Ok, you have made it to Yanesen (Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi), the place where old Tokyo lingers on. An advice often given is to wander along the small alleyways and get a taste of the atmosphere of the pre-war living style that this neighbourhood still holds dear. Just one problem, when I first visited this area a couple of years back, I found indeed some nice places, but I failed to discover many others. What is worse, if you start exploring without any map, you have the risk of running into modern Japan a bit too much.
You have in this area the large not-to-miss attractions such as Yanaka Ginza shopping street, Yanaka Cemetery and some excellent coffee shops and temples. However, a lot of Yanesen’s charm stems from its well preserved neighbourhoods, so it pays off to stroll around. I will introduce below 2 areas that I recommend you explore.
Pre-war everyday-life in Nezu
Just north of Nezu station is a neighbourhood with extremely tiny streets, too tiny to be covered by google street view. While these types of streets are common all over Japan, what makes these streets special is the effort of the community to keep them green, putting so many potted plants outside you might think you visit some kind of jungle.
One of the houses, very green indeed.
In this neighbourhood (a part of Nezu 2-Chome), you have 3 parallel streets in between the main road on which Nezu station sits, and on the other end you have the road on which Zuishoin temple is located. In particular the middle road (dotted on the map below) is a good example of a narrow road, where people zealously put greens in front of their house, despite the absence of any garden. Many of these houses look also very old, built right after or before World War II. Also notice the many children bicycles parked up front. This is a neighbourhood that is very well alive today.Visit each of the dots in the area that is marked
Yanaka’s dense temple district
You can continue through the Miura slope (三浦坂) to an area in Yanaka that is very dense in beautiful temples. This slope itself is also rather entertaining to walk on, with in the middle the Nenneko cat cafe that has an extraordinary front. You might not immediately recognise it as a cafe, as it looks more like a flower power shop.
The first temple you encounter at the end of the Miura slope is the Enjuji Nikkado (延寿寺日荷堂), a temple that was set up in 1656 and enshrines a 14th century monk called Nichika that will protect walkers/strollers. Inside of the dark wooden building you can find ema that depict traditional walking shoes.
If you go from this temple a little bit to the right you will pass the Himalayan Cedar tree towering above Mikado-pan shop, a century old tree that is being protected now. You will notice that this area has some residential houses, but it is mainly temples/cemeteries that give you a feeling of open space.
Inside Chokyuin temple, extremely green.
Keep on walking straight (passing the tree) until you reach the end of the street. Take a left and you will pass 2 remarkable temples on your right hand side, Daisenji temple and Chokyuin temple. In particular Chokyuin temple is worth visiting. Built in 1611, the main temple building is almost hidden from view due to the trees blocking your sight. On the gate, you can still see some bullet holes from the time that the Yanaka area was the battle ground for the short cicil war in 1868.
Tsuji-bei wall, remnant from the Edo period (1603-1868)
Keep on moving north until you get to the big road, cross this road, go a little bit to your left and then again right to continue your northward path. Keep walking straight through this very green road until you reach a red gate, the gate of Kanoin temple. If you turn right, you will see on your left hand side the famous Tsuji-bei wall. This wall is a remnant from the Edo period (1603-1868), constructed by alternatively piling mud and tiles. It is part of Kannon-ji temple.
At the end of the wall, if you turn left and you continue straight you will end up on the Yanaka Ginza shopping street.Click in each mark to see the name of the temple. Start at the temple in green in the south.
Nezu residential neighbourhood: 2-chome, Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0031
Temple district: 4-chome and 5-chome, Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo 110-0001
Nezu Station – 1 minute walk for the Nezu neighbourhood (Chiyoda line)
Nippori Station – 5 minutes walk for the temple district (Yamanote line, Jōban Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keisei main line and Nippori-Toneri Liner). This temple district can also be reached within 5 minutes from Nezu or Sendagi Stations, each about 5 minutes walk.
Opening hours: Always open
Web: http://nichika-do.jp/ (Enjuji temple, Japanese only).
When to best visit? All year round is fine
Why visit? Peace, quiet and nature in a bustling city.