A Stroll Through The Shops Of Senso-ji Temple In Tokyo’s Asakusa
Let’s start this tour by exploring the captivating Senso-ji Temple, where traditions are still preserved and live on in urban Tokyo!
First, walk from Kaminarimon Gate along the Nakamise Main Street toward Kannon Hall, which is the main hall of Senso-ji. There 89 shops lining the 250 meter (820 ft) length of Nakamise Street.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), due to the increased numbers of worshipers visiting Senso-ji, local residents who were ordered to clean the grounds of the temple received the special privilege of opening shops within the temple grounds or along its approach. These shops eventually turned into the Nakamise shopping district.
After passing under Kaminarimon Gate and turning left on the first side street, there on the corner is a shop you must visit. Kaneso specializes in Japanese kitchen knives. Once you decide which knife you want, you can have it sharpened on the spot. You can enjoy observing a veteran artisan’s sharpening expertise, or you can visit nearby shops then return to pick up your just sharpened knife, featuring the world’s keenest cutting edge. It is said that using this knife will enhance your culinary skills.
Across the street is a store selling fans used in traditional Japanese dance. They also sell sets of fans for playing the fan-throwing game, an elegant parlor recreation that began during the Edo period.
Now, return to Nakamise main street and walk a short distance toward Kannon Hall until the Denboin street sign board comes into view.
Through it first appears that distinctive wooden signs modestly announce each shop’s wares, the doll representing the famous seventeenth-century thief Jirokichi the Rat (Nezumi Kozo) on the roof of the kimono shop seems about to come alive.
Also nearby are shops selling amazing finds like Edo cut glass and antique kimonos.
Just beyond stands Chingodo, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the tanuki (raccoon dog), the guardian deity who pledged to protect Denboin temple from fire during the turbulent years of the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). Denboin is the main temple of the Sensoji temple complex.
From slightly off to the side, you can look out over the garden of Denboin, said to have been designed by the multitalented artist Kobori Enshu (1579-1647). Today, you need a reservation to view this garden. When a special event is being held, however, you cannot make a reservation. Consequently, the free view of the garden from this spot is priceless.
Let’s return again to the Nakamise main street. Don’t miss the toy shop Sukeroku, located on the right side of the street in front of Hozomon Gate. Selling toy miniatures, this shop inherited traditional artisanship from an era when — in conformance with sumptuary laws legislated in the final years of the Edo period — even toys had to be made as small as possible. All the miniatures are hand-made. This shop’s papier-mache dogs are famous, because Empress Michiko presented one to Crown Princess Masako during her pregnancy to wish her an easy childbirth.
Before heading for Kannon Hall, turn right just before Hozomon Gate and visit the Nakaya shop on the corner. Nakaya offers every type of festival apparel worn during festivals by the local Asakusa residents who are widely reputed as avid festival aficionados. Here you can see genuine traditional festival happi coats.
Now, walking past several shops in the direction opposite the Kannon Hall, you will come upon Fujiya, a shop specializing in dyed tenugui (towels). Although cotton tenugui were traditionally put to various practical uses, they are presently enjoyed as works of art due to their interesting designs and beauty, featuring landscapes, animals, flowers, kabuki actors, and other motifs. One way of appreciating tenugui is to hang a framed one on the wall.
Within the Asakusa introduced here, you can experience not only the seasoned artistry of Edo artisans which has been passed on to modern times but also the devotion of the artisans themselves. Enjoy a stroll of discovery and savor traditional Japanese living through encounters with diverse handmade objects.