Staying in a traditional guest house, or ryokan, is always a must during a trip to Japan, and the Asakusa Shigetsu Ryokan is a place I’d highly recommend. Located a stone’s throw from the gorgeous and very famous Sensoji Shrine, Shigetsu is tucked away in a quiet alley behind the lively Nakamise Shopping Street which runs from the shrine’s southern entrance – the iconic Kaminarimon Gate – all the way to the shrine itself. This is an excellent area to stay with a very fun atmosphere, loads of food and drink, and an endless array of souvenirs and shopping!
Shigetsu is a small family-run guesthouse with a mom-and-pop team who are likely in their seventies, or perhaps even older. Lynn was almost as tall as them! According to the website, Shigetsu has been in operation for more than 80 years and “retains the heart and soul of a small, genuine Japanese inn”.
The tatami room which we stayed in was lovely, and because there were only one or two other guests at the ryokan I think they gave us one of their better tatami rooms, because we had an amazing view of the stunning Five-Storied Pagoda of Sensoji from our window.
In a traditional ryokan you have a tatami room, and sleep on futon mattresses on top of the tatami. There are no curtains; only the classic paper-and-bamboo shoji sliding doors. There was a small table and two zabuton cushions to sit on. I love tatami rooms and it made me miss my old place in Japan!
Right outside of the ryokan was all the action of Sensoji. After dumping the bags, we went to see the Kaminarimon Gate and work our way up Nakamise Shopping Street all the way up to the halls of the shrine.
How huge is this lantern! So impressive. And soooo many people milling around taking selfies, we had to wait a while for them to move so we could even stand under the gate! Travel Tip: If you ever go to Sensoji and stand under the lantern, don’t forget to look up – at the bottom of the lantern is an impressive carving of a golden dragon.
Just outside of the Kaminarimon gate you’ll no doubt notice the rickshaw boys pulling around customers. Apparently it is a popular thing to rent a kimono, get all dressed up, and take a rickshaw ride around the Asakusa area before going to the shrine. It’s not something I think I will try though!
After passing under the huge gate, you can take your time to stroll around Nakamise Shopping Street and look at all the souvenirs and fun things to buy. Bags, shirts, chopsticks, statues, stuffed toys, fans, tea sets, phone cases… have lots of cash on hand because there are tons of cute things in all the stalls!
After making your way all the way to the top you approach the main hall of Sensoji, which is one of the most famous spots in Tokyo. There were a lot of school trips and students in uniform, and girls and ladies dressed up traditional kimono, visiting the shrine to pray or get good fortune. We also noticed a lot of sumo wrestlers around, as Sensoji is not far from Ryogoku which is the epicentre of sumo wrestling in the city.
At the end of the day we were exhausted and happy to retreat to the peace and quiet of the guest house to sit on tatami, watch sumo wrestling on TV, and eat some food. But first, we had to go soak in the hot springs. Ahhh, what a way to rest and relax. Because we were the only guests there that night we had the entire onsen to ourselves. It was amazing and from the window you could see the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest building in Japan.
After a day of sightseeing, shopping and soaking, we were downright weary and worn out. We put on our yukata robes, lay down on the futons, and finally got some sleep to try to beat the jet lag.