Tokyo's old Heart

Visiting Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy

Asakusa, built around Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist templ dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, is an eastern district of Tokyo, flanking the Sumida River. It came into its own as a hub of pleasure in the 1840s with Geisha houses, Kabuki theater, jugglers, dancers, comic storytellers, bars, restaurants and so on. The first movie houses in Japan also were in Asakusa, as was Tokyo's first "skyscraper", the Twelve-Story Tower, a 52-meter brick observation tower that was Japan's tallest structure at that time.

Asakusa has been an amusement district since the Edo period (1603 - 1868), but particularly from the middle of the Meiji Era until just before the war, it flourished as Japan's most bustling entertainment area.

Asakusa's wildest days are said to have been in the 1910s, after the Russo-Japanese war, when Russian girls added an exotic tang. The main attraction was to show off women's leg. Countless entertainers and actors made their start in Asakusa.

The entire quarter was almost destroyed twice: in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and by American B-29 bombers in 1945. After the war, Senso Temple was restored and Asakusa did regain some of its former glory as a center for entertainment for a short period of time. But gradually, young people shifted their attention to new entertainment districts constructed near the major railway stations.

I deeply immersed myself into the cultural and social life of this fascinating district, always following the old downtown feeling. This photo essay, the result of months of work, looks behind the scenes of Asakusa's comedy theaters, Geisha performances, it captures scenes of the red-light district and shows unique pictures of one of Japan's most prominent Yakuza gang.