Tokyo by area: Asakusa

There is still much hidden among the old temples of Asakusa

Tokyo by area: Asakusa

Deep in the heart of old Edo sits Japan's most popular tourist attraction: Asakusa, and its centrepiece, Sensoji Temple. Just about anybody visiting Tokyo or playing host to visitors will inevitably stop by to sample this taste of downtown Japan. Despite the crowds and hawkers, there is still much hidden among the old temples, souvenir shops and snack vendors.

Gallery ef

Originally built in 1868, the space that now houses this café-cum-art gallery survived both the 1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake and the 1945 fire-bombings by Allied forces. Since 1997, it has hosted a large variety of unusual domestic and foreign artists, often of craft-based art, as well as music and dance performances, such as '3.10', an annual multimedia contemporary dance performance commemorating the anniversary of the bombings. For many visitors, the old building itself is the main attraction, though the open café setting, with its retro furnishings and displays of art, is almost European at heart, and offers a nice respite for lunch during a full day of sightseeing. At night, it turns into a bar occasionally featuring live music, DJs and film screenings.

Address: 2-19-18 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telehone: (03)3841 0442
Open: 11 a.m. to midnight, 2 a.m. on Fridays and days before holidays, 10 p.m. on Sundays and Holidays
Closed: Tuesdays

Asahi Annex

Visitors gawp. Locals, no matter how long they`ve been in Tokyo, will still send a lingering gaze across the shining, undulating shape. When people look across the Sumidagawa River from Asakusa, they ask themselves 'what is that enormous gold thing on that building?' Some say it's a representation of the soul, others say it's a giant golden turd. In actuality, it's a gargantuan flame (the Korean-style yaki-niku barbecue restaurant, Flamme d'Or [Gold Flame] is located inside the building) and it is part of the Asahi Breweries headquarters, along with the giant beer-shaped building standing next to it. Just behind the giant flame is a smaller, four-storey complex of restaurants dubbed the Asahi Annex. The restaurants, which opened in 2005, increase in quality, variety and price as they reach skyward, starting at the ground floor with the café style 23 Banchi and ending with the whiskey-oriented Salon Tsukiakari, which features monthly offerings such as whiskey sampler sets. In addition to Asahi's classic range of beers on tap, the restaurants are home to a selection of Sumida Brewing Company's delicious locally brewed beers (a refreshing pilsner, a banana-tinged weizen and a porter that resembles a smooth stout). The food, too, is good for what it is: high-end bar grub, including homemade ham, sausages and a delicious steak over garlic rice.


Sake no Daimasu

Parallel to the Nakamise-dori shopping street running between Kaminarimon gate and Sensoji temple is Sake no Daimasu, an open, bright, modern and friendly sake bar catering to a young, affluent crowd. Unlike the many other sake bars in the area, Sake no Daimasu sells full bottles from its menu for customers to take home. The selection changes by the season, and included a variety of microbrewed beers from around the country. The sake menu is considerable in size and has a detailed description of flavour and style, served by a helpfully knowledgeable staff. Also, unlike other sake bars, customers must pay for their drinks and food with tickets purchased at the cash register at the entrance.

Address: 1-2-8 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: (03) 5806 3811
Open: Noon to midnight daily

Jazz Bar Soultrane

Located a short walk from the heart of Asakusa, just up Edo-dori from the Matsuya department store, sits Jazz Bar Soultrane. Most nights, live jazz music can be heard emanating from the second-floor live house, which also serves a large selection of whiskeys, other drinks and light finger foods. In addition to proper gigs by performers, the bar also allows local jazz musicians to take to the stage for an improv set. The bar is open late and the trains stop running at about midnight…

Address: Hamamatsu Building 2F, 1-13-16 Hanakawado
Telephone: (03) 3843 5063
Open: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays
Closed: Sundays
※Concerts begin at 8 p.m. Table charge: エ500 Performance charges vary.

Café de Royal

Whether it's for starting the day or ending a long night out, good coffee is a Godsend. Asakusa is packed with coffee shops, ranging from the ubiquitous Starbucks to the even more ubiquitous ultra-basic mom-and-pop shops that appear to have been around for the past several decades. Featured in both an NHK morning drama and the highly popular Dochi no Ryori Show, Café de Royal has made a name for itself with its coffees, made from beans roasted in-house and high-quality creams. The Asakusa shop is first location of Café de Royal empire, and features an old-school charm featuring classical European decorations. After a day of walking with visting relatives, when a satisfying cup of coffee is in order, this is the place to be.

Address: 1-39-7 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: (03) 3844 3012
Open: Daily

by C. Mark Smith
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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