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Japan is often considered a highly futuristic country with an incredible implementation of technology in its infrastructure, services, products, and much more. Tokyo is an exceptional example and is more or less explained by its astonishing population density; more people in a smaller area requires high efficiency. The density is not only in the population, but also in the physical characteristics. Tokyo may be one of the only cities in the world where you can find a 400-year-old tomb on the same street as a restaurant with robots as waiters. So places like Yanaka can exist in this huge concrete jungle. If you love old and well-preserved places in Japan, then you can’t miss all the nostalgic elements of this part of Tokyo. Step back in time and enjoy the character of the 1940s and 1950s with the best things to do in Yanaka, including unique food, shopping, and time-honoured architecture.
1. Go shopping
The Yanaka Ginza area is a classic shopping area full of old school vibes. The district is as alive and functional as it is preserved. This rustic atmosphere lends itself to locals and visitors alike. Throughout Japan, places like this that retain a sort of traditional, nostalgic vibe are frequented by people from all over the world, but are sometimes a cliché among residents. It’s a place where the locals often party and get together with their friends and neighbors to keep those rustic vibes alive. There are many things you can buy here, from clothes to trinkets and handicrafts.
2. Yanaka Brewery – Old house turned bar
Keep those good vibes going with some cool beer! The Yanaka Beer Hall offers its own brand of different styles of craft beer, perhaps considered “Ji-beer”, in a building very much in tune with the Yanaka Ginza vibe. Grab one fresh from the tap at the wooden counter on the first floor, or head upstairs to enjoy it on some tatami mats. The building was actually just a regular house built in 1938, and although it has since been converted back into Yanaka Beer Hall, it still retains its traditional elements immaculately.
3. Take memorable photos at Yuyake Dan Dan
Literally “Sunset Staircase”, this lookout named Yuyake Dan Dan is the perfect way to take a great photo to show everyone not only what a cool place you’ve been to, but also to capture a great example of old school. and the futuristic vibes match. The Tokyo skyline in the background with the humble but bustling shopping street at the bottom of the stairs is sure to be a memorable image, especially at sunset, hence the name.
4. Enjoy the lush Nezu Shrine
One of the oldest shrines in Japan is also located in the area and is an ideal stop for anyone who admires shrines or Japanese history. The sanctuary has not only been around for a long time, but is also beautifully lush and vibrant given its location in such a metropolitan area. The sanctuary combines its variety of foliage with fish-filled ponds to create a serene atmosphere. It also hosts a very popular Azalea Festival that features over 3,000 plants in a variety of styles.
5. Come hungry and eat some street food
Yanaka is a great place to go on an empty stomach. There are many things to try, especially street food, which is available here. Some notable snacks are Senbei, or rice crackers, and Imagawayaki, the big brother of Taiyaki (a type of sweet, pancake-like snack). Other dishes include beef croquettes at Niku no Suzuki, grilled rice balls at Hokkodo, or Takoyaki at Takoba, to name a few. You certainly won’t have a problem finding something to enjoy. Be sure to stop by Echigoya for some beer and sake too!
6. Find peace and quiet in the cemetery
Similar to Nezu Shrine, Yanaka Cemetery also has an unmissable amount of lush foliage. The combination of cherry blossoms and ginkgo trees make it a great place to visit in both fall and spring. Although it can be quite botanical and beautiful, you will never forget that this is a cemetery of around 7,000 graves. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, the size of the cemetery can almost guarantee that you won’t find many others.
7. Himitsudo – Shaved ice to remember
Crushed ice is a treat in Japan, which may come as a bit of a surprise to some. If you’re there in late spring or summer, you’ll notice a large number of shaved ice vendors, or at least signs, springing up in various locations. As with almost everything you’ll find in Japan, there is at least one store that is absolutely dedicated to its specialization. Himitsudo has his share of shaved ice, that’s for sure! Visit this unique shop in Yanaka to shave ice with a traditional machine and top it with one of the 132 seasonal dressings that rotate throughout the year.
If you are studying Japanese and have come across “Kissaten” in your vocabulary homework and have been led to believe that it simply means “coffee” like the others, then you may be surprised to learn that there are differences. If you really don’t like coffee, maybe that doesn’t matter too much… but if you do, it’s good to know that a Kissaten is more of a retro and traditional experience. They often offer a variety of coffee and food preparation styles that are very different from your modern coffee shop. Kayaba is a great example of Kissaten and offers great delicacies! In fact, it closed in 2006 and the public begged it to reopen, leading to its reopening in 2008.
9. SCAI the public bathroom
Maybe a little tired of all the old-fashioned stuff? Well, actually, there’s a pretty remarkable art gallery nearby! Sure, it’s not a complete escape from the ancient vibe, as it’s inside a 200-year-old bathhouse, but it features some pretty amazing contemporary art! Without a doubt, it is a great place to visit while you are in the area.
10. Asakura Sculpture Museum
Do you like art more than you thought or do you just want to see a different kind of art? No problem there, in fact, the Asakura Sculpture Museum is nearby. This 3-storey establishment is dedicated to all kinds of sculptures. The estate was once the residence of a famous studio sculptor named Fumio Asakura and is now repurposed to display his art. He lived from 1883 to 1964 and established the studio in 1908. Complete with gardens, ponds, and works by other artists, there is much to discover.
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