Yanesen Tokyo – The concrete jungle that is Tokyo is home to a staggering 47 different neighbourhoods, and you can only dream that you actually visit them all in one lifetime. The mainstays for every trip includes the must-do Shibuya for all its nightlife and youth culture, Shinjuku for its food and shopping, Ginza for its glitz and glamour, and multiple other popular headliner neighbourhoods such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ikebukuro to name a few. However, there are plenty of hidden gems within the bustling city of Tokyo that are only minutes away from the major tourist hubs and are quietly enjoyed by locals and locals only.
Keen to explore the road less taken in Tokyo? Want to do something ‘different’, but don’t want to travel too far? Need to kill a few hours but feeling drained from all the energy of the big cities? Well, we’ve got the perfect solution for you: Yanesen.
Yanesen is a charming, quaint little town in the north-eastern district of Tokyo. Its name is actually an amalgamation of three different neighbourhoods that make up the entire Yanesen town: Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi. Very similar to Kawagoe (i.e. The Little Edo), it draws fascination through its traditional building structures, old religious temples, and dedicated museums that dip right back into the history of Japan. Here, you can walk around and get a feel of ‘old Japan’ whilst hopping in and out of souvenir shops and munching on delicious street food.
It’s fairly close to the city centre, so we recommend dedicating a few hours in a day to walk around and enjoy the laid-back vibe of this culture-rich town.
Yanesen Tokyo – How To Get There
Yanesen is located just outside of Nippori station, a major transport hub in Tokyo. To get to Nippori, you can catch the Yamanote line from Shinjuku for 21-minutes (200 yen, every four minutes), or the Yamanote line from Shibuya for 28-minutes (200 yen, every four minutes).
Otherwise, if you’re up for a leisurely stroll, you can first explore the Ueno area, with its beautiful park and popular Ameyoko Shopping Street, before walking towards the Yanesen area, which is roughly 15-20 minutes on foot away.
By the way, if you want to explore this lovely neighbourhood with a local guide, you can book this tour online.
Yanesen Tokyo – Torii of Otome Inari at Nezu Shrine
Widely considered as one of the most underrated shrines in Japan, the gorgeous vermilion torii gates located right here at Nezu Shrine in Tokyo will present you with your explosive dose of ‘Japan’ without you having to step foot outside of the city. Nezu Shrine is actually one of the oldest shrines in Japan, having been founded way back in 1705, and thus emanates much history and culture.
Spending some time walking about this peaceful shrine underneath the towering trees will definitely reduce whatever chaos you may be feeling. It’s surrounded by lush greenery so you can definitely expect to get some gorgeous photos. What’s surprising for most people is that it’s almost on-par with the beauty of Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari torii gates!
If we had to recommend a time, it would be during the Azalea Festival in April every year. Yes, there will definitely be crowds, but it’s well-worth the time because there’s a staggering 3000 azalea flower plants which bloom during this period, making it especially unique and beautiful. Of course, with all Japanese festivals comes the promise of delicious food, and at the Azalea Festival, you can bet you’ll be able to sample the best of all the traditional festival foods such as takoyaki, yakisoba, and amazake.
Yanesen Tokyo – Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street
The Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street is the main strip in this small town; it’s where you’d go to find food, souvenirs, and get those pretty pictures of the street you’ve been dying to take. Pro tip: head to the Yuyake Dan Dan just ahead of the staircase which leads into the street for an epic image of the activities happening around you; it’s especially recommended to go there during sunset for that warm glow.
No surprise Yukake Dan Dan made it to our list of the most Instagrammable places in Tokyo!
The rustic feel of the buildings here, coupled with the laid-back vibes that seems eons away from the fast-paced hustle and bustle of Shinjuku will make you walk a little slower, worry a little less, and generally have you biding your time in this wonderfully relaxing town.
Some of the best things to do whilst exploring this street include indulging in the fantastic street food that’s offered here, most noticeably the menchi katsu. This particular snack is a beef mince cutlet that’s deep-fried and served piping hot. The best place to get this is at Niku no Suzuki, where they blend fresh and delicious beef together on the daily; you won’t miss, there will always be a line out front!
Another notable food option along this popular street is the much loved taiyaki; however, instead of being fish-shaped, as it normally is, you’ll find it shaped as a cat here!
Niku no Suzuki
- Address: 3 Chome-15-5 Nishinippori, 荒川区 Arakawa City, Tokyo 116-0013, Japan
- Hours: 10:30am – 6:00pm
- Price: 230 yen
Yanesen Tokyo – Amezaiku Yoshihara
Nothing screams ‘Japan’ quite like a craft candy store that carves out adorable animal sculptures in the form of hard candy, does it? Well, right in Yanesen lies the ultimate wonderful craft candy shop, Amezaiku Yoshihira. The moment you walk in, it’s like you just stepped into a candy store in Hogwarts – the craftsmanship of the candy lining the shelves is impeccable. It has long been a tradition in Japan to sculpt sweets into intricate art, and it’s still widely celebrated today.
Here, you can actually watch the craftsmen live as they use various utensils to shape their candy into various forms of cute animals. There are many designs to choose from, and seeing this happen right in front of your eyes is an experience that’s just so quintessentially Japanese, you wouldn’t want to miss it.
- Address: Japan, 〒113-0022 Tokyo, Bunkyo City, Sendagi, 1 Chome−23−5 巴ビル １F
- Hours: 1:00pm – 6:00pm (craftsmen stop carving their work at 5:00pm)
Best Cafes in Yansen Tokyo
One important detail to know about Yanaka is that it’s actually home to quite a few of the stray cats in the city. For some reason, most have found it Yanaka to be comfortable and welcoming enough to make it their permanent address, so cat lovers, rejoice and keep your eyes peeled! There will be stray cats milling around, sculptures to take photos with, and plenty of the shops in the area will have the cat theme running through their store.
Cafe Nekoemon (Yanaka)
Cafe Nekoemon is the perfect example. If you’re on the lookout for a cute, unusual cafe, this place is worth a shot. It’s a quaint little shop that’s feline-themed, and you’ll notice cute ornaments adorning the various corners of this shop everywhere you look. Here, you can order a drink as well as cat-shaped snacks (such as cakes, biscuits, eclairs!) to munch on, whilst you paint your own cat! This is such a great and surprisingly therapeutic activity. You’ll get access to a bunch of colourful felt pen, and decorate your little palm-sized ‘maneki neko’ (i.e. beckoning cat figurine). There are also plenty of cat-themed trinkets to purchase as souvenirs.
- Address: 5 Chome-4-3 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0001, Japan
- Hours: 10:30am – 5:30pm
- Price: 1,620 yen (for a hot drink, a cookie, and maneki neko painting)
A simple, standard name for a not-so-standard, established cafe that’s been drawing people from all over Tokyo to sample its delicious coffee beans for many years now. Here, the cafe is more ‘hole-in-the-wall’ than it is a sit down and relax type of place, so if you’re looking for something on the go, stop by here and grab a cup. In saying that, there are limited amounts of seating, so if you do manage to score one, it’s the perfect place to people-watch, as it’s located right on the busy street.
- Address: Japan, 〒110-0005 Tokyo, Taito City, Ueno, 5 Chome−9−7 AKI-OKA ARTISAN 2k540
- Hours: 11:00am – 8:00pm
- Price: 240 yen
For a more traditional look and feel (and possibly taste!), check out Kabaya Coffee. It’s a small established coffee store that’s been running for decades now, out of a rustic, traditional-style wooden house on a very unassuming corner of Yanaka. If you’re keen for a sit down, the second-floor of this coffee store has a woven tatami area for resting.
During the weekends, and sometimes the weekdays, you’ll find a quiet line outside of this coffee store, full of eager coffee-enthusiasts, foodies, and even those who just want a glimpse inside of an older-style building. If you’re looking for something to munch on as well, give their famous egg toast a go.
- Address: 6 Chome-1-29 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0001, Japan
- Hours: 8:00am – 5:30pm (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
- Price: around 1,000 yen for a lunch set (includes coffee and special dish)
Yanesen Tokyo – Kinekichien Tea Shop
For a little bit of a break from wandering around, check out Kinekichien, a quaint little Japanese tea shop that’s every bit adorable and Japanese. It was established 80 years ago, and retains the same rustic charm that it did when it first opened its doors. Here, you will find a wide selection of green tea to settle down with, as well as a variety of knick-knacks including beautiful pottery, accessories and crafts that make perfect gifts to bring back home or souvenirs to remind you of this cat-run town. You can’t go wrong with a ceramic tea cup with itty-bitty cats decorated all around, can you?
Yanesen Tokyo – Asakura Museum of Sculpture
For those looking for a burst of creative inspiration, why not check out the Asakura Museum of Sculpture? This museum highlights the work of famous Japanese sculptor Fumio Asakura, and here, you’ll find the ambient reflective of his simple yet dynamic sculptures that he created during his successful years as a naturalist realism sculpture.
Fun fact: this museum is actually the home of Fumio Asakura, but it has since been converted to a public area to share not only his work the space in which he achieved inspiration for his wonderful work. It not only has an indoor area to explore, but the gardens surrounding the museum as well as on the rooftop are also relaxing and recommended for you to wander around.
- Address: 7 Chome-18-10 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0001, Japan
- Hours: 9:30am – 4:30pm (Closed Mondays and Thursdays)
- Price: Adults: 500 yen, Students: 250yen
Yanesen Tokyo is one of the cutest neighbourhoods in Tokyo you’ll come across. From its popular snack stalls and coffee shops located in historic buildings to its hidden shrines that will transport you back to a world of tranquillity in the middle of the city, its charm extends way beyond just the aesthetics of traditional Japanese town.
PS: If you want to visit another unique neighbourhood in Tokyo, make sure to check out Shimokitazawa too!