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NYC to Tokyo: A Rush to the Asakusa Festival

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Tokyo, Japan 2009: About to land at Tokyo-Narita Airport

Excited isn't enough to describe how I feel as I left my apartment from Manhattan's Upper East Side to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Actually, I was exhausted. After working 5 nights out of 6, I went out to have lunch with friends, went shopping, and watched Shakespeare in the Park's Twelfth Night in Central Park that ran until midnight. Anne Hathaway was the lead and I couldn't passed it up.

By then, I had to do laundry and start packing as soon as I arrived to my place. The airport shuttle van was schedule to pick me up at 6am! I packed hurrily, thankful to remember to bring a pair of sneakers and my sister's red winter jacket she left in my closet - it was a lifesaver! The van was right on time and I found myself dozing off while picking up several passengers in the upper west side and midtown, before heading downtown to Newark Airport.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: About to land at Tokyo-Narita Airport
 I arrived with plenty of time before boarding. Breakfast and a book helped passed the time before my friend, Mike, one of the people I will be traveling with in Japan, arrived. A long line to board slowed things along but being on the plane quite frequently in the last 18 months, I've gotten used to it and have developed patience I used to lack in these circumstances.

The plane ride was a 14-hour non-stop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Tokyo-Narita International Airport. I watched 2 movies and caught 6 hours of sleep that rejuvenated me from the previous crazy 36 hours.

We arrived in Tokyo-Narita International Airport and breezed through customs and immigration. I already knew the drill from last year's trip (see Japan 2008 blog).

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa Nakamise Shopping Street
We exchanged our dollars to yen, bought our Keisei Line tickets for 1000yen to Ueno, purchased a 2000yen SUICA card, and off we go! I decided not to rent a phone at the airport when I noticed that my phone picked up a Docomo signal - a big mistake because it disappeared once we left the airport.

The train ride was 90 minutes long. No worries - we got some nap time and I enjoyed people watching while on the train before arriving in Ueno Station. From there, we took the Ginza line to Asakusa station and was enveloped by the humidity that of Japan's summer upon exiting the station. It was already 5pm and the humidity was still high.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa crowded Nakamise Shopping Street
It was hot and humid - a very uncomfortable combination during the summer.

Outside, Asakusa, Tokyo's one of the rare remaining neighborhood with the old Tokyo feel, was crowded with people. Finding the ryokan we were staying at was a challenge. The directions I got from the ryokan was clear but we couldn't find or rather differentiate the actual street from the other smaller streets. After turning left prematurely, we finally found it. But oh no!

Thinking that my friend has booked his own room, a miscommunication between us, since I provided him all the information of our accomodations, he didn't booked a room for this one thinking I have already made the reservations! Luckily, the room which I was sharing with another friend can accommodate a 3rd person and the staff said it was okay.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - Shop with yummy tempura-like pastry with bean paste
Phew! We paid for our 1 night stay, and was told my friend was already in the room. My friend and I squeezed ourselves and luggages in the small elevator and remembered the elevators in the hotels we had stayed in Spain. Fond memories. 

Ryokan Kamogawa, a traditional Japanese inn, is located in the center of Asakusa, less than 2 blocks away from the Nakamise Shopping street, Senso-ji and the Kaminari-mon and Hozo Gates. Also ideal for travelers for its close location to several metro/train stations. It small, which most ryokans tended to be, it is clean and charming. The staff were friendly, helpful, and speaks English.

I knocked on the door and my friend, Izumi, opened it! Yay~! We hugged, kissed on cheeks, and caught up on what's what while drinking hot green tea.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - Hozo Gate
My friend, Izumi, is my Japanese friend from NYC of 7 years. I met her in NYC through a mutual friend whom she had taken classes with in college. Since then, we have been friends and she was back in Japan while waiting for her graduate school visa to be processed. My other friend, Matt (matrilla), was taking a nap - well we woke him up when we arrived - and he went back to his nap again.

An hour later, I wanted to do some sightseeing before it gets dark. Mike, Izumi and I went to the Senso-ji, leaving Matt to his nap, via the Nakamise Shopping Street where shops specializing in local delicacies and array of souvenirs lined this very busy street. I found a small shop that sells a tempura-like pastry with bean paste inside. It was yummy! There were also shops selling flowers - not just any flowers but Chinese lantern flowers.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - the 5 story pagoda of Senso-ji
Asakusa is celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival! Orange lantern flower shops lined the northern end of Nakamisa Shopping Street close to Hozo Gate. I wanted to buy some but it wasn't just practical. -sobs-

We reached Senso-ji, Tokyo's most oldest and famous temple, and followed the crowd climbing the stairs to the temple entrance. As others threw coins, clapped, and said their prayers, so did I. The Asakusa Shrine is located on the right of Senso-ji. A 5-story pagoda stood on the opposite side and it was where the festival is located.

I love festivals! Why? Because it means plenty of shops and food vendors! Food everywhere! Takoyakis, ebiyakis, okonomiyakis, hotdogs and sausages in Japanese style, pickled cucumbers on a stick, izakayas, fruit-flavored shaved ice, spicy rice cakes - and it goes on! Most I don't even know the names.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - Smoke to drive away evil and sickness
The uber cute and popular children's game, catch-the-fish, captivated me. Although I've seen it before, I never had the chance to play it. I watched the kids play instead, with their parents' keeping a closed eye on them. Ah~ too adorable! I was tempted to buy and try every food I saw at the festival but I resisted. We planned to have dinner in less than an hour and I didn't want my appetite to be ruined from pigging out at the festival.

On our way back to the ryokan, we passed through the Rokkun Entertainment District. The sun had set by then and izakayas, small Japanese bar, now lined the street, filled with people starting off their weekend. We knew where to go for dinner! We arrived at the ryokan and woke up Matt. While we got ready, we dicussed our plans for Mt Fuji.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - Crowded festival in Asakusa's Senso-ji
The weather looked like it was going to rain so we were skeptical of continuing with our original plan - but where would we stay? Inquiring at the front desk, our decision was made when the receptionist told us that they were fully booked for Saturday and could not accomodate us for another night. Oh well. Mt Fuji it is in the morning!

All ready for dinner, we returned to Rokku Entertainment District where a line of izakayas dominated the street. The first izakaya we tried was full and luckily, we found one where a group just left. It was the only izakaya on the street with pink-colored lanterns!

Izumi ordered for us. As per Matt and Mike, no animal insides. LoL. So we settled for beer and various Japanese tapas of chicken, beef, pork, and fish.

A couple of hours later, we left, satisfied but not quite.

Tokyo, Japan 2009: Asakusa - Kids looking expectantly so they can play
Izumi had to leave to catch her last train back to Yokohama where she lives with her parents, but she had a little over an hour before that so we decided to stop at another izakaya for more beer!

An hour later, 2 rounds of beer, a grilled ika (squid), and photos, we walked Izumi to the Metro Station, before going to a 7-Eleven for some water, stock up on some breakfast for the next day, and withdraw yen from the ATM!

An early night - midnight - was needed because we have an early day for Mt Fuji!

 

 

Travelster82 says:
Great reading your blog! Cheers
Posted on: Jun 06, 2016
tommylennie says:
Packed! I've accounted for pretty much everything I want to see, and have even managed to squeeze a day trip to Nikko in. I look forward to writing my blog as well! Take care for now! :)
Posted on: Aug 13, 2009
ellechic says:
Thanks, tommy. Looking forward to your blog as well. What does your itinerary look like?
Posted on: Aug 12, 2009
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Tokyo Hotels & Accommodations review
A wonderful ryokan in Asakusa, of old Tokyo!
Ryokan Kamogawa is located ideally close in Asakusa's Senso-ji, Nakamise Street Market and Kaminari-mon. Close to the Ginza Line and the Asakusa Li… read entire review
Tokyo
photo by: maka77