Asakusa Nakamise (浅草仲見世) is a shopping street that leads from the Kaminarimon Gate (雷門 meaning thunder gate) all the way to Sensoji temple (浅草寺), which was established in the seventh century and is the oldest temple in Tokyo. The street has dozens of small shops that sell all kinds of Japanese souvenirs and food. It is arguably one of the most popular tourists spots in the capital. The sheer number of people, which gives this street its lively atmosphere, also makes moving around in a group and taking photos quite challenging.
For that reason, I would recommend planning a visit at night when all the shops are closed (after 8pm) and the streets are mostly empty of sightseers. I stumbled upon the nighttime charm of the area when a friend of mine, who is a regular visitor to Japan, happened to be staying in a hotel in Asakusa in order to see the Sanja Matsuri festival. We met up one evening in front of the huge Kaminarimon gate, the usual starting point for a visit to Nakamise, planning to head directly to an izakaya for some food and a few beers.
However, upon seeing that the gate and other main buildings were lit up at night we decided to wander towards the Sensoji temple. Having walked this street countless times before during the day, it was quite a revelation. Without the daytime throngs of people we could stroll without having to elbow our way through or worry losing one another. Thanks to the nighttime illumination we could still take amazing photos – recently renovated Senso-ji temple and the nearby five-storied pagoda both looked stunning when lit up at night.
At one point we came upon a procession of people chanting energetically while carrying a mikoshi or portable shrine on their shoulders. We were able to get some good close-up photos before they disappeared down the intersecting shopping arcade. No doubt a warm-up for the Sanja festival, a huge 3-day festival held every may, starting the following day.
Since most stores were closed, their shutters were down, revealing beautifully painted scenes of everyday life in Asakusa during the Edo era (1603-1868), something hidden from sight during regular business hours. Officially, these shutters are called the “Asakusa picture scroll” and they were painted in 1992, under the guidance of a professor from the Tokyo Art University.
After walking right up to the temple and taking in the sacred feel of the place, I would recommend retracing your steps till the point where shops line both sides of the street again. Here look left down the intersecting street and check out the Tokyo Sky Tree in the background, also illuminated at night. However it’s preferable to walk this street called Denpoin dori (伝法院通り) in the opposite direction.
The left side of the street is also lined with stores closed for the night showcasing beautifully painted shutter storefronts. Originally, the all the streets in the area had unsightly electrical poles and cables like other parts of the city, but they were buried underground in 1994. It reminded me of the kind of street you find in small onsen towns tucked away in the sides of Japanese mountains.
Upon reaching the next intersection, turning left will take you back to the main road that passes in front of Kaminarimon gate. Continuing past the gate and onto the bridge over the Sumida river, you’ll get to see the famous “Asahi Flame” that tops the Asahi Beer Tower, also lit up at night, which represents the frothy foam of a glass of beer. Reminding you that it’s finally time to get that overdue beer!
Read more about things to do in Asakusa on the Tadaima Japan website:
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