Yanaka is a neighborhood made of narrow streets, traditional houses, dozens of temples hidden in the alleys and a slow pace of life: it’s also where Yanaka Ginza is. A street where traditional shops and workshops still exist, and it’s also famous for its many cat statues.
In Yanaka you can enjoy the atmosphere of old Tokyo, with its temples and shrines, but also artisans running their small workshops selling products unavailable elsewhere. Yanaka Ginza is a shopping street dotted with 70 shops mainly frequented by people living in the neighborhood. You will find sake, tea, bento box, pottery and clothes shops.
Stop by Niku no Suzuki to enjoy a couple of korokke – yasai korokke is vegetarian and super soft, but menchi korokke will make you leave your heart in this shop. In the meantime, look for the cat statues, so well done they seem real, and take another culinary stop at Taiyaki Maneki-ya for a cat-shaped taiyaki: tastes range from pizza to the more traditional anko and matcha.
The sudden increase in tourism has made many sellers wary and the words “no photo” have proliferated. Unfortunately for many of these shops, tourism means the disappearance of habitual shoppers who migrate to less crowded places and a drop in sales.
Yanaka Cemetery is perhaps the main attraction of the neighborhood. One of the largest in size in Tokyo, it’s a popular hanami spot for its Sakura Dori.
The history of the cemetery goes back a long way since it was the cemetery belonging to the nearby Tennoji temple,. The important guests of this cemetery are several but the most famous of all is Yoshinobu Tokugawa, known as the last shogun of the Japan. In fact, he died in 1913 after retiring to private life following the defeat in the Boshin war.
If you were to find his grave you will notice an interesting fact. The two burials behind the main tombstone are respectively of his wife and his concubine.
One of the most curious monuments of the district is the small Yanaka Fuji, made entirely with volcanic rocks from Fujisan. It is a so-called Fujizuka, a very small shrine that was very popular during the Edo period. Since not many had the chance to climb Fujisan to express their devotion, the Fujizuka acted as substitutes.
Yanaka’s Fuji is one of the very few remaining intact examples in all of Tokyo.
Yanaka’s Himalayan Cedar
Strolling through the streets of Yanaka you’ll come across the majestic Himalayan cedar that stands next to the Mikado Pan candy shop. This gorgeous tree is nearly 100 years old and has been featured in numerous Japanese movies and TV series.
The cedar is much loved by Tokyoites, who opposed the city administration that wanted to cut it in 2012. Today the tree has become a symbol of the country’s rebirth and is a favorite place for Japanese people on vacation to be photographed.
Scai the bathhouse
In recent years Yanaka has been chosen as a base by many art dealers. Scai the bathhouse is a contemporary art gallery hosting ever-changing exhibitions. Access is almost always free. If you’re not interested in contemporary art, just go there to appreciate the old sento structure. At the entrance you can still see the lockers where shoes were once stored.
Yomisedori is the second most important street in the neighborhood and is noteworthy for the Yanesen Tourist Information Center. This place is more than just a visitor information center and organizes many Japanese arts courses for tourists such as calligraphy and theater.
Another unmissable stop on Yomise dori is the small shop that sells 100 yen manju, traditional Japanese sweets made from rice paste and filled with a variety of flavors, including red bean paste, black sesame and green tea.
Jyōmyōin Temple hosts 25,000 statues of Jiza in its internal courtyard. Jiza is the bhodisattva protector of children, the dead and travelers, a figure of high importance in traditional Japanese beliefs.
However, the advertised number of statues inside the temple is 84,000. In fact, according to Buddhism, this number represents infinity.
Kayaba Coffee Shop
Take a break with a hot drink and a light snack at Kayaba Coffee. This place is one of the oldest in the neighborhood and a real institution for the neighboor’s people.
The bar is housed in a delightful early 1900s wooden building and hasn’t changed since it first opened its doors in 1938. Forget the Wi-Fi and enjoy one of the restaurant’s two specialties: egg sandwiches and anmitsu.
Nippori Fabric Town
If you love to sew, create bags or DIY stuff, you definitely can’t miss a visit to Nippori Fabric Town. Here you will find shops upon shops filled with fabrics of all kinds, from the finest Japanese silks to the cheapest cottons.
As it is the best place in Tokyo to shop for sewing fabrics and accessories, the area is popular with both locals and foreign visitors.
The Shitamachi Museum hosts exhibitions created to tell the life and traditions of this enchanting corner of the city before the World War II. Annexed to the building is Yoshida liquor store, established in 1910 and abandoned in the 1980s. It is one of the best preserved buildings in the whole district and a nostalgic place for people in Yanaka.
How to get to Yanaka
The reference station for Yanaka is Nippori, served by the JR and Keisei lines. Another access is offered by the Chiyoda line, at Sendagi station.
Once in Nippori exit the West Gate (west exit) and you will find yourself in Yanaka.