Yanaka is a charming residential neighbourhood in east Tokyo, where you'll find adorable retro cafés, fantastic street food and plenty of indie boutiques. Yanaka is known for its traditional atmosphere, as many of the buildings in the area have been preserved since the Showa era, giving you a glimpse of old Tokyo (Shitamachi). Many locals live near the Yanaka Ginza Shopping street, and when I came to visit, I couldn't believe how atmospheric and wonderful the district is.
The most popular place to visit in Yanaka is the Yanaka Ginza (ginza means shopping in Japanese), which is a shopping street lined with small shops selling items like street food, souvenirs, and traditional crafts. Beyond the shopping streets, the area is filled with temples, shrines and traditional houses.
There is the Yanaka Beer Hall, perfect for a break in a traditional Japanese beer house to try locally crafted beers. No trip is complete without a visit to the Kosho Same no ha, a charming second hand bookshop in Yanaka. You'll want to grab street food and treats and stroll through the peaceful Yanaka cemetery, which looks especially remarkable in Spring and Autumn. Relax at a traditional café with one of the best flat whites you'll have in the whole Yanaka neighbourhood.
In this Yanaka Ginza guide, I'm going to tell you how to spend a wonderful day exploring the Yanaka area, where to eat, what to see and the best places to visit.
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How to get to Yanaka Ginza
To reach Yanaka, you should start at Nippori Station. Nippori Station is easily accessible via the Yamanote Line, which runs from many major stations in Tokyo, and the train journey is covered by the JR Pass. For instance, the journey from Shinjuku to Nippori Station takes only 20 minutes on the Yamanote Line, while from Tokyo Station to Nippori Station the train takes just 12 minutes.
Best time to visit Yanaka Ginza
The best time to visit Yanaka Ginza is during the cherry blossom season, as the nearby Yanaka Cemetery becomes a perfect hanami spot during the Sakura Festival. If you visit Japan any other season, just make sure to visit Yanaka Ginza on a sunny day to really enjoy your time there, as most of the day will be spent outdoors.
Must do in Yanaka Ginza
As I mentioned, Yanaka Ginza shopping street is the main attraction in the Yanaka district. Everything is walking distance and throughout the day you will eat so many street foods, enjoy traditional local food in authentic restaurants and visit so many hidden gems that most visitors don't know about. The local culture is centred around its artisanal shops and small businesses, ranging from traditional mom-and-pop stores to quirky, eccentric shops. You'll love the old town vibe here, with a mix of traditional and modern influences.
Shop around Yanaka Ginza shopping street
Yanaka Ginza is the main shopping street in Yanaka. The famous street is accessible by walking west and down the famous Yuyake Dandan stairs. You'll enjoy a cluster of small independent shops here selling anything and everything from food, to household necessities and small trinkets for souvenirs. I recommend visiting Shinimonogurui, a small stamp shop which can create a custom stamp for you. Have a delicious doughnut from Yanaka Shippoya, a doughnut specialist who sells long baked pastries with cat designs. For your tea fix, head to Yuzuriha for sweets, bowls and tea utensils.
Climb the Yuyake Dandan stairs (sunset stairs)
The Yuyake Dandan stairs are a famous landmark in Yanaka. The stairs lead up to a hill and offer a panoramic view over the Yanaka district and Yanaka Ginza. The name of the stairs Yuyake Dandan mean sunset stairs. The stairs are especially popular during sunset, when the area becomes even more atmospheric, giving it such a retro vibe under the orange glow.
You can't visit Yanaka Ginza without going up (or down) these stairs, which are an attraction on their own. Of course, I recommend waiting for the sunset to snap the best of pictures.
Get your cat statues at Neko action
If this is your first time in Japan, then you've got to know that the Japanese do love cats. In Japan, cats are called "neko", so the name of the store should give you a hint about everything cat related you're about to find there. Think cat related gifts including stationary, home good, accessories and, of course, cute cat t-shirts!
A must-visit shop in Yanaka Ginza full of kawaii cats!
Purchase your Japanese souvenirs
There's not enough time in a day to see each and every single souvenir shop here in Yanaka Ginza. You will find everything you can possibly imagine, but I especially recommend cute chopsticks and chopstick holders, neko t-shirts and of course a custom-made stamp.
I do recommend that you spend some time in each indie store to find your perfect Japanese souvenir. Since Yanaka Ginza is a shopping street, you can imagine that you will find perhaps too many things you will want to purchase. But when in Japan, there's no such thing as too many cute gifts.
Visit Scai the Bathhouse
SCAI The Bathhouse is a contemporary art gallery located in Yanaka just minutes away from Yanaka Ginza. The gallery was established in 1997 and is housed in a former public bathhouse, which was built in the early 20th century.
It is one of the first contemporary art galleries in Japan to be established in a traditional Japanese building, and the unique setting has become an iconic aspect of the gallery. SCAI The Bathhouse features a wide range of contemporary art exhibitions, including works by established and emerging artists from Japan and around the world. The gallery also holds events, lectures, and workshops, making it an important centre for cultural exchange and education.
Stroll through Yanaka Cemetery
I don't normally tell you to add a cemetery on your Tokyo itinerary, but the Yanaka cemetery is special. Yanaka Cemetery is a historic cemetery known for its spacious grounds and peaceful atmosphere, and is one of the few large cemeteries located in the heart of Tokyo.
It is a popular destination during the Sakura Season as it has several cherry blossom trees and well-manicured lawns. Yanaka Cemetery is home to many historical figures and notable individuals from Japanese history, making it a significant cultural and historical site. The cemetery is often considered a symbol of the traditional neighbourhoods and way of life that once existed in Yanaka.
Visit the Tennoji Temple
Tennoji Temple is a historic Buddhist temple located in Yanaka Cemetery, and it's beautifully surrounded by greenery. It is characterized by its old-fashioned main hall modelled after Nara's Jurin-in Temple, and its modern guest hall building.
Originally, a temple of the Nichiren sect, it was later converted to a Tendai sect temple and continues to be worshipped as one of the Yanaka Seven Deities of Fortune. The principal object of worship is a seated statue of Amida Nyorai, but Bishamonten is also deeply worshipped.
Get shaved ice from Himitsu-do
Shaved ice, a dessert consisting of finely shaved ice with syrup and other ingredients, has a long history in Japan, dating back about 1,000 years. Himitsu-do is a store that specializes in shaved ice, using expertly crafted sauces that are free of additives and made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
Since its opening in 2011, Himitsu-do has used all-natural ice that is hand-shaved to match the temperature and humidity. Pick from 132 different types of shaved ice for different seasons, including matcha tiramisu, melon-zanmai, and strawberry cream cheese. It's well worth it, especially if you visit Tokyo in the summer.
Eat at the Sun Potter Cafe Nombiriya
A superb café in an old, traditional Japanese house, ideal if you want to experience an atmospheric lunch in Yanaka. The owners are really sweet and inviting, and they speak a little English as well. You will definitely feel welcomed here.
Occasionally, there are local exhibitions held at the café during the Yanaka Hatsune. The festival usually takes place in October and you can visit various venues for local performances.
Try delicious street food
There are lots of restaurants in the area, but it's best to walk around and try all the street food from local vendors. Try baked sweets and Japanese chestnuts, or get a gourmet snack from Atelier de Florentina.
You have got to try the Chonmage Imo which is a topknot potato, basically a potato skewers in sesame. Cat tail doughnuts from Yanaka Shippoya is certainly a local obsession and one I had to get for myself too. Eat mince croquettes from Niku no Suzuki and don't miss the delicious takoyaki from Takoba. So much deliciousness to indulge in!
Taste the beer at the Yanaka Beer Hall
Yanaka Beer Hall is a craft beer establishment located in the Ueno Sakuragi Atari complex, a three-storey house built in 1938 that was renovated to preserve its vintage appeal. The interior of the beer hall has a mid-century aesthetic, decorated with antique furniture, vintage newspapers and posters from Japanese illustrators.
The bar offers a range of exclusive local beers and I recommend that you try their sample selection first to taste several and then pick your favourite.
The manager, Hitomi Yoshida, adds to the establishment's nostalgic atmosphere by wearing a kimono every day. It's a wonderful place and one of my favourite places in Tokyo.
Order coffee from Kayaba Coffee
You've been walking a lot and you definitely need a pick-me-up. How about an amazing strong coffee in a charming old house with a story?
Built in 1916, this traditional old house was home to the Kayaba coffee shop from 1938 until the proprietor's death in 2006. In 2009, a local non-profit group, together with the team from Scai the Bathhouse gallery, reopened the beloved community icon, preserving its original exterior and signage.
The moment you step inside, you'll see a blend of traditional kissaten café style and modern craft coffee culture. The coffee is strong and proper and if you're feeling hungry, take a quick look at the menu for delicious and retro bites.
Photograph yourself in front of the Himalayan Cedar Tree
Not too far from Yanaka Ginza is the gorgeous and famous Himalayan Cedar Tree. The Himalayan Cedar is a highly valued tree for its beautiful appearance, as well as its durability and resistance to pests and disease.
But this Cedar tree in Yanaka is special. The Himalayan Cedar Tree in Yanaka is a large and iconic tree located in the Sanbochidana plot surrounded by temples on three sides. It was planted before World War II by the grandfather of the current owner of the Mikado Pan shop and has since become a symbol of the charm of this temple town in Tokyo. The tree was once in danger of being cut down in 2012, but a local action committee saved it and since then, it has its own fund and website (in Japanese).
In October 2020, a typhoon broke a large branch of the tree and because of this, it had to be pruned back significantly.
Enjoy a tea ceremony
Since you are in such a charming and atmospheric part of Tokyo, it seems only fitting to enjoy a traditional tea ceremony in Yanaka. You will meet your Sado tea master at the Yanesen tourist information and make your way to the private residence. You'll learn about the small entrance to the tearoom and understand what various Zen words mean.
You will be tasting matcha first made by the tea master, then you will learn how to make your own matcha using traditional utensils.
Walk to Ueno park
After you've seen all the great things in Yanaka and Yanaka Ginza, make your way to Ueno Park, on foot! It's only a 25-minute pleasant walk towards one of the largest parks in Tokyo. There are lots more to do in Ueno, including visiting museums, drawing Omikuji at the temple, walking in nature and eating even more street food.
Yanaka Ginza is one of my favourite places in Tokyo, it is like a journey back in time to a more traditional and charming era in the capital. With its quaint shops and historic atmosphere, it offers a refreshing escape from the otherwise modern and energetic city life. With its old-fashioned charm, Yanaka Ginza is sure to leave a lasting impression and make for an unforgettable experience.
Want more of Japan? It's my favourite destination in the world, so I've got plenty of more recommendations. Start by checking where to stay in Tokyo. Don't forget to prepare for your trip to Japan, check how to dress in Japan and what to pack for your trip. I even wrote an awesome guide to help you with manners and etiquette, and I answered all your budget related questions regarding Japan.
What is Yanaka Ginza known for?
Yanaka is a neighbourhood in the Taito Ward of Tokyo, that is known for its historical and cultural significance. Yanaka is known for and popular among tourists due to these attractions:
- Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street: Yanaka Ginza is a shopping street that is famous for its traditional, old-fashioned atmosphere. It's lined with small, family-owned shops that sell a variety of goods, including food, clothing, and souvenirs. Visitors can stroll down the narrow street and soak up the ambiance while sampling local treats like sweet potato croquettes, mochi rice cakes, and fried fish cakes.
- Yanaka Cemetery: Yanaka Cemetery is a large, historic graveyard that is known for its serene beauty and the many notable figures buried there. The cemetery was established in 1872 and is the final resting place of several prominent individuals, including writers, artists, and politicians. Visitors can wander among the tombstones and admire the cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring.
- Yanaka Beer Hall: Yanaka Beer Hall is a popular spot for beer lovers and foodies alike. It's a cosy, wood-paneled pub that serves up a variety of craft beers and Japanese-style pub food. The atmosphere is casual and welcoming, making it a great place to relax after a day of sightseeing.
- Himalayan Cedar Tree: The Himalayan Cedar Tree is a towering, ancient tree that is located in Yanaka Cemetery. It's estimated to be around 300 years old and is a beloved landmark in the neighbourhood.
What's the best way to experience Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street?
Here are some tips for experiencing the historic Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street:
- Start early: Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street is best experienced early in the morning, when the shops open and the street is less crowded.
- Try street food: There are many local food specialities to try, such as taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste), senbei (rice crackers), and manju (steamed buns filled with sweet or savoury ingredients).
- Visit the small shops: Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street is home to many unique shops selling traditional crafts, handmade goods, and souvenirs. Take your time to explore and browse.
- Visit during a festival: Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street hosts several festivals throughout the year, such as the Yanaka Matsuri in the spring and the Neko-sen Matsuri (cat festival) in the fall. These are great opportunities to experience local traditions and culture.
- Get lost in the streets: Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street is a labyrinth of narrow alleys and side streets, so don't be afraid to wander and get lost. You never know what hidden gems you might discover.
- Join a Yanaka Ginza walking tour: Experience Yanaka Ginza with a local, expert guide.