Tokyo, that buzzing, vibrant city of neon lights, crowded trains and skyscrapers, fashionistas and high-tech, is a mix of modernity and tradition. At least that’s what probably comes to ones mind when thinking of the Japanese capital with its more than 30 million habitants. But beside all the neon glitter there is also the old soul of Tokyo still breathing. One of the few districts where you can still feel the old Tokyo is Yanaka, a historical part of Tokyo that dates back to the Edo period (1603-1867).
Here, walking distance from Ueno park in Taito-ku, the so called lower city (or shitamachi in Japanese) Yanaka with its old town ambience lets visitors experience the Tokyo from past decades. Narrow streets, many traditional old wooden houses and stone walls are the witnesses of ancient Edo times and invite its visitors to stroll around the 175 meter long and around 6 meters wide Yanaka Ginza, the shopping street, packed with around 70 shops that sell everything from clothes and groceries to necessities and toys. Some items, like the Sembei rice crackers, were first sold here 200 years ago.
Once the weather gets warmer, you can find people sitting on beer boxes, chatting and laughing while drinking a cold beverage and having something to eat, while others get lost in small second-hand book stores and crafts shops. One shop that art enthusiasts should not miss is Tanabe Bunkaido. The shop belongs to Japan’s finest maker of calligraphy brushes - so famous that even the world known painters Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró bought some.
But Yanaka is not only a place for the arts but also for the spirit. Nowhere else in Tokyo can you find as many temples as there are here. Among them, Tenouji and the Kaneiji are the most famous. Fancy a walk in amongst some greenery? Then head out to the spacious Yanaka cemetery, one of the oldest in Tokyo. It will make you feel like you are walking in a park. Here, many famous artists are buried like Ichiyo Higuchi, a famous writer during the Meiji period (you might know her as the person on the 5000 yen note). You can also find Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s - the last shogun’s - grave at the Yanaka cemetery. And if you ever get lost, don’t worry - yhe cemetery has its own police station.
So, if you are craving for a nostalgic, peaceful atmosphere and want to breathe in the atmosphere of the old Edo in this modern, buzzing megalopolis Tokyo, head out to Yanaka - you won’t regret it.
How to get there:
JR Yamanote Line: Nippori Station, West Exit, 5 minutes on foot.
Tokyo Metro: Chiyoda Line Sendagi Station, Doukan Exit, 3 minutes on foot.