There are loads of well-known tourist places in Tokyo… Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, to name a few. Whenever friends from home or other international visitors come to Japan, I often get asked for recommendations on things to do and see in Tokyo. In particular, a lot of people want to know what are the tourist traps, or things not worth the hype. But honestly, there’s really not much that isn’t worth doing! Granted, some things are kind of geared towards tourists – like the Robot Cafe or MariCar (real life Mario Cart) – but I feel like when you experience something as out-there as that, and then the next day experience something like a tea ceremony or the fish market, it makes you appreciate what Japan is famous for: a land of contrasts, a beautiful blend of modern and traditional.
Take the most famous temple in the city, for example. Sensoji in Asakusa is considered one of the top 5 things to do in Tokyo, and with millions of visitors each year, it is a constant hive of activity. The tourists are busy shopping and taking photos; the stall keepers are busy selling; the guards are busy making sure people obey the rules. It feels like a melting pot where every country around the world is represented in the harmonious mass.
At the same time, below the ‘touristy surface’ lies an ancient, historically important place. Sensoji is said to have been founded in the year 645. It started out just as a simple structure housing a statue of the goddess of mercy where people would come to pray. Over the past 1,300+ years, the temple has been destroyed by earthquakes, fires, floods and wars, but it never lost its value among monks, pilgrims, and even Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled Japan in the early 1600s. It’s because of them that Sensoji remains to this day.
While living in Tokyo, I have taken a bunch of different friends to Asakusa and shown them around. Despite the overwhelming crowds, it really is a great place to experience, especially when you know a little about the history and traditions.
Here are a few tips I recommend to make your visit even better!
- Visit during one of the festivals – Sanja Matsuri in May is the biggest.
- Try ‘monjayaki‘, Tokyo’s version of okonomiyaki (side note: it doesn’t look appetizing, but really is!)
- Head to the Asakusa Culture Tourist Info Centre for a great view of Sensoji from above.
- Visit at night when all the shops along Nakamise are closed and the crowds have left… a great spot for night photography.
- Visit Denboin and the secret garden next to Sensoji, which is only open from March to May! The 18th and 19th century buildings survived WWII and have been designated Important Cultural Properties.
- Purchase an omamori (luck charm) or a goshuin (temple seal) to commemorate your visit.
Have you ever visited Sensoji? What was your impression?
What are some touristy places you’ve been to in the world that are actually worth the hype?