Amid the sleek and modern skyscrapers in Tokyo, it is possible to go back in time to the old Tokyo even if it is just for a couple hours. Exiting from the Asakusa station, you have been temporarily transported to the 17th Century when the old Tokyo was founded. Touristy much? Yes, especially the rickshaws which we are happy to forgo (only tourists ride them, by the way). The long surviving atmosphere at Asakusa provides a glimpse of the traditional and cultural way of life in Japan that is often masked behind the reputation of Tokyo as a metropolis. Today, Asakusa is still the place for traditional events to be held.
After you get past the throngs of tourists trying to snap more than one picture of themselves at the Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) that is largely symbolic of Asakusa, there is the 250 meters long Nakamise-dori (street). The place is lively and traditional local snacks are at every other little shop. Look out for ningyo-yaki, a popular Japanese cake snack with azuki (sweet red bean) filling. These little cakes often come in different face shapes of the seven gods of luck. Buy a pack of these fresh and warm cakes, then stand at a corner to devour them. Senbei (rice crackers) are freshly grilled over charcoal at the shops and right in front of your eyes.
|Ningyo-yaki, a cake snack filled with azuki (sweet red bean)|
|Senbei (rice crackers) are grilled over charcoal|
|Hot sweet sake|
Wander off Nakamise-dori and stroll along the side streets for a calmer and authentic atmosphere.
At the end of Nakamise-dori is the oldest and most important Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The popular Sensoji Temple has been around for about 1,400 years. Worshippers and non-worshippers continue to visit this place everyday. An incense burner stands in the center of the temple's center court and visitors stand around the incense burner to fan the themselves with the smoke which is believed to have beneficial health properties.
|Visitors fanning themselves with smoke from the incense burner|
|Worshippers at the temple|
|Paper strips of people's fortunes|
Exit Sensoji Temple through the left entrance, walk away from the temple, and more street vendors selling hot food including yakisoba (fried soba noodles), karaage (fried chicken), and kushiyaki (skewered grilled meat). Walk a little further and there are tiny restaurants for those wanting to rest their feet. We escape the cold for a little bit and we walk into one of the restaurants with a metal pot of steaming hot oden (fish cakes) outside the door. Contented with the heartwarming dish, we then retrace our steps back to the earlier street vendors in search of more food. Having just three meals a day in Tokyo just doesn't cut it.
|Kushiyaki, skewered meat|
|Oden, boiled fish cakes|