbourhoods of yesteryears.

Edging the Sumida River that drapes northeast, Asakusa rose from lower Tōkyō as the ‘shitamachi’, or the ‘lower district’. Historically, Asakusa was located downtown of Old Edo, away from the Imperial Castle where development and modernisation were prevalent. Literally a ‘lower district’, as Eastern Japan’s topography is flatter than West.

Kaminarimon — The Great Gate to the Sensōji


The Kaminarimon’s last restoration was in 1960, by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the company today known as Panasonic.

The majestic Kaminarimon (gate of thunder) beckons visitors to the ancient Sensōji temple. Standing guard at the gate are statutes of the God of Thunder (West) and the God of Wind (East). Despite being burnt down repeatedly since its first erection in 941AD, the Kaminarimon retains its same imposing and symbolic design today.

Sensōji — A Temple Withstanding the Test of Time

Dating back 645AD as Tōkyō’s oldest, most historically significant temple, Sensōji remains Asakusa’s pride. Centuries of cultural heritage have bolstered Sensōji’s tenacity against the ravages of time, and that influence pulses through the veins of every street and alley that web around it.

Fun fact: It's also a Buddhist temple devoted to the Bodhisattva Kannon (or Guanyin, the goddess of mercy). Legend has it that in 628AD, following the discovery of her statuette along Sumida river, villagers transformed their home into a small temple of worship of Kannon, which eventually became the Sensōji of today.


Within the temple grounds is a small museum of treasures amassed over 1400 years and Sensōji’s private garden nurtured for over 200 years.

Traipsing Nakamise and Shin-Nakamise Streets

Nakamise Street

Nakamise Street gets REALLY crowded.

Nakamise Street leads directly out of Sensōji, and is certainly a crowd favourite! Here’s a tip: duck into the backstreets around it to enjoy a light snack of dango and Japanese o-cha at a lighter pace, even under a traditional parasol.

Shin Nakamise

The Shin Nakamise is dotted with traditional Japanese eateries and shops that link many fascinating side streets.

Ironically, we discovered that it’s the Shin-Nakamise (New Nakamise) where the magic is at. This modernised 400m sheltered arcade is the backbone street that links dozens of back-lying alleys you can segue off and explore in serenity.

The face of a Shin-Nakamise explorer

For instance, you’ll find modern retail chains like Don Quijote standing harmoniously amidst traditional izakayas, boutiques and craft workshops that have been around for centuries.

In the day, spy a mobile snack vendor shouldering his trademark bamboo kart.

Orange Dōri

Of the alleys that branch from the Nakamise, Orange-dōri (Orange Street) and its perpendicular street that edges the Sensōji grounds is a favourite. Rickshaws and ladies in Kimono ply this picturesque area. Rather than thinking of these sights as touristy gimmicks, appreciate them for their continued existence well into today.

Orange Street

You’ll know you’re on Orange Street when the pavement itself is, well, orange.

Yukata & Kimono Rental

2 Chome-3-27 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Sawada-ya of Asakusa, at first sight, offers affordable yukata and kimono rental services alongside stunning makeover services perfect for the insta-generation. But don’t let their kawaii-ness fool you. It is a heritage kimono repair shop that’s family-run for over three generations (at least).

Kimono rental

Apart from renting, there are genuine hand-me-down kimonos to bring home, too.


2-15-2, Kaminarimon, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō

Inside Manyou

No photography of the artisanal fans, but their human fans? Sure.

Tucked away south of Orange-dōri is Manyou, a workshop that hand-crafts Japanese fans of immaculate quality. Here, the master artisan’s presence shines through his designs, quality, eye for detail, and dedication. It’s no wonder they are specifically ordered for traditional Japanese dance recitals and coming-of-age ceremonies for young Japanese adults, too.

Asakusa: The Past and Future Connected

With so much more to see, eat and discover, Asakusa is best experienced by simply losing your inhibitions to the vibrancy of the town itself. And yet, you’ll never feel lost — it is just three stops away from the major Ueno transport hub, and 30 train-ride minutes away from chic neighbourhoods like Omotesando.

As a destination, Asakusa eases in newcomers to Japan’s many faces, and challenges veterans to rediscover what Japan has to offer.