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The beautiful photo near Asakusa above is courtesy of Tsutomu Kuriyama from the Panorama Tokyo Review.

Go to the photo gallery for Asakusa Station.

Asakusa is the place I stayed during my first night in Tokyo.  My friend lives there and she kindly allowed me to stay with her till I got on my feet so to speak.  Asakusa is a nice change from most other parts of Tokyo.  For one, it's not as hectic and over driven as most other towns in Tokyo and it has more of a tightly nit community feel to it, even though that's stretching it a bit.  For tourists visiting Tokyo Asakusa has to be one of the top places on their list.  Here is one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, Asakusa Kannon Temple, or Sensoji.

My friend did not actually live at Asakusa station but at Tawaramachi station just one stop before Asakusa.

The only concern maybe for the non-Tokyoite, is that Asakusa station is not on the "main route" meaning not on the loop line, the Yamanote line the circles Tokyo's biggest stations.  This though I assure you is not the least bit a problem as far as travel is concerned.  You're probably better off to take the subways around anyway so this is an easy stop to get to.  It's the last stop on the Ginza Line going the opposite direction from Shibuya (the other end).  There are too many transfer points to get on the Ginza line to mention here, but the closest few are Ueno station and Kanda Station.  From Asakusa station probably everything you want to see is within a short walking distance.  At ground level you will come out near the Sumida River.  The main artery for Tokyo.  If you look across the river, on the other side of Azuma Bridge, you will see the looming Asahi Beer Headquarters in Tokyo.  This is a combination of strangely designed buildings that are easy to see because they are the tallest buildings around.  They are also seen in the picture used for the background of this page.  The tallest building has got a strange jagged outcropping on the top.  This building funny enough as it is, is supposed to be a mug or glass of beer, with the top being the foam.  The building next to it that is shorter with an odd flame like sculpture on the top is the restaurant beer tasting building.  It was designed and built much to the anger of the local residents who think it is quite ugly and have nicknamed it, "the ____ building" (other four letter name for feces goes in the blank).  I guess that's what they think the thing on the top of the building looks like.

On the station side of the river is where the real sightseeing begins.  Right across from the station a bit to the the north is the entrance to the shopping arcade.  This is a covered shopping street with many neat souvenir shops.   By the way if you want neat Tokyo souvenir's for family or friends get them here.  There aren't going to be many other places in the city to buy them.  I actually came back here just to buy my gifts because it is the only real good place to by touristy stuff (eg. postcards, t-shirts, books, cheap yukata's or kimono's not the real thing by the way, key chains etc.)  Just a side note.  Please don't think you can easily buy a real Kimono to take home as a souvenir.  They are incredibly expensive, like thousands to ten thousand, and usually have to be custom fit.  Only if you're very rich I guess it's okay.

The shopping streets criss-cross for quite a ways.  To the north along the main street (usually the busiest) is the route to Sensoji temple.  At the very entrance to this street is the very famous Kaminarimon.  mon means gate.  This is definitely a photo opp.  follow the street from the gate all the way along the covered arcade and you will eventually get to Sensoji.  This is marked by another gate as the entrance to the temple called Hozomon.

One of the reasons I came to Asakusa when I did, early May, was to see and be part of the famous Sanja Matsuri festival held here every year.  Sanja Matsuri  is one of the biggest if not the biggest and most famous festival in Tokyo.  The whole festival centers on the carrying of portable shrines called o-mikoshi.  Each mikoshi is carreid by dozens of people from each community.  Each small community in the area gets to carry their own mikoshi on the first day of the festival.  The mikoshi are carried from the each community early in the morning, they proceed all the way to the temple circling it once and finally returning back to the respective community.  It is said that the god in the shrine enjoys being shaken and jostled about.

The sheer amount of people is what got me.  There were close to one million people there for the first day of ceremonies.  The streets were so packed you couldn't walk or even move down them.  I was extremely lucky to be a member of the community that got to carry the mikoshi to the temple, even though I was a short term member of the community.  It took many hours to finally get there and go al the way back.  We stopped at the temple for about an hour and al the over one hundred gold mikoshi met there at the temple.  It was very spectacular to see them all in the same place. Getting the chance to carry the mikoshi is a very special thing and sometimes people are quite aggressive to get their turn.  Most of the time with the huge crowds and lack of space people were extremely considerate even asking if I wanted a chance to carry the mikoshi for a while, giving up their turn.  Each community has a special vest (a small yukata I think) that they wear while the festivities are on.  The vests have the name of the community written on the front and back.  Other things include the wearing of headbands, tabi which are like outdoor slippers sometimes used as work shoes, and even an old style of underwear worn by men, which is quite revealing, but not that much.  I forget how to say it in Japanese.

On the second day the grand mikoshi, of which I think there is only three, are taken out and only select communities get the honor to carry them.  Just by chance my friend's community was chosen this year and I was even given the chance to carry the grand mikoshi.  This was something of a shock to me, because I felt like I was cheating a bit.  Many people in the community very much look forward to this event and wait sometimes years for it, and here I was just-arrived and already had my chance.  Anyway I received a blue headband, as only the people wearing the blue headband were allowed to carry the grand mikoshi.  I also went and hopelessly tried to buy some tabi.  My feet are size twelve, so to find size twelve tabi is almost impossible.  I found some that almost fit and bought them.  The chance was something too special to pass up by not having the right footwear.  The reason for wearing tabi is simple.  there are maybe fifty people carrying the mikoshi and everyone is on the other persons back.  Stepping on people's feet is unavoidable and shoes would really hurt.  So tabi have soft bottoms and are light weight, and are perfect.  I guess they are kind of like outdoor socks.

When the grand mikoshi finally came we had to line up behind a rope so people couldn't rush the mikoshi too soon.  It came was set down by the people in the previous community and when the rope was away everyone ran fast to get a spot under the wooden beams used to support it.  Now one thing I didn't say is that the mikoshi are obviously very heavy.  even with many other people it hurts.  My shoulder turned blue for a few days afterwards.  Also because I'm fairly tall I had to bend to stay at everyone else's level, and my legs were very sore afterwards too.  I took lots of pictures and got to carry the grand mikoshi for about thirty seconds, pretty good considering, and then it was over.  There was a great procession of people following the mikoshi along with an escort of police.  When I got in, I was kind of grabbed by the arm form somewhere, pushed in to position and bounced up and don for about thirty seconds with a huge weight on my shoulder then just as when I got in I was grabbed again and pulled out.  I will never forget it.