Welcome to the Neighborhood: Yanaka, Tokyo

Let’s return to our trip to Japan last September, shall we? Most of Tokyo has been demolished (by war, fire, and earthquake) and rebuilt multiple times. The neighborhood of Yanaka, however, was damaged less than most from the cataclysms of the 20th Century. As a result, it is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo.

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Judy and I visited Yanaka for a day during our stay in Tokyo. We started at the Yanaka Ginza, a narrow street filled with all kinds of shops.

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Many were selling prepared foods, like the fried fish and chicken above.

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Other shops sell all kinds of goods – some tourist stuff, but for the most part ordinary necessities.

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Judy and I liked this t-shirt.

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Yanaka is associated with cats, and little cat-themed items are ubiquitous.

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However, the only actual live cat we saw was being carried by the lady above. If Yanaka has lots of cats, they are either indoor cats or exceedingly shy.

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We also visited the Yanaka Cemetery, which many people use for strolling or bicycling. The Cemetery dates back to 1872. Paths are lined with venerable cherry trees, and this is popular place for viewing cherry blossoms in April.

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Many graves are marked very simply, others are more elaborate. There is also a walled enclosure where the Shoguns of the Tokugawa clan, who ruled Japan for over 250 years, are buried.

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This is the entrance to the Tennoji Buddhist temple, which is adjacent to the cemetery. In fact, the cemetery used to belong to Tennoji. The government confiscated the land at a time when Buddhist funerals were being discouraged.

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It’s fun to wander the narrow streets of Yanaka’s residential areas. I particularly liked snooping into local backyards. I thought the Brugmansia above was quite impressive.

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Bare ground hardly exists in Tokyo, and it seems that most attempts at gardening utilize containers.

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A peak into someone’s back garden.

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The Japanese sculptor Fumio Asakura lived in Yanaka, and his home has been converted into the  Asakura Museum of Sculpture.

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Here’s a reproduction of one of Asakura’s sculptures. I came here while Judy was working and was given my own personal tour by an English-speaking docent (this museum does not attract droves of foreign tourists).

The house includes Asakura’s studio and a beautiful courtyard garden. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed indoors.

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On the other hand, you can take pictures of the museum’s rooftop garden.

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From the rooftop you can enjoy views of the neighborhood, with the Tokyo skyline beyond.

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We ended our visit to Yanaka with a lunch of buckwheat noodles, or soba. You eat them cold, dipped in the sauce you see above. When you’re done with the noodles, you mix the sauce into hot water and drink it. A nice meal for a hot day.


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This is a stealth picture Judy took of the ladies at the next table. They reminded her of her book group.

Yanaka is a more human-scaled part of Tokyo with plenty of neighborhood character. It’s worth a visit.

That’s all for now.

28 Comments on “Welcome to the Neighborhood: Yanaka, Tokyo

  1. Cafe a la Papa?! That is funny. Those cherry trees are very old! They do not last that long here. Sadly, they get phytophthora. Our town is Los Gatos, which contrary to popular belief, means ‘the Cats’, not ‘the Ghettos’. It is the Kitty City. We have cat sculptures up in the street trees for those touring the ‘Cat Walk’ to look for.

  2. Interesting to see a post on a place in Japan not often visited by tourists. I love seeing that universal need to have a bit of greenery and little gardens. I liked the entrance to the Tennoji Buddhist temple because it seems nice and quiet, cool and green.

  3. That angel trumpet is outstanding. It surely can’t be outside all year there. I wonder where it is sheltered during winter. You would have to have a tall ceiling and plenty of light. I too like to snoop into backyards while touring. Fun to see how people develop free space no matter where you travel. It is no wonder people want greenery in pots or however they can get it in a concrete jungle. You find the most interesting places to tour. I would love to have seen the sculpture displays. Cemeteries are a whole different category of interest. Plants, tombstones…

  4. Very interesting, love the stealth pic at the end. Its intriguing to me how the cemetary is a place of beautiful trees and calm walks. Here in America they are considered creepy and are often disrespected.

  5. I’m hooked! I was especially drawn to those noodles. 😉 Thanks for the tour.

  6. My husband has been to Tokyo for work and quite some time ago. Thanks for taking me along with your travels. I like your “snooping.” I do that too.

  7. It’s nice to see a bit of Tokyo I missed when I was there! I am sure if I went again I would also be focussing on plants and gardens more. My neighbour had a few square metres of garden and grew bonsai, which he clipped almost daily. It seems people everywhere feel the need to grow something – even in a concrete jungle.

    • I feel the same. OF course, I should have clarified: there is almost no bare ground around residences. There are still parks and public gardens.

  8. Oh, I love snooping in backyards no matter where I go – and I’m usually not that subtle about it either 😉 And the photo op of the cat with the straw hat – just adorable!

  9. Hello Jason, the district looks very quirky, the food looks great and I bet it was fun sneaking peaks into people’s gardens!

  10. Pingback: Yanaka… | Old School Garden

  11. What a fascinating tour. I did enjoy it, such an interesting place. What a shame there is little bare earth, how well the folks do creating gardens from containers. Fancy seeing someone taking a cat for a walk!!! I loved the narrow streets, so intriguing! Good to see how well used the cemetery is.xxx

  12. Japanese seem to like cats. Have you ever heard from that café “Neko Jalala” in Chiyoda-ku? 16 cats live there and you allowed to pet them. It was recommended in a book.

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