Shitamachi, or “lower town,” technically refers to the lower part of Tokyo City. But to Tokyoites, shitamachi is a turn of phrase, a relaxed swagger—a way of life. It’s a philosophy unique to Tokyo that dates back to the Edo period, when the samurai and nobility resided in the upper part of the city, or Yamanote, while the common folk congregated in the lower area—the Shitamachi. Today, the concept of shitamachi is summed up in the narrow shopping arcades that smell like grilled fish and seaweed, where the never-ending cries of vendors echo under faded awnings. It’s gritty, rough around the edges and, to some, the true soul of Tokyo.
Comfort food and retro relics are staples of the shitamachi ideology, and both can be found in abundance in Asakusa, a nostalgic district that spreads out from under the shadow of Tokyo Skytree tower. Asakusa is also home to Sensoji Temple, recognizable by its iconic thunder gate. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, and many quaint mom-and-pop shops and restaurants surround Sensoji to cater to the temple’s visitors in true shitamachi style. Asakusa is also known for hosting exciting festivals throughout the year. In summer, the Sumida River fireworks festival draws teeming crowds to see colourful fireworks light up the night sky.
The Tsukishima district is the place to try monjayaki, a cuisine unique to Tokyo. Monja-yaki consists of batter poured into a circle of cabbage, corn and seafood, and then mixed together with everything. The real fun in this dish is cooking it on hot plates set up at special restaurants.
Kappabashi Street, which sits midway between Asakusa and Ueno, was first established as a shopping thoroughfare bymerchantsin1912.Today it’s known as the place to get amazing food samples moulded from plastic. From fresh sushi to ramen bowls, these ultra-realistic recreations will leave you craving the real thing, and they make great souvenirs.