The Best Things to See and Do in Taito, Tokyo

While Senso-Ji Temple is the major draw to Taito, it's worth lingering a little longer to explore its throwback vibe
While Senso-Ji Temple is the major draw to Taito, it's worth lingering a little longer to explore its throwback vibe | © Bryan Mullennix World View / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer6 August 2021

Seeking an older Tokyo, beyond the glassy skyscrapers and neon karaoke bars? Taito’s your place. It’s here you’ll find the grand Asakusa temple, Senso-ji, with its swollen red lantern; the bustling seafood shops and beauty boutiques of Ameya-Yokocho market; and the graceful museums of Ueno Park. This ward has a throwback vibe rarely found in Japan’s ever-changing capital. Here are the must-see sights in Taito, Tokyo.

Asakusa Hanayashiki

Amusement Park
Map View
DFE5AH Asakusa Hanayashiki amusement park
© Taro Shimizu / Alamy Stock Photo
Many visitors rush into historic Asakusa just to tick off the imposing Senso-ji Temple – then swiftly rush out again. But linger a little longer, exploring the area’s lane-like backstreets, and you’ll be rewarded with shops, steak restaurants – and Asakusa Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in Japan. Opened in 1853, it’s now home to traditional rides including merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, even a haunted house. Follow up the thrills with a visit to Dom Dom, for a battered beef croquette burger.

Kaminarimon Gate

Architectural Landmark
Map View
WH9CEH Kaminarimon main gate, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan, Asia
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

If there’s a selfie that screams Taito, it’s this one, taken in front of the opulent Kaminarimon Gate. Painted red and jade, the entrance to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple frames a 700kg (1,540lb) red lantern, painted with striking Japanese kanji symbols, and festooned with a wooden dragon carving. The gate has had various incarnations, the first more than 1,000 years ago. Look out for the Shinto and Buddhist god statues as you pass by, along an avenue of gift stalls to the temple itself.

Dine on Yakatabune

Restaurant, Japanese
Map View
F5Y8PF Tokyo Skytree and Asahi beer building,Tokyo,Japan
© Masayuki Yamashita / Alamy Stock Photo
An essential part of life in Taito is the Sumida River, a watery ribbon that borders the ward’s easterly side. See it all on a dinner cruise, past older-world Taito as well as the skyscrapers that glitter on the opposite bank (look out for landmark Tokyo Skytree). Yakatabune is a special wooden tour boat, and you’ll get an epic, multi-course Japanese-style feast – with the likes of silky sashimi, crisp tempura and savoury crab ball soup – plus all-you-can-drink beer, sake and Japanese whiskey.

Eat taiyaki

Dessert Shop, Japanese
Map View
2D1E5MA An employee makes a Japanese traditional snack called "Taiyaki", a baked pancake stuffed with a sweet bean jam, at a newly opened store of Fancy Corporation in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo October 23, 2009. Japan's economy may be stagnating, but sales of fish-shaped Taiyaki, which means baked sea bream, are going along swimmingly, thanks to its small price and auspicious name. Picture taken October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (JAPAN SOCIETY BUSINESS FOOD)
© REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

Almost too adorable to eat, taiyaki are traditional Japanese street food cakes shaped like a red seabream (a “tai”). Typically they’re sold by street vendors around historic districts such as Asakusa. They’re stuffed with a sweet filling – usually red bean paste, but sometimes custard or chocolate – and the crisp exterior is best scoffed while still warm. Taiyaki Sharaku is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shop doing them fresh, all day – eat yours on benches outside the shop window.

Ameya-Yokocho Market

Market
Map View
P3M3EP Ameya Yokocho Street market in Ueno, Tokyo
© Jarmo Piironen / Alamy Stock Photo
Ameya-Yokocho, or Ame-Yoko for short, is a must-visit outdoor shopping market near Ueno Station. If it’s your first time in Japan, you’ll be particularly blown away (in a good way) by the gentle chaos – this Taito institution is an intoxicating riot of vendors (almost 200) selling everything from candy and souvenirs to clothing and shoes, usually at low prices. Get set to fill your suitcase.

Ueno Park

Buddhist Temple, Park, Shop
Map View
K51JEG Cherry blossoms and Japanese lanterns in Ueno Onshi Park, Taito, Tokyo, Japan, Asia.
© Asia / Alamy Stock Photo
Ueno is the largest public park in Tokyo. Don’t come with any urgent plans – rather simply arrive and wander at will, admiring lakes of lotus flowers and families sitting in circles around picnics. Somewhere on the grounds, you’ll happen upon an impressive Buddhist temple, rising from the middle of Shinobazu Pond, where the lotus flowers cluster. Look out, too, for a couple of Shinto shrines on the main shore. If you’re in Japan at cherry-blossom time, Ueno Park is one massive cloud of pink, meeting overhead and forming alleys of unreal pale light, while crowds inch along.

Kyu-Iwasaki-Tei Garden

Botanical Garden, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
EWPGE4 Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens, Taito-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
© EDU Vision / Alamy Stock Photo
Not far from Yushima Station, these grounds once belonged to the Echigo Takada Clan during the 17th- to 19th-century Edo Period of classic Japan. Later, they were bought by Yataro Iwasaki, son of the founder of Mitsubishi. The estate is now home to an impressive Western-style mansion built in the early 1900s along with several examples of traditional Japanese architecture, declared Important Cultural Assets by the Japanese government – and head-turning to anyone with an Instagram account.

Tokyo National Museum

Museum, Park
Map View
2B1F8AK Tokyo Japan. Honkan Japanese Gallery at Tokyo National Museum
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Also located in Ueno Park is the Tokyo National Museum, Japan’s oldest and largest, and one of the biggest art museums in the world. Make straight for the displays of the Asian and Japanese art – among 110,000 items. Look also for the fascinating sculptures discovered along the Silk Road and from Greco-Buddhism. Best of all, by simply strolling and not trying to cram everything in, you’ll leave with an unforgettable memory of Japan old and contemporary.

Yanaka Ginza

Market, Architectural Landmark
Map View
R6MKDA Tokyo, Japan - April 25 2018: Yanaka Ginza is one of the few districts in Tokyo where the shitamachi atmosphere, an old town ambience reminiscent of Tokyo from past decades
© coward_lion / Alamy Stock Photo
Yanaka Ginza is an old-fashioned shopping street in the Shitamachi (old-proletarian-Tokyo) style. Full of friendly stray cats, it’s an essential pitstop for the large stairway at the end, known as the Yuyake-dandan steps: that translates as sunset steps, the name emerging from a competition to rename them three decades ago. Once you’ve ascended all 36 (it’s a gentle climb), you get a fine view of Yanaka Ginza – one made popular in TV programmes and magazine articles. And if you come just before dusk, you’ll appreciate just how apt the name is – bring someone you’re romantically linked to.

Shitamachi Museum

Museum
Map View
A7HJX1 Shitamachi Museum, Traditional Sweet Shop
© Travel Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
Don’t miss this showcase of Tokyo’s old Shitamachi culture. Shitamachi – or lower city – was a term used historically to describe the low areas of Tokyo where the non-elite lived. Preserved evidence of the Shitamachi can still be found in small pockets throughout those areas. At the museum, head to the first floor, and the exhibition of Nagaya (tenement houses) of old-town Shitamachi, dating from the Taisho period (1912-1926). Of particular interest are the narrow alleys, home to a well, a coppersmith’s atelier and a time-honoured sweet shop.

Ellie Hurley has contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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