On our last full day in Tokyo, we headed up to Asakusa on the recommendation of our chef from the night before. Having just downed two very large glasses of Shochu pushed on him by a very drunk customer his only explanation was "I just like it" and a shrug. We headed up there without much more of a plan then to see Senso-ji and explore Nakamise-dori, the shopping street leading up to it.
Having not really had much in the way of breakfast, we decided to take a meandering route towards Nakamise-dori in hopes that we'd stumble across some sort of snack. When I saw the sign on Clover Cafe advertising "design cappuccinos", I couldn't not go. A ridiculously adorable, cappuccino was basically the last thing I had to check off on my "only in Japan" food bucket list. We each chose the "random character" option on the menu and ordered a pastry. Dan got a croissant I chose an earl grey cake from their wide variety of sponge cake options. Since we had gone in primarily for novelty value, I was (happily) surprised by the quality of the pastry and the cappuccinos. Dan's croissant was perfectly buttery and flake-y and my sponge cake was moist and not too sweer and the earl grey came through very well. The cappuccinos themselves were creamy with a beautiful micro-foam. I would've been happy to get them with regular poured latte art, our adorable animals turned out just to be a fun bonus.
After finishing our soft serve we headed towards the huge gate in front Nakamise-dori and realized exactly how much of a crowd going to the temple during Golden Week means. We went through the gates and quickly became overwhelmed by the tide of people pushing us forwards and lines so long we couldn't even see what delectable treats might be available when you reached the front. Seeing a knife shop, we impulsively turned onto a calmer side street.
We happened to find exactly the right side street for Kagetsudo, a place famous for their massive melon pan buns (though I did not know this at the time) but caught my eye because of a sandwich board offering a large variety of soft serve flavors I had yet to try. Confusingly Kagetsudo has a walk up window where you order but then many signs asking you not to eat as you walk. So even though I ordered my black sesame soft serve from the window, we then were seated inside. At first I was a bit annoyed that I didn't have the option of taking my ice cream for the road, but the inside was full of fantastic old ads and the kitchen has large windows so you can watch the bread baking in progress.
Texturally, the black sesame ice cream was a little icy and firm but flavor-wise, I was all about it. It wasn't very sweet and the black sesame flavor was very strong. Definitely a little different, so I can get why it might not be the most appealing to Western palates but I recommend giving it a try. I will probably eat black sesame ice cream any time I can possibly get it now.
After my ice cream break, we decided to keep wandering the side streets of the extensive shopping area. Depending on how far you roam, the side streets end up being a pretty good mix of smaller, older streets and shops offering handicrafts and antiques and larger, more modern places selling souvenirs. We even passed a whole Monchichi doll store.
Eventually we headed into Senso-ji and I feel pretty confident saying that viewing the lush decor and statue of the Boddisatva Kannon is something better experience not during Golden Week when the crowd pushes you in, forward and then out without much more than a minute to be in awe of your surroundings. Luckily even though it was crowded around the grounds outside the temple, with the mass that had been inside spread out, there was a lot more options for exploring without getting caught in the tide.
I took a burst of selfies, and yes, that really was the best one.
Possibly the upside of going to Senso-ji during Golden Week was that there were lots and lots of food stalls set up all around the temple ground and we caught this awesome ninja and samurai mime performance that was definitely for children but gave us great joy. After seeing that all the restaurants that looked good had long, long lines, we decided to continue grazing and hit up some of the food vendors. There wasn't actually that huge a variety of types of food available, so mostly we looked for the places that seemed like they were going through their food fast enough that are cups of food would be hot and fresh.
We opted for karaage (Japanese fried chicken) that had a nice, crunchy batter, was well salted and a little ginger-y and a smashed potato. After you get your smashed potato, you get to top it yourself. I put on a large pat of what I thought was butter and a generous pile of mentaiko mayonnaise (I might have a mentaiko mayo addiction). The butter turned out to be margarine which definitely put a damper on my enjoyment of this baked potato variant but mostly I was pretty into it. While we were eating we had a good view of this man and his posse of four Shibas and it was fun to watch people come up and take pictures with the dogs and ask to pet them since usually it's our large dog people are taking pictures with in Seoul.
After a little more exploration and a stop at a coffee shop across from Kagetsudo (which had similarly aged decor), we decided we were done with Senso-ji and Nakamise-dori and headed down to the riverside park for a walk. While the riverside walk gives you a nice view of the Asahi headquarters and the Skytree tower, it's mostly cement and not very park like, so our stroll didn't last very long.
For our last stop in Asakusa, we walked over the bridge to the Asahi headquarters, which has even weirder decor in the beer hall than the unfortunate design on the outside would suggest. The food didn't look good at all so I ordered the Yebisu Creamy Top Stout and Dan ordered a regular Yebisu and we mostly just took it as an opportunity to rest our tired feet. I'd say the Asahi building is better viewed from afar and the beer hall inside it can be skipped. It seems like the Yebisu Museum in Ginza is maybe more what we were hoping for at the Asahi headquarters but since we didn't make it there this trip, I can't say for sure.
Asakusa turned out to be a good neighborhood for an unplanned day and a fantastic reminder that some of the best food finds happen when you put down the guide book and just go.