Top 3 Things to Do in the Yanesen Area of Tokyo ・ Yanaka, Nezu, & Sendagi

Tokyo Tour Yanaka 2022.04.25
The retro-cool Yanesen area of Tokyo has become popular thanks to its old-fashioned buildings, trendy new shops, and traditional beauty.
A Quick Look at the Yanesen Area
While some areas of Tokyo might be famous for tall buildings, flashing screens, and busy crowds, the Yanesen neighborhood (composed of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi) has found popularity among Tokyoites young and old for all the opposite reasons. This little chunk of the city hasn't been torn up and redeveloped quite like other parts, but it's not some historical museum either. The slow change of culture has left Yanesen with narrow streets of retro building facades, family businesses going back generations, famous shrines and temples, and traditional market streets, but there's also a wave of new shops and eateries set up by young new residents who love the vibes. Despite the broader area containing a number of universities, the area tends to have a quiet hum of people going about their daily lives, and it's a perfect place to go on a stroll, stop into a cafe or two, and enjoy the scenery. Of course, there are a few more popular must-see spots in the area, so here are just a few sightseeing recommendations for Yanesen!
① Snack on Street Food and Take Pictures on the Steps of Yanaka Ginza
Retro, nostalgic, and full of the charm of Tokyo's traditionally lower-class Shitamachi area, this old-fashioned market street is still thriving, and visitors arrive in crowds to buy classic Japanese snacks and browse the wares. Yanaka Ginza is a compact crowd of little, locally-owned shops that came into being back in 1945, when a number of retailers set up shop near the west exit of Nippori Station, and despite massive cultural changes in Japan, many of the street's most popular shops still specialize in old-fashioned potato croquettes and cheap Japanese-style sweets. It's a Tokyo street food hotspot, although you won't see many people walking and shopping as they eat (it's considered rather uncouth in Japan). Of course, the last 75 years have brought changes, like shops selling Middle-Eastern imports, and a number of stores specializing in cute cat-themed goods, inspired by the area's many street cats. The market has changed with the times while maintaining it's own retro charm.
If you find yourself at Yanaka Ginza in the late afternoon, don't miss the chance to snap a photo from the "Yuyake Dandan" staircase at the eastern end of the street. Looking out from the top of these steps, facing the entrance to Yanaka Ginza, the sunset glows on the rooftops as it sets behind the calming market, signaling an end to the day's shopping.

Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座)
3-13-1 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo
Official Website (jp)
② Greet the Foxes and the Flowers at Nezu Shrine
Founded almost 2,000 years ago by the Prince Ousu, and then rebuilt with its current structures in 1706, Nezu Shrine is one of the oldest and most venerable Shinto shrines in Tokyo - it's even said that the Emperor of Japan sent messengers to request help from the gods of Nezu Shrine during the Meiji Restoration. The beautiful architecture of the shrine's gates, walls, and main hall are treasured pieces of cultural history, all officially designated as Important Cultural Properties, but many people actually visit the shrine for some of its other features.
The Nezu Shrine grounds actually completely surround the smaller Otome Inari Shrine, and just like Kyoto's famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, this little shrine's foxes and red gates are quite popular with picture takers (although the gates are surprisingly small). In the spring, however, many sightseers arrive with just one goal in mind: to wind their way through the shrine's azalea garden, a hillside of more than 3,000 flower bushes covered in a lush blanket of vibrant blooms, vivid pink under the spring sunlight. Most of the year, Nezu Shrine is a quiet little spiritual oasis that rings with history, but during the spring, it becomes a mosaic of 100 different kinds of colorful azalea, and a must-see for all the flower lovers visiting Japan.

Nezu Shrine (根津神社)
1-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo City, Tokyo
Official Website (jp)
③ Roam Through History and Nature at Yanaka Cemetary

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A solemn resting place, a beautiful garden, and napping grounds for the kitties of Yanesen - Yanaka Cemetery plays a lot of roles these days! Established in 1872 on land taken from neighboring Tennoji Temple, and still dotted with traditional old buildings and monuments, this cemetery was at one point the largest in Japan. The thousands of graves include those of important political figures from centuries past and famous artists, notably including Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the very last shogun of Japan, Ichiyo Higuchi, a novelist found on Japan's current 5,000 yen bills, and Shibusawa Eiichi, "the father of Japanese capitalism" (slated to appear on the next printing of 10,000 yen bills).

Of course, if that all sounds a little morbid for your trip to Yanesen, there's another reason why many travelers like to visit the cemetery during the springtime! The paved road running through the center of Yanaka Cemetery was originally built as the path leading to Tennoji Temple, but these days it's surrounded by countless cherry trees, which burst into bloom at the end of April each year. Head over for the quiet beauty of the old graves, and the cheerful bursts of beautiful cherry blossoms!

Yanaka Cemetery (谷中霊園)
7-5-24 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo
Official Website (jp)
Around the Yanesen Area
The Yanesen area is known to be relaxed and fairly quiet, making it the perfect place the spend a whole day meandering through the narrow streets, dropping into cafes, and enjoying the handful of low-key sightseeing spots. But for travelers hoping to pack a whole lot of Tokyo into a short amount of time, Yanesen is convenient enough to fit into a busy schedule! The area is right next door to Ueno, which is famous for its park, zoo, museums, and nightlife. Yanaka Ginza and the cemetery are also just down the street from Nippori Station, a stop on the JR Yamanote Line that forms a loop around central Tokyo. And while the Yamanote Line makes it easy to get all over the city, just a couple stops down the line is Sugamo and its famous Jizodori shopping street, affectionately nicknamed "Granny Harajuku" for the older crowd that frequents the area. So don't hesitate to slip into the nostalgic retro atmosphere of Yanesen on your next trip to Tokyo, even for just an hour or two!

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