Experience Traditional Tokyo: One Day in Yanesen Area

Yanaka Ginza shopping street Itinerary in Tokyo

Looking for somewhere you can experience the more traditional Edo culture and traditions, see old buildings and shops handcraft in Tokyo? Then you should visit the Yanesen area! Yanesen refers to a district located near Ueno, in the west part of Bunkyo ward and the east part of Taito ward. It comprises of three areas called Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi that are located next to each other.

Yanesen is a quaint old town where traditional buildings dating back to the Edo period still remain, as they were largely spared from the destruction of the Great Kanto Earthquake and both World Wars. You can still enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere from the late 19th to early 20th century. Go to Yanaka Ginza Street, a 170 meters long street lined with about 70 stores on both sides. Here you can find local food stands, clothing stores, supermarkets, tea shops, sweet shops and cafes or restaurants. There are also many other great spots to visit including historical shrines, and cozy cafes! In this article, we will give you the best spots to visit for a day trip to the Yanesen area!

Start your day at Nezu Shrine

Get off the train at Nezu station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line and start your day in Yanesen. The first tourist attraction you will find is the Nezu Shrine, which is located about 10 min walking from the station. According to legends, the historical shrine dates back about 1,900 years ago and was established by Yamato Takeru, a legendary prince who sometimes appears in Japanese ancient mythology. The main hall of the shrine was built in 1706, and is said a representative masterpiece of “Gongen-zukuri”, a traditional Japanese architectural style. Several structures on the grounds are designated as National Important Cultural Property and the shrine is often described as Tokyo’s most beautiful shrine!

Another highlight of the Nezu shrine are the Senbon-dorii. Tori refers to the red gates that you can find traditionally in front of shrines in Japan. It signifies the gateway to the sacred world. You probably have seen pictures of the vermilion torii gates of Fushimi Inari. You can visit the Tokyo variant at Nezu Shrine! There are a number of torii gates standing along the pathway leading to Otome Inari Shrine, a small shrine located on the grounds of Nezu shrine. They create a stunning scenery with a sacred atmosphere, and are great spot for taking beautiful pictures of the Torii gates.

From April to May, Nezu Shrine become the perfect spot to enjoy beautiful azaleas in full bloom. There are more than 100 types of azaleas, and a special festival, Tsutsuji Matsuri, is held every year. Visitors can enjoy the colourful flowers while walking around the shrine grounds to see its historical structures. You can easily find some amazing places for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo, but visiting the Nezu Shrine will offer an impressive experience with the different flowers!

Yanaka Cemetery

After visiting Nezu Shrine, continue your way to the Yanaka Cemetery located within a short walking distance. The cemetery is a popular tourist attractions along with other historical spots. It is a huge public cemetery opened in 1874 and one of the three greatest cemeteries in Tokyo, where celebrities and important historical figures are rested. For example Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He is known as the last Shogun who decided to return the political power to the imperial court, which put an end to the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled the country over 260 years. 

Yanaka Cemetery is also a famous cherry blossom viewing spot, with many hanami parties held on the main street each year. The beautiful cherry trees in full blossom standing along the Sakura-dori street in spring, are a beautiful sight. Take a relaxing stroll in a peaceful atmosphere while admiring the stunning flowers.

Picture by Jeff Fields / CC

Tennoji Temple

The next historical spot you should visit is Tennoji Temple, a Buddhist temple that belongs to Tendai Sect. Tennoji Temple is one of the oldest temples located in Yanesen, but has a refreshing modern twist. The temple was originally founded by Nichigen, a Buddhist disciple in the late 13th century. It is easily accessible from Nippori station. You are welcomed by a modern gate that will lead you to the sacred temple grounds with a number of traditional and modern structures. Some of the structures were lost over centuries, but rebuilt later with a stylish, modern design whereas the main hall remains the original appearance. 

Buddha Tennoji temple Yanaka

The temple started as a Nichiren Sect temple, but after closure ordered by the shogunate, reopened as a branch temple of the Tendai sect. The most prominent feature of the temple is the large bronze Buddha statue which was built in 1690, when the temple belonged to Nichiren Sect. Exploring the sacred shrine gives you an opportunity to think about its history while having a relaxing stroll.

Ginza Shopping Street (Yanaka)

Yanesen is also a perfect spot to enjoy local delicacies. Ginza Shopping Street is a lively, shopping street located in the Yanaka area. There are about 70 small shops located along the 170-meter long street. They include grocery stores, gift shops, old boutiques, and small restaurants serving local dishes. You can enjoy shopping around the old shopping district while interacting with the friendly locals. The traditional buildings create a nostalgic view which reminds the old days back in the Showa period!  

This area is also known for the large number of cats you can possibly run into while exploring the shopping street. Local people respect them as a symbolic animal, and some shops have cat-related words in its name, such as neko (cat in Japanese) and sippo (tail in Japanese)! Try as many shops as possible and find your favourite one.

Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street Official Website

Take a break at cozy cafes

If you feel a bit tired after walking around, sit down and get a coffee at one of the manu cozy cafes in the Yanesen area! There are an large number of cafes, some of which have a long history, and others that newly opened. The cafes are popular hangouts! Kayaba Coffee House is a symbolic cafe conveniently located about 10 min away from Nezu station. The wooden, traditional building was built in 1916, and it has been loved by locals for years. Don’t forget to try their delicious Egg Salad Sandwich

Kayaba Coffee House
8am – 11pm (Mon – Sat)
8am – 6pm (Sun)

Kabaya coffee Yanaka

Hagiso is a modern cafe, opened in 2013. It is a small, multi-purpose facility including a cafe and small gallery. The building was originally used as an apartment for students burt was transformed into a center of culture and local community with the support of locals. Hagi Morning is a special breakfast set which is served with local specialties delivered from several areas across Japan. The menu changes every six months, and you can try the diverse food cultures for each region while in Tokyo. Enjoy the traditional Japanese breakfast in this cool, retro building.

8am – 10.30am
12pm – 9pm

Tucked away in a small alley, Yanaka Beer Hall is a unique Tokyo establishment serves the local Yanaka Beer. The place is located in a renovated 80-year old traditional Japanese home built in 1938. Some typical Japanese dishes are served like karaage and curry, as well as pizza and other more Western dishes. On the first floor there are tables and counter seats available, but for a more typical Japanese experience ask for a seat on the second floor where you’ll find Japanese-style tatami rooms!

Yanaka Beer Hall
11am – 20.30pm

Japan Wonder Travel Tours

If you are interested in learning more about the Yanesen area, and would like to discover the area with a local guide, consider our Yanaka Shitamachi Backstreet tour. Start from Nippori station and visit the nostalgic street of Yanaka Ginza. See the local houses, art galleries, cemeteries, historic temples, and shrines together with our English speaking guide.

Highlights of Yanaka Tour

When you are more interested in the tasty food culture of Japan, join our exciting tour taking you to Tsukiji and Asakusa in Tokyo! Tsukiji is a lively fish market offering fresh seafood and refreshing drinks. Explore Asakusa, an historical area with a number of tourist attractions

Food & Drink Tour Tsukiji and Asakusa

We are more than happy to help you to organize your trip to Japan. We can put together a great itinerary to travel in Japan, make your reservations and get your tickets, and show you around. Check out our (private) tours and make your trip to Japan a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory!

Yanaka Ginza shopping street

Yanesen is an ideal area to spend a relaxing day and experience the more traditional side of Tokyo. Don’t miss the chance to discover the other aspects of Tokyo hidden in the peaceful area away from busy streets and crowds!

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Happy travelling!

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