Yanesen: walking the good old streets of Tokyo
By Riccardo on 28 Feb 2017
While Kansai is probably the most popular destination among tourists traveling to Japan, you can still find traditional places in Tokyo as well. The temples of Asakusa and Harajuku are just a few examples of historic landmarks being assaulted everyday by crowds of tourists eager to witness the remnants of Japanese culture. If you like walking around, and you prefer to visit places a little less busy than the usual spots, then you should definitely visit the Yanasen area.
Yanasen is quite a big area, located between Nippori and Ueno, and you will probably need a whole day to be able to see everything. Are you interested in visiting Japanese temples and walking the old streets of Tokyo? Are you ready to try out traditional local Japanese food or engaging in conversations with local shopkeepers? Yanasen has got you covered! From temples to old streets, this area has basically everything to keep you entertained for a good while. But be prepared to walk… a lot!
I went to the Yanasen area on a cloudy day of March. I heard of the Yanasen for the first time from one of my coworkers and it got me quite interested. I took the JR Yamanote line and got off at Uguisudani station, which is just one stop before Ueno. Before starting my journey, I went to visit the local love hotels area, which is pretty close to the station. The cool thing about this area is that there is nothing much but love hotels, so if you’re looking for a cheap but decent place to stay for the night, that is where you should be heading to. Most love hotels are clean and they offer tons of amenities, so you can go there empty handed and still won’t miss a thing.
My next stop was going to be the Jomyoin temple, but I got completely lost after a few minutes and found myself in the middle of a very interesting park which later on I realized it was a cemetery. I know it may sound weird, but it was beautiful. The splendid artwork on the graves and the sculptures… just gorgeous! Tokyo is one of the few places in the world where it is almost cool (and highly recommended) to lose your way, because almost certainly you will end up finding places even cooler than what you were originally looking for.
I was looking for temples, and eventually I found the coolest one, the Nezu Shrine. Surrounded by lush greenery and ponds with carps, this is one of the most elegant and colorful temples I have seen in Tokyo. If you are lucky enough to be here around April, this is a must see location, because this is when the Shrine’s thousands of famous azalea bushes bloom pink and white on its spacious hillside garden. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t be alone, as crowds of tourists will likely be there as well, during the bunkyo azalea festival, as there are over 3,000 plants to admire.
Literally every street around the Nezu Shrine is abounding with smaller temples, and you’ll never get tired of walking around this area, feeling the authentic “old” Tokyo vibe. As you can see from the pictures, even residential houses or shops here look very traditional and they fit perfectly in the old Showa atmosphere. Speaking of shops, you will definitely want to visit a street called Yanaka Ginza, especially if you want to eat some good street food and buy presents. It’s a small street but very crowded indeed, as it is one of the best places in Tokyo to buy traditional “omiyage” (souvenirs) for your friends and family. Whether you are looking for “Geta” (Japanese wooden sandals), traditional pottery, or colorful and affordable kimono, this street got you covered. Besides, if like me you are a big fan of ground beef croquettes and Japanese sake, this is where you’ll find the best shops in town!
For more information, you can find the Yanesen Culture Centre just around the corner of the Yanaka Ginza Street. There you can sign up for different cultural activities, such as learning the Japanese calligraphy (also known as “Shodo”), wearing kimono, arranging flowers (Ikebana) and much, much more. If you are planning to come to Tokyo, don’t miss the opportunity to visit this area, I’m sure you won’t regret it!
Riccardo is an Italian weirdo who has been living in Asia for the past 10 years. He speaks several languages and sometimes he doesn’t even remember where he came from. He likes ice cream, pizza, and Quentin Tarantino. Say "Hi" if you meet him around Tokyo, though he probably won't say hello back to you.