Yanaka is one of the best, undiscovered, Old Tokyo neighborhoods in town, filled with traditional shops and excellent shrines and temples.
Let’s start at the Nezu Shrine, which is my favorite shrine in Tokyo.
In addition to having nice buildings, the hillside surrounding the Nezu Shrine is completely covered with azalea bushes, which burst into flaming balls of pink, white and purple at the end of April every year.
But let’s walk around the neighborhood – this area is a delightful (and relatively undiscovered) example of shitamachi (old town) Tokyo. Many stores have been in business since the Edo Era (before Japan opened to the West). Calligraphy brush stores, paint stores selling brilliant powdered pigments for the artists who attend the venerable art school in the area, housewares stores selling old-fashioned goods like wickerware pillows and tsukudani shops selling many tasty varieties of crispy sweet and salty snacks.
Nearby is Zenshoan Temple, which has a tall gold Kannon statue and magnificent peonies (in May). If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in August, stop in at the temple’s Ghost Museum (¥500). Telling ghost stories is one of the traditional ways Japanese kept cool in summertime because they “send a chill up your spine.”