Asakusa is not known for its nocturnal charms. It’s an obligatory stop on the Tokyo tourist trail, and few locals would have thought of looking for night-time things to do around the iconic Sensoji Temple. Until very recently, that is. The run-up to the 2020 Olympics has seen a new breed of hip hotels and hostels open in Asakusa – a trend that’s led to a clutch of noteworthy after-dark spots popping up to meet rising demand. Here we look at how to have fun in Asakusa once the sun has set: start out at the magnificently illuminated Sensoji before digging deeper into the neighbourhood’s nightly charms.
Eight of the best after-dark spots in Asakusa
Tokyo’s oldest and grandest temple is wildly busy during the day, but visiting after dark is usually far more rewarding: crowds are manageable, the mighty temple structures are lit up until 11pm, and the closed rolling doors of the 250m Nakamise-dori shopping street are straight out of an Ikuo Hirayama painting. Strolling through the Kaminarimon gate and down the artsy arcade is recommended for romantics, while the izakaya-lined street on the west side of the temple complex is where to kick off a booze-fuelled evening.
Famous as the restaurant that inspired the ‘Crazy 88’ fight scene in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, not many people know that Gonpachi is actually a small chain of restaurants, each with their own distinctive theme and atmosphere. While QT’s muse is in Nishi-Azabu, this branch opened in January 2017 and is their first in Asakusa, just a few steps away from the Kaminarimon and next to Azumabashi, with a great riverside view from the second floor.
The Gonpachi folks craft everything from scratch: their soba is handmade in house every day, while the supremely beer-friendly yakitori skewers are grilled on binchotan (Japanese white charcoal) for a smoky kick. Note that reservations are recommended for the riverside seats.
Although it's only five minutes' walk from Asakusa Station, in an alley just off Kokusai-dori, this sento bathhouse tends not to get much tourist traffic – which is all the more surprising when you consider that it's been going since the Edo period. The owners have given the place a few overhauls since then, and hardcore shitamachi geeks may be disappointed by the functional, modern interior.
Still, the obligatory painting of Mount Fuji looms over the indoor bathing area, which features tubs filled with mineral-rich, dark brown water, while a stone path leads to the relaxing open-air zone complete with rotenburo (open-air bath). The place is open until midnight, making a moonlit dip essential.
Blow off some steam by swinging at mechanical pitches or perfecting your own fastball in the bullpen – this retro batting centre, opened in 1998, is instantly recognisable by the glowing neon sign that spells out ROX (the name of the building) and the giant glove above the entrance. Each ¥400 game gets you 20 pitches. The complex, which also houses other sporty mini-game arenas and a Taito video game arcade, stays open until 1am every day.
Conjured up by Portland-based creative agency OMFGCO, known for their Ace Hotels in London and across the US, and the folks behind Tokyo’s ubiquitous Wired Café chain, the stylish Wired Hotel is one of the most exciting openings in Asakusa this year.
On its ground floor you'll find Zakbaran, a café-bar that non-guests are welcome to use too. Sweets and snacks made from soy milk and tofu stud the menu, alongside a strictly curated, 12-strong sake lineup, while the regular ‘1Mile x 100Mile’ networking events usually see an engaging lineup of guest speakers and are fun for locals and visitors alike.
Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku has survived earthquakes, redevelopments and a multitude of foodie fads. Founded in 1954, Tokyo’s oldest onigiri specialist is distinguished by its counter, which is reminiscent of those found at upscale sushi restaurants, but the shop itself remains adorably down to earth. Now run by the grandchildren of the founder, who set it up after her husband simply couldn’t be bothered to work any longer, Yadoroku roughly translates to ‘no-good sofa spud’ – which must have led to some interesting conversations around the dinner table.
Rice balls can be had for around ¥200, with filling options ranging from the common salmon and kombu seaweed to salted and fermented fish innards (shiokara) and ginger pickled in miso. You can get your onigiri fix until 2am, making this a top destination for a post-drink snack.
Run by Asakusa Jinta – a local rock sextet that combines swing, rockabilly, klezmer, polka and waltz into a wild, mosh-inducing mix – this casual bar on Kokusai-dori stands out among the countless ‘snack’ bars frequented by the neighbourhood’s geezers. Live performances, which range from indie gigs to burlesque shows, take place here every night except for Tuesdays.
When stopping by, don’t forget to seek out Sound Bar Pure’s in the back: this techno- and dance-focused hideout often hosts underground DJ nights. Adventurous musos looking to explore the local scene will love a night at Golden Tiger.
Opened in 2013, Uuto is a magnet for local audiophiles. It’s run by a composer who needed a place to check the sound quality of his work and, apparently on a whim, decided to establish an entire café for the purpose. Having switched to a late-night format a year ago, it’s where to sip fine coffee and snack on luxurious desserts while taking in smooth tunes flowing from speakers tuned to pin-drop perfection.
If body fat percentage isn’t high on your list of concerns, go for the cutesy and cat-shaped but decadent gateau chocolat, which can be paired with a glass of fine whisky or some sake from the owner’s extensive collection.