Yanaka: A Place Reminiscent of Old Japan

These days, as technology develop everything and everyone is upgrading faster than ever before. With the advancement of technology and modernization, places all over the world are getting more and more urbanized. There are some places that are already unrecognizable when compared to how they looked back in the day. As one of the countries in the world that is leading in terms of technology, it is expected that Japan has developed through the years. However, despite the many modern buildings and skyscrapers standing in Japan, there are still some places in the Land of the Sun that have maintained its original persona since the beginning of time. One of these places is Yanaka.  

Yanaka: An Old District in Taito, Tokyo

By User:Kentin (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Among the numbers of districts located in Tokyo one old district that still maintains its shitamachi atmosphere is none other than Yanaka. As an old district, Yanaka still gives off that vibe reminiscent of Tokyo back in the day. Indeed, Yanaka offers a rustic charm that would definitely leave local visitors feeling nostalgic. Close to Ueno Park, the old district is often visited after a day of walking in the park. If one is already tired of the hustle and bustle of the other parts of the Tokyo metropolis, getting some quiet time in Yanaka would most certainly be a good idea.

Located in Taito ward just east of Tokyo, Yanaka is said to be the best example of what it looked and felt liked during the pre-Second World War in Tokyo. There are numerous temples and shrines in Yanaka, perfect for religious people who believe in Buddhism. The district is also sprinkled with old wooden homes, preserved to maintain the rustic and vintage look. Many may wonder how these structures survived through the years, especially after the US raids in March of the year 1945. Despite having the rest of east Tokyo destroyed by these air raids, it was a miracle that the district of Yanaka was spared.

Considered as among the most aged and quaint parts of the Tokyo metropolitan, Yanaka was also able to survive the Great Kanto Earthquake and Fire in the year 1923. Back in the day, the area of Yanaka was known as an artisan town. Some of the most famous writers, as well as visual artists, in Japan used to reside in this area. Probably one of the reasons for this is because of the peaceful atmosphere that Yanaka has. Up to this day, Yanaka is still a place brimming with arts and crafts. An afternoon stroll along the streets of Yanaka would prove just how diverse and abundant the crafts are in this area. These crafts include textiles, wood carvings, stationery, jewelry, ink prints, traditional cuisines, pottery, etc.

Tourists in Tokyo who are looking for traditional Japan should definitely check out the area of Yanaka. While there are also other areas in Tokyo that offer a peek of the bygone eras, Yanaka is still one of the top places on the list. The area of Yanaka roughly begins at Sendagi Station on the Chiyoda Line going to the east and ends at Nippori Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Despite the area being often visited by several tourists, the place remains to be a residential district. As a place where several locals live, tourists can watch the daily activities of the locals through Yanaka Ginza. It can be interesting to watch the everyday trading happening in the district market. Not just foreign tourists, several domestic tourists are also attracted to the unique shitamachi character of Yanaka.

In case one gets lost or confused while walking around Yanaka, one can simply go to the Yanesen Tourist Information Center. Located along Yomise-dori Street, it is a place where tourists can learn more about Yanaka and the Yanesen area. There are also classes being offered to foreign tourists. These classes include Japanese ink painting, Japanese instrument playing, flower art, kabuki dressing, calligraphy, and others. For visitors who are interested in going to these classes, take note that online or phone reservations are required.

If one is looking for a snack after a long day of walking along the streets of Yanaka, check out a manju shop that is quite popular in the area. Located along Yomise-dori Street is a food shop that sells manju for just 10 yen. A manju is a bun filled with different kinds of filling. Some of the flavors sold by this shop include black sugar and green tea. The shop also sells manju in packs of ten for people who are famished.  

A Guide on Places to See in Yanaka, Japan

By kolshica from Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are local tourist attractions in the area of Yanaka. For the shopaholics, head on over to Yanaka Ginza. It is only a short walk from either the Sendagi Subway Station or the Nippori Station. A shopping street, Yanaka Ginza offers the best shitamachi flavor of Yanaka District. Goods and produce can also be found in Yanaka Ginza. These goods include groceries, clothes, and even toys. Some shops also sell souvenirs for people looking for a memento that would remind them of their visit in Yanaka.

The name of Yanaka Ginza was based on the famous shopping district located in the Chuo Ward in Tokyo. However, it is not exactly the same. Yanaka Ginza houses around 60 shops that offer a wide range of products. Standing on a narrow street, Yanaka Ginza is restricted to only foot traffic. This is great for shoppers as they really enjoy their time and space while shopping for goodies.

With all kinds of trades lining the street, one can see the contrast between several trades. It is common to find a butcher’s shop next to a barber’s shop. The best part with shopping in Yanaka Ginza is that the prices are relatively cheap. Some stalls sell snacks and finger food that are priced below 50 yen.

Although most of the stalls in the street dabble in food products, there are also stores that sell non-perishable goods. These include souvenirs, toiletries, electronics, and other household necessities. Naturally, foreign tourists are more attracted to the food and souvenirs sold in the area compared to other items offered. Should one be interested in trying out tea in Yanaka, a tea shop called Kanekichien is a good place to start. The shop attendants even offer information about things related to tea such as the benefits of iron kettles as well as organic tea harvests.

Founded more than 80 years ago, the tea shop not just sells tea but also gives pieces of advice regarding how to properly brew a cup of tea. It also offers pottery as well as other paraphernalia related to tea. Some shop attendants are able to speak a bit of English though most of them can only speak in their native tongue, Japanese. The tea store is a nice stop for people who love drinking tea.

Probably one of the main attractions in the area is the Yanaka Cemetery. A place where the locals lay to rest in loving memory their loved ones who have passed away, the cemetery is popular among tourists. Nicely landscaped, most of the tombs in the cemetery are elaborately designed and decorated. Instead of narrow paths, the layout of the cemetery offers wide paths to visitors. With good trails, visitors are able to take a tranquil stroll around the cemetery. The body of the last shogun of the Edo period, known as Tokugawa Yoshinobu, lies in Yanaka Cemetery.

Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yanaka Cemetery is one of the highlighted tourist attractions of the area of Yanaka, especially during the spring season. Even though most people find cemeteries morbid, Yanaka cemetery actually offers a pretty view during spring because it is accentuated by the blooming cherry blossoms. The cemetery also has a number of famous artists and feudal rulers lying below their grounds as spectral tenants.

Established in the year 1874, Yanaka Cemetery covers about ten hectares of land, which is equal to about 1,000 acres or double the size of London’s Olympic Park. This area os considerably huge considering how jam-packed the Tokyo metropolis is. Tourists should be reminded that when visiting the cemetery, first take a stop at the administration office located left of the entrance of the cemetery to pick up some English-language information.

Running through the center of Yanaka Cemetery is the Sakura-dori Street. During the spring season, this street is lined with cherry trees in bloom. Several visitors purposely visit the cemetery just to take a look at these beautiful spring flowers in contrast to the gloomy background of the cemetery. Because of this, the street is commonly known as the Cherry Blossom Lane. Originally part of Tennoji Temple, the cemetery was separated from the temple during the Meiji period.

Just a block down the Sakura-dori Street stands Tennoji Temple. The temple serves as a mark of the northernmost boundary of the cemetery before the tracks. It also marks the south exit of Nippori Station. For people leaving the station from the south exit, this is the place where one would begin their journey or tour of Yanaka. When visiting the area, most guests simply visit both the cemetery and the temple consecutively.

Established in the year 1274 during the Kamakura period, Tennoji Temple is the biggest temple in the area of Yanaka. In honor of the great Buddha statue known as daibutsu in Kamakura, a Buddha statue was built on the grounds of the temple in the year 1690. Until today, the statue still stands in that same place. The temple also enshrines one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune known as Bishamonten. Believed to be the god of warriors, the people visit Tennoji and pray to Bishamonten before going to battle. 

Other Things to Do in Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi Area 


Yanaka is part of the Yanesen area, which stands for Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi. There are other places that one can visit in the Yanesen area aside from those located in Yanaka. One of these places is the Nezu Shrine. It houses the Otome Inari, where people pray to the goddess of harvest. The temple is quite popular in the month of May when it is covered in blooming azaleas. Nezu Shrine can be accessed from Nezu Station, Sendagi Station, or Todaimae Station.

The area of Yanesen is also known for cats. There are numerous cats in the area, especially in Yanaka. It is common to see cats along the streets, lounging on the ground and resting. Because of this, the area of Yanesen is known as the town of cats. The locals have capitalized on this idea with the beckoning cat, also known as maneki neko in Japanese. Several stores in the area sell items related to cats. There are even various types of maneki neko that buyers can choose from. One of the stores in the area that specializes in this is Kaiun Yanakado.

The maneki neko depicts a cat with its paw raised. A raised left paw means that the cat is inviting customers into the shop while a raised right paw means that the cat is beckoning economic fortune or luck. Hence, it depends on the customer which cat he or she wants to purchase. The items also come in various colors corresponding to different meanings. It is best to ask the shop attendants for more information prior to purchasing. The shop can be accessed via either the Sendagi Station or the Nippori Station.

Why Yanaka is A Must-Visit for Old Souls

A place of peace and serenity, Yanaka is highly different in comparison to the other parts of Tokyo. Without the hustle and bustle of people hurrying to go to work while on their phones amidst the towering modern buildings, Yanaka offers a sense of tranquility to the locals as well as visitors. Taking an afternoon stroll down the area of Yanaka is recommended as one unwinds and gets to peaceful thinking. Indeed, Yanaka is a must-visit for people who would like to get a glimpse of old Japan.