By Shingo Masuda
TOURISTS DRESSED in kimonos and riding rickshaws are a common sight in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. The slightly raised view from a rickshaw lifts the spirits and can be a way to rediscover Asakusa’s charms.
English, Chinese, Spanish – a symphony of languages can be heard around Kaminarimon Gate at Sensoji Temple.
“Taking a stroll in a rented kimono, rickshaws and Japanese food – bundling these three mainstays is an efficient way of enjoying Asakusa tourism to the fullest,” says Shinichiro Yamaguchi of hotel and restaurant firm Fujita Kanko Inc.
Yamaguchi devised the “Japanese culture experience” plan that includes kimono rentals and fittings, a ride in a rickshaw and a Japanese lunch for 8,000 yen (Bt2,400), including taxes and service fees.
After changing into kimonos at Hanaka, visitors from Hong Kong have their picture taken.
Working with local businesses, they began soliciting customers in September through the website of the Asakusa Tourism Federation and elsewhere.
I’m following two twenty-something women from Hong Kong as they take the tour.
First, they visit the kimono rental shop Hanaka to don the traditional attire. After the women choose kimonos and obi sashes from a wide selection, the staff spends about 30 minutes helping them dress.
When they see each other in kimonos, they smile in delight and say, “So cute!”
Posing in a corner of the store set up for photography, they take pictures to remember the day.
Stepping outside, they find a driver employed by the rickshaw company Ebisuya waiting. The two-person rickshaw had a retro design intended to evoke the time when Japan was opening up to the West during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). The driver speaks good English.
Going along the Sumidagawa River, the rickshaw passes the Azumabashi Bridge with its striking red balustrades, Kaminarimon, and through the alleys around Sensoji.
Tokyo Skytree is among sights seen on the rickshaw ride.
After about 15 minutes, the driver drops the pair off at the starting point. The route is a popular one for the view it gives of Tokyo Skytree across the river and passing close to Sensoji.
Waiting at a traffic light, another pair of foreign tourists spot the women in the rickshaw and point their smartphones in their direction. Smiling and waving in response, they appear to enjoy behaving like celebrities.
“The rickshaw was faster and more comfortable than I thought it’d be,” one of the women says. “I got a taste of regular Japanese life in the alleys.”
After the ride, the women go for lunch to the restaurant Origami Asakusa run by Fujita Kanko. The main course is fried beef cutlets, followed by dessert – tokoroten, a kind of jellied agar, garnished with dark molasses.
They enjoy it using a tool called a tentsuki to push the tokoroten through a mesh that cuts it into thin strips.
After the meal, they walk around Asakusa in their kimonos, which don’t have to be returned until the evening. Depending on the time of day, some tours have lunch before the rickshaw ride.
“The current trend in travel is experience-based. Putting on a kimono, riding on a rickshaw and talking with the driver – these are out-of-the-ordinary experiences. I think Japanese customers would enjoy it as well,” Yamaguchi says.
With the end of the Heisei Era (1989-the present) approaching, it might be time for some retro fun.