5 Things To Do in Asakusabashi
In this piece, I shine a light on a neighborhood which is rarely mentioned in tourist guidebooks–Asakusabashi, located conveniently only one stop from electronics and otaku mecca, Akihabara, on the JR Sobu line with a subway stop on the Toei Asakusa Line as well for easy access to the Asakusa/Sensoji area and Tokyo Sky Tree. This area, one of the first I explored in Japan, is home to many traditional doll shops, craft shops selling beads, stones, and ribbons to make your own accessories, tasty and inexpensive food, and budget accommodations. I would also recommend simply strolling through the streets which retain an intriguing shitamachi (downtown) feel despite its central location and the occasional shiny new building.
1. Explore Traditional Doll Shops
Asakusabashi houses many of Tokyo’s ornamental doll shops which provide beautiful and ornate dolls (ningyou) especially for Girls’ Day in March and Children’s Day (formerly Boys’ Day) in May. Around March, hinaningyou (Hina dolls) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in Heian period traditional clothing are displayed in homes with young daughters. In March, families with young sons display a Kintaro doll, representing a famous Heian warrior, along with a koinobori (swimming carp) flag. This area is home to many merchants with long histories specializing in these dolls, demonstrating Asakusabashi’s historical fame as a business district. Take a walk around and enjoy these stunning dolls representing Japan’s cultural heritage.
2. Go Accessory Craft Shopping
This district is also famous for its many stores specializing in goods to make your own accessories. Even as close as along the little winding streets near the JR station, you can find many reasonably priced shops selling beads, stones, ribbons, and other materials needed to create your very own jewelry or other accessories. Some shops also sell stone or bead accessories pre-made for much cheaper prices than big accessory stores in more busy shopping areas, and often the salespeople will explain the meanings of the different materials to you if you show some proficiency in Japanese! For a low-key and artsy shopping experience that vastly differs from the shiny department stores of Shinjuku and Shibuya, try Asakusabashi.
3. Grab an Inexpensive Bite to Eat
As an area that has attracted less tourists, Asakusabashi also helps you to avoid the pitfalls of Asakusa and Akihabara, where your culinary experience can suffer if you fall into a tourist trap by mistake. Most restaurants here are ramen-ya, izakaya, and yakitori, with some well-priced ethnic food eateries mixed in. You are far more likely to encounter the after-work crowd than other tourists and the prices and low-key experience demonstrate this. For a truly great Thai food (if you can stand a lot of spice!), check out Phayao (パヤオpayao), only two minutes from JR Asakusabashi which offers lunch under 1000 yen.
4. Stay in Budget Accommodations
Besides being an interesting area to make a special trip to, Asakusabashi is also a hidden gem as a home base for tourists–particularly those who are wary of staying in such a big city. For one thing, Asakusabashi has many great budget hotel chains, such as my personal favorite, Hotel Mystays, all at an easy walk from the JR or subway stations. In addition, you can save money on public transportation in the metropolis since you are within walking distance to famous attractions, such as electronics town, Akihabara; sumo town, Ryogoku; and historical amusements area, Asakusa; which also houses Sensoji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo that is particularly colorful and lively.
5. Take a Stroll
Asakusabashi is also a lovely place to take a walk around. It is incredibly central and conveniently located among tourist areas yet it isn’t one itself (yet!). It also has a rich history as a merchant district which you can experience by exploring the old shops all along the smaller streets. Overall, it retains a shitamachi vibe, characteristic of areas which used to be the "downtown" of Tokyo (Edo) in the Edo period, but did not modernize or gentrify quite as quickly. As such, it has a slower pace and more relaxed atmosphere than other places in Tokyo as well as good food and a warmth that some complain is missing in the bigger centers of the city. Come and check it out for yourself!