Saturday 23 August 2014

Old Town Tokyo - Yanaka and Yanaka Ginza Shotengai (shopping street) -Part 1

This post is dedicated to one of my regular readers. Noel, this one's for you.

The word shitamachi in Japanese means "old town" and as you may have noticed from posts about places like Togoshi Ginza, Koenji and Shimokitazawa I like these areas!  There was one that I had been meaning to visit for quite a while now called Yanaka.  It is quite central, located just out of Nippori station on the central Yamanote train line.  Yanaka was spared the bombing that other areas of Tokyo suffered from toward the end of WWII and thus retains the old town, rustic charm that makes it special.

In 1657, a very large fire called Meireki no taika swept through and destroyed much of Tokyo. During the rebuilding of the city, a lot of the temples were moved to the Yanaka area and as a result, the district is home to about 70 temples! A far greater concentration than the much more famous Kyoto I think!

Based on all of this I decided that a visit to Yanaka was well worth a visit.

My day began badly, however as I got to my local train station to find that the normally reliable train system that Japan has was having a bad day. Everything had ground to a standstill as a train with an "Out of Service" sign sat still on one of the tracks. I had promised one of my students, Natsumi, that I would visit the restaurant that she works at for lunch, and this was seriously going to make me late! I walked to the next station and managed to wind my way to my destination by a variety of other train lines. Finally I arrived at DG Fish and Shellfish or Deli Giuliani depending on which door you walk through.

It is usually an Italian and Spanish inspired restaurant (that also does meat dishes too) but on this day, as it was the last day before their summer vacation started, they had a buffet for lunch. Laid out was a delicious banquet that was just waiting for me and my empty stomach!

I sat down to a couple of plates of delicious food and a nice cold beer (thanks Natsumi!)

The regular lunch menu has dishes such as pastas, risottos and rice bowls while the dinner menu was in Japanese but had nice pictures to assist in ordering if you can't read Japanese. They also have a member of staff (Natsumi) who speaks quite good English to help too!

One of the chefs was also starting to work on a big sea bass that was going to be a nice fish carpaccio for dinner.

The food was great, so if you are ever in the Tsukiji area looking for a good meal, I recommend DG Fish and Shellfish.

Having filled my belly with some great food, I continued on my way to Nippori station. Stepping outside of the south exit, I quickly found myself at Yanaka cemetery. Now this may sound a little morbid, but Yanaka cemetery is actually a top tourist spot in the area! There are about 7,000 graves in the cemetery and it is the final resting place for the last Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. The main path that runs through the centre of the cemetery is lined with cherry trees which makes it a popular place in spring time when the cherry blossoms bloom.

I walked away from the station and towards the cemetery entrance.

Just inside the cemetery entrance is Tennoji Temple which dates back to 1274AD. I love temples as they quite often have beautifully manicured gardens inside the grounds and the temples of Yanaka didn't disappoint there!

Tennoji Temple is also home to a big copper Buddha statue that was quite impressive

and a statue of the Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. She apparently has the ability to appear in many forms in order to relieve suffering.

I left Tennoji Temple and walked a little way into the cemetery along the central path

The sound of summer in Japan is the cicada and walking among the trees, the air was thick with the sound of the chirping and screeching away!

I then decided to head out of the cemetery to walk around the edges along the streets where there were some beautiful old style houses.

Pretty soon I came to another one of Yanaka's beautiful temples.

I walked inside the main gate and was greeted by these sights.....

Beautiful. I was the only one there. Yanaka was saying "Here Jason, this is just for you.......".

After pausing to take in the atmosphere of the temple grounds I headed back out to continue walking around the cemetery. Cemeteries in Japan have a lot of these boards of wood at each grave with the name of the person buried there on them.....

and I remember asking one time what they were for. I was told the following (and if this is not true, please correct me). When the wind blows, the boards slap together and the resulting noise is supposed to keep evil spirits away.

I guess this next one may have been for someone important.

Exiting the cemetery I found this information on a post that tells a little about the history of the place.

Exiting the other side, I decided to continue walking the streets to see what other treasures could be found and immediately saw this beautiful old style building in front of me.

I had read before I went to Yanaka that the residential area had the feeling that time had left it behind and walking around, it really felt like that.

Walking along further, another two of Yanaka's temples appeared (and they did kind of appear out of nowhere. One moment I was walking along past houses, the next moment, suddenly, there was a temple!).

I started walking down this street in search of more discoveries

And was passed by a huge group of Italian tourists!

It made me wonder how the locals feel now that Yanaka is becoming more and more popular with tourists.

I think I'll stop this post here and start working on a Part 2. This one is a little longer than I expected it would be.

I hope you've enjoyed it so far. Keep your eyes out for part 2 soon.


  1. Hi Jason,this has been very interesting for me and no doubt for you.Such fond memories of my stroll around here.I think I may have told you how I met a man in the street who was retired and who had lived in the area a long time.He showed me around.Many of sights/sites pictured I remember.It was so peaceful there..away from all the busy streets elsewhere in Tokyo.The upright engraved boards in the cemetery I was curious about,so now I know.Well,now I look forward to part 2.Thanks for enabling me to relive that pleasant afternoon,wandering around this quiet suburb of Tokyo.

    1. Hi Noel,
      I'm happy that you enjoyed it. I remember you talking about Yanaka and when the opportunity arose, I was looking forward to it. Starting work on part 2 now.