Asakusa is one of the oldest neighborhoods and most popular destinations in Tokyo, always bustling with tourists. Asakusa has a traditional, down-to-earth vibe that attracts about 50 million visitors a year.
In this article, we will focus on the Nakamise shopping street in front of Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji temple.
The narrow street is lined on both sides with shops selling food and souvenirs that will satisfy almost every tourist's needs -- even those on a tight budget. We sampled plenty of cheap, tasty food for less than 1000 yen.
Nakamise Shotengai: a picturesque street that leads to Tokyo's oldest temple
Nakamise Shotengai in Asakusa
Japan's oldest shopping arcade
Asakusa is a scenic downtown neighborhood in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. The area is home to Tokyo's major tourist attractions, such as the 1400-year old Senso-ji temple and the iconic Kaminarimon gate.
The symbol of Asakusa -- Kaminarimon
Let’s take a closer look at the street that links Senso-ji temple and the Kaminarimon gate. It is one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets.
Many shops have been here since Japan's capital was relocated to Tokyo in the 17th century. As the city’s population grew, the temple attracted more worshippers, adding more stalls to this street.
A total of 89 shops selling food and souvenirs do business here.
The almost 250-meter stretch is paved with cobblestone and colorfully decorated with signboards.
The word "Nakamise" means a shopping arcade located within the grounds of a temple or shrine. Asakusa's Nakamise Shotengai is surely one of the most visited temple streets in Japan, as it welcomes visitors from Japan and abroad.
Enjoy Asakusa's Nakamise shopping street for 1000 yen
First time visitors may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of shops. If you come unprepared, it may seem like a daunting task trying to decide which stalls to visit.
Let us focus on the food for now and introduce some excellent shops that won't break your wallet.
Nakamise shopping street is always packed with visitors, even on weekdays
There is an unwritten rule at this thoroughfare that many visitors may not be fully aware of... No eating is allowed while walking. Food and drinks must be consumed in front of the shop. Some shops reserve small areas for this purpose.
Let’s look at the cheap and tasty street food I discovered!
“Azuma” – sweet dumplings 50 meters from Kaminarimon
Asakusa Kibidango Azumaya is a quick walk from Kaminarimon gate
Our first stop was just a one-minute walk away from the Kaminarimon gate.
Azuma specializes in a traditional Japanese snack called kibi-dango, which is made from millet and rice flour. Served with cold matcha tea, these dumplings were actually sold on this street during the Edo-period.
It is hard to miss the charming signboard shaped as a stick of dumplings
Enticed by the shop clerk's cheerful call, I decided to stop by.
The cold matcha and millet dumplings coated with roasted soybean powder looked delicious. My order was served on a small stylish Japanese tray, which I enjoyed in the corner of the shop reserved for customers.
Cold matcha placed in wooden boxes (130 yen per cup)
Kibi-dango coated with generous servings of roasted soybean powder (5 sticks for 330 yen
Kibi-dango is served warm, which allows you to taste the mild sweetness of the soybean powder. They are reasonably priced at 330 yen for 5 sticks and make great snacks to share with friends.
The cold matcha tea is also slightly sweet, but with a rich taste that spreads in your mouth. It is very delicious and is the perfect refreshment to pair with kibi-dango.
Sweet potato paste at “Funawa” – about 90 meters from Kaminarimon
Funawa exterior. The first shop stands in the back
Founded in 1902, Funawa is one of Japan’s most beloved Japanese confectionary stores. Its signature item is imo-yokan, or gelled sweet potato paste. They have a string of shops in Asakusa, including its head store on Orange Street, and three stalls in Nakamise shopping street.
Mostly sweets made with sweet potato paste
We visited the third shop in Nakamise Shotengai, which welcomes customers with a charming signboard of alphabet letters. There were many Japanese confectionaries on display, which all looked delicious. This shop focuses on original sweets that can be enjoyed on the spot.
Many original items
Funawa dorayaki filled with red bean and sweet potato paste
I tried a dorayaki (red bean pancake) filled with imo-yokan.
There is a lot of red bean paste inside, making it quite bulky and heavy. I thought it would be too sweet, but surprisingly, it had a simple sweetness that was just right and delicious!
“Ichiban-ya” -- about 170 meters from Kaminarimon
Ichiban-ya sells toasted rice crackers and other crispy rice snacks
By this point, I felt I had eaten enough sugar and started craving for something salty. As I strolled towards the temple, I spotted some delicious-looking rice crackers.
Ichiban-ya is a traditional senbei(rice cracker) shop known for its crackers cooked over a charcoal fire.
Senbei rice crackers toasted in front of the store
The shelves inside the shop are stacked with packets of senbei, which make the perfect Asakusa gift. At the front of the store, the staff was busy toasting senbei, which are sold at just 50 yen per piece.
Rice cracker dipped in soy sauce (100 yen per piece)
Spoilt for choice, I decided to get a nure-senbei, which is a rice cracker dipped in soy sauce before toasting. These crackers are slightly soft on the outside but light and crispy inside.
“Asakusa Kokonoe” -- about 280 meters from Senso-ji temple
Asakusa Kokonoe stands just before Senso-ji temple
Just before I reached Senso-ji temple, I spotted more tempting food....
I made my last stop at a shop that offers Japanese traditional confectionery with a twist.
Kokonoe is just three stalls away from Senso-ji temple, and specializes in age-manju, or deep-fried manju -- one of the most popular snacks of Nakamise Shotengai. Manju is a small steamed rice cake with sweet filling.
Freshly made age-manju bun
Kokonoe coats its manju in a tempura like batter before they are deep-fried in a mix of three quality brand oils. This makes the manju crispy on the outside. The store always has fresh and warm batches of age-manju ready for hungry tourists.
The shop fills its age-manju with 11 different flavors, including all-time favorites such as matcha, pumpkin and sesame. They also have untraditional savory flavors like curry and monja pancake batter.
Choose from a total of 11 flavors. Each piece is reasonably priced at about 130 yen
I chose the "sakura" flavor, which is said to be popular with tourists from abroad. It is wrapped with salted sakura cherry leaves and filled with red bean paste flavored with sakura leaves and petals. It was the perfect blend of sweet and salty.
sakura age-manju (200 yen per piece)
Four delicious treats for just 1000 yen
Four shops along Nakamise Shotengai satisfied my culinary quest on a 1000-yen budget. I had a satisfying feast and still had change to spare.
The best thing about Nakamise shopping street is that it is full of traditional stores with reasonably priced items. The friendly shopkeepers also made it enjoyable to visit this good old neighborhood of Tokyo.
It only took 1000 yen to enjoy Asakua's food. That left me with some money to spend on souvenirs and Japanese-style handcrafts.
Classic Asakusa souvenirs
Before I left Nakamise Shotengai, I took a look at some other food items found only in Asakusa. Here are two classic local snacks that make perfect gifts.
“Honke Bairindo” -- about 200 meters from Kaminarimon gate
Bairindo is famous for "doll cakes"
Honke Bairindo sells tiny cakes filled with sweetened bean paste, which are one of Asakusa’s most popular souvenirs. They come in various shapes such as dolls,birds, and other auspicious shapes.
A pack of eight cakes costs only 350 yen, but further discounts are given if you buy them in bulk. Sometimes, the shop will even halves its prices.
Different colored bags for different fillings
Adorable ningyo-yaki(doll cakes) (350 yen for eight pieces)）
The cakes that are hand-baked in front of the store can be purchased individually. The freshly baked ningyo-yaki cakes are 60 yen per piece. They have generous amounts of red bean paste inside and are quite filling snacks.
“Asakusa Kineya” -- about 100 meters from Kaminarimon
One of the oldest shops in the neighborhood
Most of Asakusa's traditional rice cracker snacks can be found at Kineya. The best seller is the age-okaki, or deep-fried crackers. They have a light texture and just the right amount of saltiness that is almost addictive.
The crackers are made from a variety of sticky rice from the northern Tohoku region, and deep-fried in a special blend of Japanese sunflower oil. This combination creates the perfect crispiness, which you can sample at the store.
Deep-fried crackers placed on shelves
Salt flavored age-okaki (330 yen per packet)
Other popular items include thin crackers toasted over a special charcoal fire -- which cost 420 yen -- and broken crackers made from top quality rice from Niigata. These crackers cost between 600 and 650 yen.
Fantastic shutter art at Nakamise shopping street
See a different side of Asakusa after dark
Nakamise Shotengai boasts fascinating artwork on its shop shutters, although they might be hard to spot during the day.
Painting featuring traditional horseback archery
Asakusa’s mural paintings are only revealed after the crowds leave at night, when shops roll down their shutters.
The neighborhood’s signboards are lightened up, showing a different side of the shopping street.
The 400-meter long shutter art is known as “Asakusa picture scroll” and was created under the guidance of the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1989. Many of the designs are based on traditional Japanese themes, such as cherry blossoms. Some works depict Asakusa's various seasonal festivals, which have been celebrated for centuries. Visit Nakamise Shotengai at night to enjoy it in a different light.
Wander around and soak up the earthy vibe
Nakamise Shotengai is packed with tourists every day, throughout the year. For this article, we focused on how to enjoy Asakusa’s food and drinks on a 1000-yen budget, but it was simply a fun busy place with an unmistakably Japanese feel. The scenic thoroughfare is a great place to wander around and interact with friendly shopkeepers.