Tokyo Area Guide: Yanaka 谷中 千駄木
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.
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 having the grave 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. Of the temples housing the famous Seven Lucky Gods of Yanaka, Tennoji Temple is the only one actually in Yanaka, and is home to the goddess, Bishamonten. 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 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 liquor 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.
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.
The Yanaka area can be accessed from either Sendagi Station (Chiyoda subway line) Nippori Station or Nishi Nippori Station (Yamanote Line).
Accommodation in Yanaka caters to the traveler on a budget, but features close proximity to several railway stations, making Yanaka or nearby Nippori a great place to base yourself in Tokyo. The following is a selection of recommended inns and hotels in and very nearby Yanaka.
Annex Katsutaro Ryokan is superbly located, Japanese-style accommodation for the traveler on something of a budget, right in the middle of the quaint, historical Yanaka area, but very close to several railway stations. Sleep on a futon on a tatami floor. Rooms include unit bathroom, fridge, TV, free Wi-Fi and air conditioner. Coin operated washing machines and bicycle hire also available. Pay-for breakfast can be ordered. Established in 2010.
hanare is a tasteful, calm. modern take on the Japanese tradition of hospitality, with up-to-date interior decoration and a hip, arty edge. Futons and tatami rooms are in keeping with tradition, but the little restaurant/gallery has a cutting edge feel. With only a few rooms, service is friendly and attentive. Spotlessly clean bathroom facilities are shared. A real home-away-from-home vibe - impeccably Japanese in inspiration. English spoken.
Hotel Sunny is a 40-room hotel right next to Nippori Station, a short walk from Yanaka. With 24-hour check-in and baggage-holding service, Hotel Sunny offers clean, convenient, good adequate accommodation that won't break the bank. Unit bathroom, fridge, (basic) air-conditioning, and phone. No English spoken. Location the biggest plus.
APA Hotel TKP Nippori Ekimae, opened in 2016, features the decor flair of the APA chain, its reliable standard of accommodation, reasonable room rates - and great location, only a minute's walk from Nippori Station, and 5 minutes' walk to Yanaka. Free Wi-Fi, free luggage storage, fridge and 50-inch LCD television in each room. Has on-site restaurant. Clean, mod and sparkling.
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