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Tokyo Travel Guide

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Asakusa

If there is one must-visit neighborhood in Tokyo, this is it. Asakusa brings together cultural sites, dining, and entertainment in vibrant surroundings that are at once historic and modern. Cars make room for the rickshaw drivers who sometimes outpace the motorized traffic. On the neighborhood’s backstreets, neo French and Italian cafés mix with generations-old soba and tempura shops

and customers in the latest fashions sit with those in traditional kimonos. Kaminari-mon, the gateway to Senso-ji—Tokyo’s oldest temple—is a backdrop for artisans and small entrepreneurs, children and grandmothers, hipsters, hucksters, and priests. It is hard not to be swept away by the relaxed energy that pulses through the area. If you have any time to spend in Tokyo, make sure you devote at least a day to exploring Asakusa.

Historically, Asakusa has been the city's entertainment hub. The area blossomed when Ieyasu Tokugawa made Edo his capital, and it became the 14th-century city that never slept. For the next 300 years it was the wellspring of almost everything we associate with Japanese culture. In the mid-1600s, it became a pleasure quarter in its own right with stalls selling toys, souvenirs, and sweets; acrobats, jugglers, and strolling musicians; and sake shops and teahouses—where the waitresses often provided more than tea. Then, in 1841, the Kabuki theaters moved to Asakusa. The theaters were here for a short time, but it was enough to establish Asakusa as the entertainment quarter of the city—a reputation it held unchallenged until World War II, when most of the area was destroyed.

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