Asakusa is usually on every tourist’s list of places to visit in Tokyo. A district famous for its century old temples and shrines, local street food, bargain shopping, and other famous attractions. Given the endless possibilities of places to visit and things to do in this popular district, it is only natural for first-timers to feel overwhelmed, especially when they're planning their trip and trying to navigate their way around the tangled streets of Tokyo. While it may be tempting to take the rickshaw rides offered at Asakusa, consider taking the Panda Bus, a free and hassle-free (not to mention, more adorable) alternative to touring the district.
The Panda Bus! -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
Japan’s obsession with “kawaii-ness” or cuteness is obvious in the adorable design of the bus. True to its name, the bus literally looks like a panda, with round eyes, a button nose, mini ears and paws. Even in the interior, the bus fully commits to its theme, complete with stuffed pandas and seats with sewn on panda ears.
With its irresistibly cute design, and of course its affordability, it would be a shame to brush off the opportunity to explore Asakusa while on board a panda-shaped bus (also great on rainy days- stay dry in cuteness)!
The Panda Bus tours around all of Asakusa, with sixteen different pick up and drop off points. The first pick up point is located directly in front of the ROX Department Store, just a 4-minute walk from the Asakusa train station, where customers can enjoy several floors of bargain shopping or rest at one of the store’s many cafes while waiting for the bus to arrive. During the trip, the bus stops by Kaminarimon Gate and Tokyo Skytree (4th and 5th stops) two of the most visited and popular tourist spots in Asakusa, and passes by other famous attractions and landmarks such as Sumida Park, the Sumida River Cruise, Rokku Entertainment District, Hanayashiki Amusement Park, and Asahi Beer Tower. The round trip lasts roughly about an hour, ending once again at the ROX Department Store.
Inside the Panda Bus -- Photo by Angeline Elopre
Overall, the Panda Bus is perfect as a means of getting to places for tourists who are tight on budget, pressed on time, or prefer the convenience and comfort of a bus tour rather than a walking tour (also great for when it rains like it did when I went on it!). Passengers are free to remain on board the bus throughout the entire trip, or hop off of at stops they would like to explore further. Based on my experience, it seems that the best way to get the most out of the Panda Bus is to remain on board the first time round to see what Asakusa has to offer, then hop off at spots of interest during the next trip in order to conserve time that might be better spent on other activities.
Take note: The Panda Bus is usually busy and packed with tourists on weekends. However, there will be a chance for everyone to board the bus at least once, with trips running nine times a day throughout the week. In case of the rare occurrence of out-of-service, it's best to contact the Asakusa Cultural Tourist Information Center beforehand. Do not miss out on the chance to discover Asakusa via this one-of-a-kind experience and check out their website www.pandabus.net for more information including the designated pick up and drop off points and a timetable of the trip.