Yanaka Area

Yanaka’s unofficial mascot is the cat, and you’ll find many delightful cat-themed surprises around this neighborhood

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 the fall, the Japanese maples turn brilliant red and the gingko trees become towers of gold.
The shrine has three entrances, all marked by giant red lacquered torii
Recently restored, the main courtyard is a great example of red and gold lacquerwork.
Walking through the long tunnel of orange torii gates is one of the great pleasures of visiting this shrine

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.

And there are LOTS of them

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.

The owners of this store have been making wooden buckets here since the 1500s, and have the ancient tools (still in use!) to prove it.
This store sells festival lanterns, made to order with the sponsor’s name brushed on the front.
This chiyogami store sells washi paper printed with old-fashioned patterns, some with scenes suitable for framing. One of their prints is even in a painting by Van Gogh.

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.”

The neighborhood’s shopping street is called Yanaka Ginza, and remains a delightful narrow pedestrian passageway lined with vendors selling street food and traditional souvenirs
Many of the shops sell cat-themed merchandise, like these tasty cat tail-shaped dounts (which come in many tempting flavors)
In the street leading to Yanaka Ginza, you can spend a few coins getting a fortune from this animatronic shrine maiden
And you can visit Puppet Shokichi, where artist Matsuaki Tsuyuki crafts 3D caricatures and arranges them into slices of life…
…or will get one of his puppets to paint your portrait while you sit for him
Before we head back to Sendagi Station, let’s detour up the hill to Amezaiku-ya, where adorable lollipops are crafted to order before our eyes


The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

 For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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