Yanaka, Tokyo – Exploring The Alleys Of Lost And Forgotten Tokyo

yanaka tokyo architecture striped blinds

Tokyo hiroo cafe restaurant thick toast

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Who would have thought that a few hours ago it was still chucking it down with rain? The typhoon had passed overnight and we woke up to a sunny hot day, a big contrast to our arrival in Tokyo.

I had craved Japanese style thick toast for over two weeks now and finally found a café around the corner from our Airbnb which served a breakfast set with thick toast and fried eggs, I do not know where my obsession about thick toast came from but I just love it. For those who have not tasted it , the toast is about 4cm thick golden on outside and soft in the middle, hard to get right if you do not have the Japanese style of western bread.

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting

Our first stop for todays exploring was Nishi Nippori station. We exited the underground station on the north side and were right on Shimogoinden Bridge, which is above one of the busiest train crossings in Japan. Jerome had always had a big passion for train and this was meant to be one of the prime spots in Tokyo for Shinkansen and train spotting.

He didn’t have to wait for very long and the first Shinkansen passed underneath us. We were soon joined by some other smaller children and a geeky teenager, who had all came for exactly the same reason – high speed train watching. We spent about half an hour watching the trains go by.

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting double

Nishi nippori station shinkansen train spotting poster

Then, mainly due to the heat, moved on to Tennoji temple and Yanaka graveyard, both were an oasis of calm in this busy city. There were trees that provided us with plenty of shade and a place to sip a cooling drink from the vending machines.

At Kennoji we saw a large seated Buddha statue, which resembles the big Buddha of Kamakura. We only visited Kennoji temple but there are around 70 other temples in the area that wait to be explored.

yanaka tennoji temple water well

Yanaka tennoji temple water rock

yanaka tennoji temple furin

You may wonder why we chose to visit a cemetery? Yanaka-reien is one of the largest cemeteries in Tokyo, there are over 7000 souls buried here. Some of them famous Japanese people, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Shogun of Japan and novelist Ichiyo Higuchi found their final resting place here. To see and experience a different culture includes all aspects of their life, including death. Yanaka-reien is very different to European cemeteries and should not be missed when visiting the area. Even children will be fascinated by the maze of little paths winding past the stones and the many offerings from oranges to origami on the little alters by the graves.

yanaka cemetery graves shaded path

Yanaka cemeteruy food offering

yanaka shopping shop yamazaki architecture

yanaka flower pots

yanaka little alley residential houses

yanaka electric meter

yanaka road street mirror

After our stroll past the graves we headed right along a small one-way street lined with little shops and restaurants. Here we stumbled onto the Asakura Choso Museum. Asakura Fumio, a famous Japanese artist lived and worked here most of his life. He extended the original building in 1935 and started teaching his disciples in this modern annex in sculpturing. The house reminded me of the Villa Choussakei in Setoda, as it combined both modern and traditional architecture into one. We started walking through the house in the modern part where we could see his study and many of his sculptures. We then moved on into the traditional part of the house, which was built around a beautiful, tranquil Japanese garden.

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum roof top

On the second and third floor we found rooms where Asakura entertained his guests and on the rooftop a small garden with an amazing view of Tokyo, all the way towards the Skytree. We were glad to have accidentally stumbled onto this gem of a museum, Jerome loved the cat statues, which were showcased in the Orchid room. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum.

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum tokto skytree view

yanaka tokyo asakura fumio museum

yanaka tokyo little alleyways restaurants

yanaka tokyo architecture striped blinds

yanaka house entrance door architecture

We then walked on to Yanaka Ginza. Here we found plenty of shops, which still have retained their warm atmosphere away from big chain stores. It seemed to be a popular shopping street with many locals. We stopped to have a Yanaka cattail, basically a doughnut in form of a cattail with different fillings. Jerome ate a banana one and I had chocolate. They were yummy and a funny treat, Jerome went back for more later in the day so they must be good!

yanaka ginza tokyo shopping street

yanaka ginza tokyo furin wind chime

yanaka ginza tokyo doughnut cattail

Yanaka Ginza still seemed to be stuck in a few decades ago, which made it very different to the other areas in Tokyo we had visited before. The shops have a personal touch with a focus on crafts and lots of street food.

It is a great place for getting lost and exploring, never knowing what else you might stumble onto. Jerome loved the funny old hardware stores with interesting household items, and the old fashioned wooden toys in some of the little boutiques.

yanaka ginza tokyo closed shop

Our stomachs were rumbling and I had marked a Soba restaurant 鷹匠a few blocks further away. The restaurant makes its own Soba noodles, we chose from the two varieties, one is coarser, the other softer buckwheat noodles. We had them cold, Zaru style with tasty dipping sauce and some wasabi. Jerome is often not very keen on Soba or Ramen but he ate them, perhaps the walk made him hungry?

yanaka soba noodles shop restaurant

yanaka tokyo sobe noodle restaurant shop

After lunch we made our way slowly back through the back alleys, disturbing cats and looking at the myriad of house styles, to Nishi Nippori station where we got the metro back to Hiroo.

yanaka tokyo bike overgrown

yanaka tokyo playground children

Not far from here is Ueno Zoo, which is an option for a detour on the way back into town if you have time. We always loved seeing the red pandas there. Or perhaps a stroll in Ueno Park with the Swan boats on Ueno park lake is another option to extend the day.

31 thoughts on “Yanaka, Tokyo – Exploring The Alleys Of Lost And Forgotten Tokyo

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences in Japan. I find your style of writing most enjoyable and you photography adds to the story. Also thanks for visiting my blog. Best wishes. Brick

      1. Hi Jessy,
        wow you lived there. I always dreamed of spending more time there than just holidays. Kyoto is beautiful, haven’t been for a while but the city is always worth a trip. Not sure I can say I have one specifiv favourite place in Japan, there are so many that I have fond memories of. Kanazawa was amazing and I would love to go back to visit again, as was Miyakojima and Ishigaki-jima. Shikoku is another favourite as it is still quite unspoilt in parts and would love to cycle the 88 temple pilgrimage. Are you planning on going back to Japan sometime?
        Vanessa

      2. Hi Vanessa, Oh Kanazawa! That was the first place I ever visited in Japan, so it has a special place in my heart. It sounds like you have been lots of places in Japan. That’s awesome. I’m hoping to go back next year, maybe during spring break in March. It might be early for cherry blossoms, but I am just hoping to escape the summer. I always end up visiting Japan in the summer during break from graduate school. And the summer in Japan is so incredibly hot. How about you? Any upcoming trips to Japan or Asia planned? Jessy

      3. Hi Jessy,
        Hanami is one of the best times to go, I guess you have seen it before when you lived in Kyoto. We usually go in the summer as well as we have more time because of school holidays. It is very hot and humid but we quite like it as we never seem to have a proper summer here. We really loved Japan in the autumn too.

        At the moment we have no plans yet to go to Asia next year, but then it’s still a while to go and you never know where we might end up. Our next holiday over New Year is to Marrakesh.
        Vanessa

      4. Hi Vanessa, Yes the autumn in Japan is beautiful. The changing leaves remind me of the East Coast of the U.S., where I grew up. And wow Marrakesh! Very cool. Have a fantastic trip, Jessy

      5. Hi Vanessa, Oh! October is the best time to visit that part of Massachusetts. Since moving to California for graduate school, it has been 5 years, since I got to enjoy the New England fall weather. I am really missing it. Hope you get a chance to visit again. Cheers (from Spain), Jessy

      6. Hi Vanessa, Thanks for asking! I had an amazing time in Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by Gaudi blew me away. The scale is unbelievable. Actually though… I know it is considered a lesser sight, but I think I enjoyed the Casa Mila more. My inner art history nerd was totally geeking out. I studied the Casa Mila many times throughout my 8 years of art history in school. It was so cool to touch the building. Did you have a nice Christmas? Jessy

  2. This is one of our favorite spots in Tokyo. The hanami in the cemetery is to die for. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). One of the best yakitori places ive had are also located here

  3. I generally stay towards the west side. Gakugeidaigaku, daikanyama, ebisu, shimokita, etc. i’m just launching this new blog and will be posting a tokyo special soon. Would be good to share places!

  4. Oh yes, isn’t Yanaka a marvellous place? It has become a bit more crowded in recent years, but it still has its charme. Could you verify the following: I thought the grave of Natsume Soseki was on the graveyard in Zoshigaya (at least they have one there – as well?). Among other memorials, the Yanaka Reien is also the place for the grave of the last Tokugawa shogun.

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