If you’re looking to enjoy authentic cultural experiences while in Tokyo then you should make your way to the east of the city. Taito City includes some of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks and historic neighborhoods and is the perfect place to enjoy some of the many unforgettable aspects of Japanese culture.
Across 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 at a traditional ryokan.
There’s no better example of Asakusa’s deep-rooted history than Sensoji Temple. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, founded in 645. Today Sensoji sees millions of visitors a year, where tourists and locals alike pose for photos whilst wearing traditional Japanese kimono. Sensoji temple is a fascinating complex comprising several jaw-dropping buildings, and is the ideal place to pick up some treasured mementos from your trip.
At the entrance to Sensoji is the imposing Kaminarimon, a huge vermillion 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 Kaminarimon gate and Sensoji’s temple buildings is the colorful shopping street of Nakamise Dori.
Nakamise Dori is lined with dozens of shops and stalls that specialize in traditional Japanese souvenirs and snacks. One of the most popular snacks is Ningyo-yaki, a small cake 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 Sensoji’s main temple grounds, preceded by another spectacular entrance gate called Hozomon. Even more gigantic than Kaminarimon gate, passing through the two-storey Hozomon gate and beyond its three giant lanterns leads to Sensoji’s main hall and the temple’s stunning five-storey pagoda.
Credit: James Davies
If you get the chance, be sure to visit Sensoji Temple at nighttime too. After dark, Sensoji has a wonderfully serene atmosphere. The crowds disappear and the temple’s buildings are all beautifully lit up, as are the colorful 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 that they produce. Both the 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 the funerals and enthronement ceremonies of Japanese emperors. Mikoshi made by Miyamoto Unosuke are also used during the three-day Sanja festival at Asakusa Shrine, which draws millions of people every year.
You can see the incredible craftsmanship that goes into making each mikoshi and taiko drum at Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. Today, the company is just as committed to sustainability as to continuing the incredibly high standards of their fine cultural heritage. While traditional techniques are still used in the manufacturing process, both the mikoshi and the taiko drums are made from sustainably sourced thinned wood, helping to keep traditions alive causing as little burden on the environment as possible.
Miyamoto Unosuke has also expanded on their expertise 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 winding old narrow streets are a delight to explore, featuring cute cafes and restaurants and long-standing specialty shops. The area is also known for its grand temples and laid-back community cats, giving Yanaka a sense of a Tokyo of days gone by.
Perhaps the most famous spot in Yanaka is Yuyake Dandan, a staircase with a view over the rooftops of Yanaka Ginza, one of the area’s main shopping streets. Along bustling Yanaka Ginza you’ll find dozens of stores selling traditional Japanese snacks. Here you can try an array of much-loved Japanese snacks such as karinto, a deep-fried dough 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 filling, treat yourself to lunch at Kiri Yanaka. Kiri Yanaka is tucked away on a quiet narrow side street just off one of Yanaka’s busy main shopping streets. The restaurant is located inside a beautifully converted Japanese house with a gorgeous interior as well as a small traditional Japanese garden to admire as you dine.
Kiri Yanaka specializes in exquisitely prepared eel, accompanied by several side dishes made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Eel has been popular in Japan since the Edo period and remains a favorite of many Japanese people today. Dining at Kiri Yanaka is a wonderfully enriching experience, where you can enjoy exceptional hospitality and the very highest quality of Japanese cuisine in a beautifully relaxing setting.
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 peaceful streets. Located in a tranquil residential area, Ryokan Sawanoya is also perfectly located for those wanting to explore the area or to visit the major museums located a short walk away inside nearby Ueno Park.
Alongside communal baths, Ryokan Sawanoya has two rooms that come with their own private baths. As is typical of accommodation in Tokyo, the rooms in Ryokan Sawanoya are cozy, but they are extremely comfortable. Ryokan Sawanoya is also famed for the friendliness and hospitality of its staff, who treat their guests as though they are much loved members of family rather than visitors.
Due to high demand, reservations can be hard to come by and rooms often need to be booked well in advance. If you are looking for the perfect accommodation during a richly rewarding stay in Tokyo, then look no further than Ryokan Sawanoya.