Tokyo Guide: Yanaka 谷中 千駄木
Tokyo Area Guide: Yanaka 谷中
Yanaka in Taito ward, east Tokyo, is the area that best preserves the look and feel of pre-Second World War Tokyo.
Yanaka is sprinkled with temples and shrines - ensuring it will not meet the wrecking ball - and old wooden homes. Their survival today is thanks to Yanaka having miraculously been spared the horrific US air raids of March 1945 that destroyed the rest of east Tokyo.
Yanaka covers the area roughly from Sendagi Station, on the Chiyoda Line, east to Nippori Station, on the JR Yamanote Line.
Tennoji Temple, Yanaka, Tokyo
Yanaka Cemetery (Yanaka Reien or, more commonly, Yanaka Bochi, in Japanese) is one of Tokyo's most famous. Yanaka Cemetery has the feel of a park with its greenery, and beautiful alley of cherry trees. Yanaka Cemetery also can boast of being the final resting place of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan.
Other figures from Japanese history prominent in their lifetimes are also interred in Yanaka Cemetery. If you wander into the cemetery, you are quite likely find yourself alone, except for stray cats and the occasional crow.
Yanaka Cemetery's cherry trees make it a spectacular sight in spring, and its many other trees make for autumnal beauty later in the year.
The North Exit of Nippori Station will bring you to the northern end of the cemetery, and a 4-minute walk straight ahead will bring you to the old shopping street of Yanaka Ginza.
The South Exit of Nippori Station with bring you to Tennoji Temple, in the middle of Yanaka Cemetery.
Tennoji Temple is nestled inside Yanaka Cemetery, right next to Nippori Station. Yanaka Cemetery was once part of Tennoji Temple.
Tennoji Temple was founded in 1274, and is connected with the nationalist Buddhist priest, Nichiren. Tennoji Temple is famous for its ancient cherry trees and its large bronze statue of Buddha dating from 1690. Read more about Tennoji Temple.
Having strolled through the cherry tree arcade and exited on the other side of the cemetery, you can now explore the Yanaka neighborhood.
Yanaka's Temple and Shrine Area
Adjoining Yanaka Cemetery to the west, and mirroring it in shape and size, is Yanaka's temple and shrine area, dotted with scores of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In between them are wooden homes that have survived fire, neglect, Curtis LeMay (the US Air Force general who ordered the carpet bombing of Tokyo and many Japanese cities), greed (aka, the bubble economy of the 1980s), nature, whim, etc.- and still stand.
This part of Yanaka, on high ground, is the historical treasure trove of old architecture, religious and secular, that sets it apart from almost anywhere else in Tokyo. Wander the sloping streets and enjoy the elegant quietude of the old--yet not without some memorable examples of modern housing architecture too.
Hongyoji Temple in Yanaka is famous for its cherry blossom in spring and the temple grounds have three haiku stones inscribed with haiku poems by the poets Taneda Santoka (1882-1940) and Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827).
Yanaka Ginza is a short, narrow, old-time-style high street with mom and pop shops, just north of Sendagi Station, and just west of the North Exit of Nippori Station.
Yanaka Ginza is the shopping attraction of the Yanaka area and is a should-see if you are in Yanaka. Approached from Nippori Station, you descend the Yuyake Dandan steps to enjoy the following 170 meter stretch of colorful retro retail clutter that includes shops selling traditional Japanese snacks and souvenirs.
Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo
Tennoji Temple, Buddha Statue, Yanaka, Tokyo
Yanaka Museums and Galleries
SCAI the Bathhouse Gallery
SCAI the Bathhouse is a contemporary art gallery opened in 1993 in what had been an over 200-year-old bathhouse in Yanaka. SCAI has a solid reputation for introducing the work of cutting edge artists both domestically and internationally.
This small, very unassuming modern gallery, right across the road from Yanaka Koban police box, lies behind a solidly traditional Japanese facade, dominated by an ornate heavy-tiled grey roof. SCAI the Bathhouse opens only for special exhibitions, so does not keep regular hours.
Old Yoshida Sake Store
Old Yoshida Sake Store is a photogenic, traditional wooden store that survives from early part of the 20th century and is open to the public as a small museum of sorts. The Old Yoshida Sake Store is just a little down the hill from SCAI the Bathhouse art gallery, towards Kototoi Dori Avenue.
Asakura Museum of Sculpture
Asakura Museum of Sculpture is the grand former studio and home of sculptor Fumio Asakura (1883-1964), who lived and worked here from 1907. Asakura himself designed much of the building and the landscaped grounds and garden. The residence was designated a National Tangible Cultural Property in 2001.
Asakura Museum of Sculpture, Tokyo
Daimyo Clock Museum
The Daimyo Clock Museum is a very small museum for the horologically inclined. The several dozen pre-modern, handcrafted clocks featured here keep time as it was measured in the ancient world, with the length of the hours varying according to season. A roomful of antique timepieces that speak to Japan's dedicated craftsmanship of old.
Daimyo Clock Museum entrance
The Yanaka area can be accessed from either Sendagi Station (Chiyoda subway line) Nippori Station or Nishi Nippori Station (Yamanote Line).
Hongyoji Temple entrance, Yanaka, Tokyo
Yanaka in Tokyo retains a traditional low city feel
The large, elegant Nezu Shrine is a short walk south-west of Yanaka, and is particularly famous for its spring Azalea Festival, featuring its slopes of luxuriant azalea gardens.
For a full listing of Tokyo Museums & Art Galleries click here