Asakusa is one of the most popular areas of Tokyo for two main reasons: the Sensō-ji temple and the Sumida River Fireworks.
Sensō-ji, a.k.a. Asakusa Kannon, is the oldest and most famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kannon, the temple dates all the way back to 645. Some of the most iconic shots of Tokyo are from Sensō-ji, including the Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate, that visitors pass through on their way to the temple.
The massive red chōchin lantern is probably one of the most photographed places in Tokyo.
The streets approaching Sensō-ji are full of various stores selling just about everything including swords, fans, dolls and other assorted knick-knacks.
There’s also a vast number of vendors for traditional Japanese foods, especially desserts. Sugar freaks will have a field day with all the taiyaki (fish shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste), wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and ice cream around.
Personally, I think Asakusa is a must-see but perhaps just once. Sensō-ji is definitely worth the trip but since the area is so tourist-orientated these days, most of the shops and especially the restaurants are rather pricey. That isn’t to say you’ll have a bad meal as bad meals are few and far between in Japan but you’ll definitely be paying a “tourist tax” for it. The same can be said for much of the merchandise in the various shops. You’ll find better souvenirs for your friends and family elsewhere.
The one item mostly unique to Asakusa, however, is the fake plastic food. All those plastic models of food you see in restaurant windows? The bulk of that is sold in Asakusa and if you are looking for a totally realistic piece of octopus sushi to bring home with you, this is the place to get it. Be warned, though, as this stuff isn’t cheap. You’d think plastic models of sushi would be but you’d be paying like $50 for a fake bowl of udon!
The only other time to really visit Asakusa is during the Sumida River Fireworks which happens on the last Saturday of July. The masses of Tokyo flock to the area, mostly dressed in traditional yukatas. I wanted to dress the part as well but I passed since I couldn’t stand walking around in the traditional sandals. You’ll also find some great food from all the street carts catering to the flood of people, although you’ll probably be paying slightly more than usual since it’s an important day.
Finding a good spot means you’ll probably have to get there real early. To get the best spots, people show up in the early afternoon, which is really something since the fireworks don’t start until it gets dark…and during the summer that means around 8-9pm. There’s usually some street musicians and other entertainers in the area so you’ll have a few ways to pass the time. Getting there and getting home will also take some time since the Tokyo underground going into and out of Asakusa is incredibly crowded on that day. If you have a friend that lives in the area, the roof of a tall building is quite often the best venue to view the fireworks but you won’t get the ambiance of the busy streets and the well-dressed crowd.