The two-part Asakusa travel series features the tourist spots to visit in the area and the off-beat detours you could take, as per your schedule and interests.
We had arrived in Asakusa with a detailed itinerary, planned to a T. We had a checklist of all the touristy spots to cover, where to eat, when to eat and how much time to spend per spot. Little did we know, that we would end up ambling through the streets clicking dorky pictures by murals, discovering hidden shrines, and buying ¥500 kimonos! Having completed our itinerary for Asakusa, we decided to explore the area around the Sensoji Temple complex.
We headed to the popular Denboin-dori Street specializing in traditional arts and crafts, and traditional food. Since most of the shops weren’t open yet, the street was relatively isolated. Thus, while there was a lack of the robust, cheerful charm that most Tokyo shopping streets have, fewer crowds meant that we could click better pictures!
Most of the shops had fascinating murals on them with various motifs.
There was also a very comprehensive map of Asakusa drawn on to one of the street walls.
Kocho (胡蝶): Bargain kimono shop
As we were walking around the street listlessly, with my manager pointing out the quirks of the area, we came across one statue placed on the roof-top of a shop. It was a statue of Nezumi Kozo, a Japanese thief and folk hero who lived during the Edo period in present-day Tokyo. Legends say that he stole from corrupted officials and helped the poor.
Underneath there were stands of kimonos and boxes of obi sashes, and the price denoted had us open-mouthed. ¥1,000 for a kimono!!! It seemed almost poetic how a thief who made living better for the poor guarded over a shop which catered to the high tastes of people on a budget.
The proprietresses Katsura-san and Kawai-san painstakingly helped us wear the kimonos and offered insightful advice on kimono patterns and care. Needless to say, we were scouring through the collection in a near-mad frenzy. The collection inside had standard prices, but the ones outside were dirt-cheap. Yet, they were of perfect quality and such incredible designs. Then, we noticed a box on the ground and were stunned – ¥500 for thick, beautifully patterned kimonos. You can pair off your kimono with your desired sashes (of ¥1,000).
While in the area, do give Hoppy Street a visit as well for its brew joints (including the home-grown beer-flavoured Hoppy drink) and its stews.
Chingodo Shrine (鎮護堂)
On our ramblings, we came across this obscure shrine which was not in our itinerary. We entered the premises in anticipation of what we would find. (Side note: I truly think that anticipation is one of the best emotions ever! And to experience this in its most authentic state, you need to do off-beat traveling.)
We were greeted by a small picturesque space – abound with green trees and bushes, small wooden structures, and a charming view beyond the premises. You can also see the beautiful garden of the Denboin Temple from Chingodo. (Denboin Temple and its garden are not open to the public.)
It felt like a place hidden away from the everyday. Literally, the gate is so nondescript that we almost passed it by. Always, ALWAYS look twice and look deeper.
The shrine is dedicated to Chingodo, also known as otanuki-sama (raccoon dog), the deity of the art of public entertainment, and protection against fire and theft. Tanuki, or the raccoon dog is a ubiquitous figure in Japanese folklore. The statues of tanuki are usually depicted with a flask of sake and large testicles. The shrine was built in 1872 when a steward of the Sensoji Temple enshrined the deity to prevent mischief by raccoon dogs in the temple complex.
The statues of the raccoon dog deity were in parts adorable and intensely eerie. The premise also had a statue of a standing Buddha wearing a red knit-cap, surrounded by a flock of smaller figures of babies wearing tiny red caps as well. It was a fascinating sight, and the baby statues were so endearing. This statue is called mizuko jizo and is believed to bring salvation to deceased babies. Mizuko means babies (often miscarried or aborted ones), and jizo is a type of bosatsu (bodhisattva) that is believed to be the protector of children in Japan.
Also, find the sacred tree of Chingodo with a touching story and a message of peace for all visitors. The plaque on the tree reads – “The sacred tree of Chingodo, estimated to be 400-500 years old – this tree protected Chingodo from the fierce fire during the bombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945. The tree has the burning scar from the incident to this day. We wish for a world without war.” (Translated from Japanese)
From there, we continued towards Ueno Park, sated with our kimono buys and surprising discoveries. If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be curiosity. Find time in your travels to take detours, explore beyond your itinerary and be okay with not always sticking to the plan.
There is much magic to be found if you only take time to look for it.
2-3-5 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032
The street is open 24 hours, but we do suggest that you visit the street after 11 a.m. if you want to shop.
A three-minute walk from Asakusa Station. The street adjoins the Sensoji Temple complex.
First floor, 1-39-11 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Located in Denboin-dori
Chingodo Shrine information
Sensō-ji 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032
Within a five-minute walk from the Sensoji Temple complex