Asakusa or Ginza? It's difficult to describe the vibrant city of Tokyo in just a few words, as each district has its own unique characteristics.
For example, if you're looking for an eclectic mix of tradition and modern, Asakusa is the town you want to be in. On the other hand, those craving for some sophisticated entertainment for adults will feel right at home in Ginza. The wide range of diversity in the characteristics of each Tokyo town has captivated the minds and hearts of so many!
Here, we'll be interviewing some non-Japanese residents living around the Asakusa and Ginza districts for their opinions on how livable the two towns are, as well as what sort of shopping or good food one can enjoy there. All comments are personal opinions of the individual.
main image:canyalcin / Shutterstock.com
- Table of Contents
- Convenience: Old Town Asakusa VS Ginza, Global Trendsetter
- Food: Established restaurants and fast food in Asakusa VS Ginza's international cuisine
- Corridor-gai Street Restaurants to Include in Your Bucket List
- Souvenir Shopping at Asakusa's General Stores VS Ginza's Underground Department Stores
- It takes all sorts to make a world, so have fun with them all!
Convenience: Old Town Asakusa VS Ginza, Global Trendsetter
What did our non-Japanese friends love about their chosen towns, and what made them decide to live there?
"The most appealing thing about Asakusa to me is the olden Japanese atmosphere it has," said an Australian man. "The scenery around town is very uniquely Japanese, and many people here dress in traditional kimono as well. Not to mention cultural curiosities like ninja restaurants and such! Just walking around town on any given day can be a fun day of discovery."
What he said is true! Asakusa is a town with a charmingly quaint streetscape, centered around such historic buildings as the well-known Sensō-ji and Nakamise Shopping Street, one of the oldest shopping arcades of Japan. You can definitely get an authentic taste of Japanese culture here.
It's no wonder people are falling head over heels in love with Asakusa's unique appeal. It's not just the old things, though. There's much to love about Asakusa in terms of the new as well.
Explaining further, an American woman said, "I think what I like about Asakusa is how it blends the old with the new together so well. When you walk through the streets of Asakusa, you get a sense of the history it comes with, but once you get near the Skytree, you'll see all these modern facilities like an aquarium, a planetarium, and large commercial malls. The shift in mood and appearance is really abrupt."
The 634 meters (about 2,080 feet) tall Skytree is the world's tallest freestanding broadcasting tower as of August 2020. At the 350-meter (about 1,148 feet) and 450-meter (about 1,476 feet) marks, there are observation decks that visitors can look out from for a panoramic view of the sprawling metropolis area. At the base of the tower is a commercial facility packed with shops featuring the latest products and technology Tokyo has to offer. Being able to enjoy Japan in its most traditional and futuristic at the same time is one of the most heralded highlights of Asakusa for sure.
As for Ginza, once you step into the area, you can't help but be impressed by the air of elegance it seems to be clad with, due to the high number of fashion boutiques featuring luxury brands from all over the world. This, too, is a unique feature of this town that attracts like-minded people to it.
"The allure of Ginza to me is how sophisticated it feels and how beautiful the town is," remarks a French woman. "Yes, a lot of the shops here sell rather pricey products, but just strolling along the streets doing window shopping here can actually quite fun in itself, too!"
Window shopping among the most fashionable brands of the world does sound like a rather enjoyable activity, indeed! The buildings where you can find these shops are usually built in elaborately designed ways that will attract fashion-lovers as well.
Being able to browse through a good mix of shops featuring the latest trends alongside established and historic shops at the same time is a unique highlight of Ginza that thrill and fascinate many.
"Ginza's appeal is in the large number of tasteful shops and fashionably dressed people," says our Italian interviewee. "Department stores and branded boutiques line the streets, and the roads here turn into a pedestrian's shopping paradise on weekends. All in all, the town has an undeniable air of elegance to it. I haven't mentioned the back streets yet! There's a completely different sort of mood to them, which makes the town even more multifaceted and interesting. The back street facing Showa-Dori Street is especially cool, as there's a large number of traditional-looking shops inside."
The town of Ginza was built on a grid-like pattern, so there are plenty of narrow alleyways between major streets, and some of the stores in these alleyways have been doing business since a very long time ago. Because the rent in Ginza is among the highest in Japan, many of the shops here have limited floor space.
Throughout the years, each shop has had to make do with what they have and as a result, put much effort into designing their shops in a way that would ensure their survival. As such, whatever you see in these alleys is the result of layers upon layers of careful thought and planning. The fact that it has attracted the attention of even foreigners makes it clear how captivating this alternative side of Ginza is as well.
Food: Established restaurants and fast food in Asakusa VS Ginza's international cuisine
Restaurants of Tokyo's old town Asakusa are known for serving up familiar-tasting classic food.
"The okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) and monjayaki (Japanese pan-fried batter) stores in Asakusa really stand out," remarked an Australian man. "The first time I saw monjayaki, I was really shocked! Now, however, it's one of my favorite foods."
Okonomiyaki and monjayaki are like fast food in Japan. Monjayaki is much runnier than the normal okonomiyaki, and is basically batter laden with meat and vegetables. It’s quite different to any other dishes you might’ve seen, so it can leave a lasting impression!
"It’s not a restaurant, but whenever I walk down Nakamise Shopping Street, I always end up buying some delicious agemanju (bun stuffed with bean paste) because of how delicious they smell!" was our American interviewee's comment.
Speaking of Nakamise Shopping Street, this is where you can find a large variety of casual finger food to satisfy your minor cravings, whether they be for something sweet, salty, cheap, deep-fried, or anything else at all. There's probably going to be something here for you, and then some!
Although eating as you walk is frowned upon on this street, most shops provide standing tables or eating spaces for customers to eat what they just bought at leisure. It's a special way to enjoy good food that's unique to this area!
Ginza restaurants, on the other hand, are as global as they come. You can expect to find great-tasting food from all over the world being served here.
"Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese... There are all sorts of restaurants here serving different food in a relaxing atmosphere. That's the impression I get," remarked an Italian man. "At the very least, I'm sure I won't be running out of eateries to visit in this town anytime soon!"
These relaxing restaurants nevertheless bear the mark of Ginza's class and elegance. Ginza also has an equally impressive array of sweets and desserts for after-meal entertainment.
"I like having a spot of tea with dessert at Ginza cafes," said a French woman. "It just puts me in such a good mood. The whole town is so refined, too, and there are many wonderful restaurants, bars, and cafes to visit. I personally recommend going to Corridor-gai Street and taking a look at the many lively shops you'll find there!"
Our French friend is a true connoisseur of cafe culture, so if she recommends the cafes in Ginza, they must really be as good as claimed! The Corridor-gai Street she mentioned is a relatively new area of Ginza, with plenty of up-and-coming shops that are being patronized by a younger crowd between their 20s to 30s, which gives the place its energetic vibe.
Corridor-gai Street Restaurants to Include in Your Bucket List
Souvenir Shopping at Asakusa's General Stores VS Ginza's Underground Department Stores
"For souvenirs in Asakusa, I recommend going to Nakamise Shopping Street," said an Australian man. "The shops there sell plenty of souvenirs with a Japanese flair and tasty little tidbits. There's so much variety that you may not be able to make up your mind."
Nakamise is the unchallenged top spot to visit in Asakusa if you're hunting for souvenirs. Since the street is basically located along the approach to Sensō-ji Temple, a large number of shops here naturally sell goods with Japanese designs, including lucky charms and such. Perfect for souvenirs!
"If you go to this place called Kappabashi," said an American woman, "you'll find a lot of adorable utensils and small sweets. I think they'll make great souvenirs!"
Kappabashi is a utensil and kitchenware area that all would-be restaurant operators will visit at least once in their lifetime. The shops here now sell to consumers as well, rather than in bulk, so if you find something you like, you can just buy that one single item. These are full-fledged restaurant-level kitchenware that can be bought at very reasonable prices, so they've become quite a popular spot among both foreigners and locals alike.
Ginza's sweets and desserts are mostly displayed behind glass panels in department stores, which makes them very popular among foreigners. Presentation is key, after all! And the vast variety available in one place doesn't hurt either. It's also fun to hop from shop to shop looking for the best sweets without having to move around too much!
"The food section of department stores actually sell the best souvenir sweets and desserts," said an Italian man.
A French woman adds, "Just head to the underground section of a department store for souvenirs and you can never go wrong, since they sell an amazing amount of gorgeous-looking Japanese and Western confectionery."
Both residents we spoke to had high praises for the souvenirs in the department stores. Besides department stores, many smaller old-time shops in Ginza also sell fantastic Japanese and Western snacks. Although small, these shops can still make your souvenir hunt in Ginza a lot more fun if you take some time out to look for them and see what they have to offer as well!
It takes all sorts to make a world, so have fun with them all!
As you can see, both Asakusa and Ginza are chock-full of things to see and do. It's going to take more than one day for you to thoroughly enjoy what these Tokyo towns have to offer! Both areas have their individual merits that show off the charms of Japan from a different angle, so there's really no need to compare - visit both towns for the best of both worlds!
Written by Naomi Konishi, Dali Corporation. English translation by Huimin Pan.
*The above article is based on information from June 2020
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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