If you’re looking to enjoy authentic cultural experiences while in Tokyo, you should head east of the city. Taito City includes some of Tokyo’s most famous historical landmarks and neighborhoods and is the perfect place to enjoy some of the many unforgettable aspects of Japanese culture.
Across from Taito City, you can soak up the atmosphere at the city’s oldest temple and discover unique insights into the area’s rich heritage. You can also savor delicious multi-course meals of beautifully prepared Japanese cuisine and relax in a traditional ryokan.
There is no better example of Asakusa’s deep-seated history than Sensoji Temple. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, having been founded in 645. Today, Sensoji receives millions of visitors a year, where tourists and locals pose for pictures while wearing a traditional Japanese kimono. Sensoji Temple is a fascinating complex comprising several amazing buildings and is the ideal place to pick up some treasured souvenirs from your trip.
At the entrance to Sensoji stands the imposing Kaminarimon, a massive vermilion gate adorned with a 12-foot-tall red lantern. The lantern is flanked by statues of Fujin and Raijin, the god of wind and the god of thunder. Between the Kaminarimon gate and the Sensoji temple buildings is the colorful shopping street of Nakamise Dori.
Nakamise Dori is lined with dozens of shops and stalls specializing in traditional Japanese snacks and souvenirs. One of the most popular snacks is Ningyo-yaki, a small pastry filled with red bean paste that is typically pressed into a variety of shapes, such as lanterns, dolls, or birds.
At the end of Nakamise Dori are the main Sensoji temple grounds, preceded by another spectacular gateway called the Hozomon. Even more gigantic than the Kaminarimon Gate, passing through the two-story Hozomon Gate and past its three giant lanterns leads to the main hall of Sensoji and the temple’s impressive five-story pagoda.
Credit: James Davies
If you get the chance, be sure to visit Sensoji Temple at night as well. After dark, Sensoji has a wonderfully serene atmosphere. The crowds melt away and the temple buildings are beautifully lit, as are the colorfully decorated shutters of the shops along Nakamise Dori.
A short walk away is Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. Founded in 1861, Miyamoto Unosuke is famous throughout Japan for the high-quality taiko drums and portable shrines it produces. Both taiko drums and portable shrines, called mikoshi, are regularly used in many important traditional ceremonies and festivals in Japan. Drums made by Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten have been used during funerals and enthronement ceremonies for Japanese emperors. Mikoshi made by Miyamoto Unosuke is also worn during the three-day Sanja festival at Asakusa Shrine, which attracts millions of people each year.
You can see the incredible craftsmanship that goes into the making of each mikoshi and taiko drum at Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. Today, the company is just as committed to sustainability as it is to continuing the incredibly high standards of its rich cultural heritage. While traditional techniques are still used in the manufacturing process, both mikoshi and taiko drums are made from sustainably sourced thin wood, helping to keep traditions alive and causing the least possible burden on the environment.
Miyamoto Unosuke has also expanded his experience by introducing a unique jewelry brand called Kippu. Kippu’s jewelry features designs inspired by the gold and silver details that adorn their mikoshi.
A short walk from Ueno, home to many museums and art galleries, is the charming neighborhood of Yanaka. Yanaka’s narrow, winding streets are a delight to explore, with cute cafes and restaurants and long-standing specialist shops. The area is also known for its grand temples and laid-back community cats, giving Yanaka a feel of Tokyo of yesteryear.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Yanaka is Yuyake Dandan, a stairway overlooking the rooftops of Yanaka Ginza, one of the area’s main shopping streets. Along bustling Yanaka Ginza, you’ll find dozens of shops selling traditional Japanese snacks. Here you can sample a variety of much-loved Japanese snacks, such as karinto, a fried pastry coated in brown sugar, and ichigo daifuku, a strawberry covered in a layer of red bean paste and chewy mochi.
When you’re ready for something a little more hearty, enjoy lunch at Kiri Yanaka. Kiri Yanaka is tucked away down a quiet narrow side street just off one of Yanaka’s main busy shopping streets. The restaurant is located inside a beautiful converted Japanese house with a beautiful interior, as well as a small traditional Japanese garden to admire while you dine.
Kiri Yanaka specializes in exquisitely prepared eel, accompanied by various side dishes made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Eel has been popular in Japan since the Edo period and is still a favorite of many Japanese today. Dining at Kiri Yanaka is a wonderfully enriching experience, where you can enjoy exceptional hospitality and the highest quality of Japanese cuisine in beautiful, relaxing surroundings.
After a day of exploring, reward yourself with a stay at Ryokan Sawanoya, a small, traditional, family-run inn located on one of Yanaka’s quiet streets. Located in a quiet residential area, Ryokan Sawanoya is also perfectly located for those who want to explore the area or visit the main museums located within a short walk inside the nearby Ueno Park.
Next to the communal baths, Ryokan Sawanoya has two rooms that have their own private baths. As is typical of Tokyo accommodation, the rooms at Ryokan Sawanoya are cozy, yet extremely comfortable. Ryokan Sawanoya is also renowned for the friendliness and hospitality of its staff, who treat guests as much-loved family members rather than visitors.
Due to high demand, reservations can be hard to come by and rooms often need to be reserved well in advance. If you’re looking for the perfect accommodation during a richly rewarding stay in Tokyo, look no further than Ryokan Sawanoya.