Taito is a ward in Tokyo that is synonymous with tradition, and consequently, tourists. The magnificent temple of Senso-ji in Asakusa is Taito’s emblem, drawing daily crowds along the charmingly kitsch Nakamise-dori to its grand main hall for a classic “I’m in Japan!” picture. Neighbouring Ueno is a concentrated hive of museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, located inside the enormous Ueno Park just outside of the main station.
But beyond the well-documented attractions lies an enigmatic downtown district that whispers stories of wartime Tokyo. Taito’s narrow alleyways, crumbling buildings and retro signs were once the hub of Tokyo entertainment. Traces of the old neighbourhood of smoky cafes and plastic-seated izakaya (Japanese pubs), traditional markets and faded pachinko parlors remain, and you can easily find yourself stepping back in time simply by wandering around the area. Spend a while exploring Asakusa’s back streets for a glimpse into Tokyo’s dis-respectable past.
The Rokku entertainment district, to the west of Senso-ji temple, is lined with quick, dirty and delicious izakaya where it’s easy to make friends over a ginger high-ball.
Beneath the train tracks running from Ueno to Okachimachi station is Ameya-yokocho market, a maze of old-fashioned shopping streets that developed from a post-WWII black market. There are shops and market stands selling pretty much anything you can think of, and you’ll find several hole-in-the-wall izakaya populated by early morning drinkers.
The Yanesen area is just north of Ueno and comprises the neighborhoods of Nezu, Yanaka and Sendagi. Local craft shops abound, and it’s a great area for strolling around and stumbling on quaint cafes selling shitamachi specialities such as taiyaki (fish-shaped sweet pastries) and yakitori (grilled meat skewers).