With its street food vendors and shops selling goods from local artisans, the Yanaka neighbourhood is famous for having managed to keep its Edo Era ambience.
Yanaka has been attracting visitors from near and far for a long time, thanks to its charming shitamachi ambience. The area is located behind Ueno Park, not far from the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
A good place to start at is Yanaka Ginza, the main street that runs between Nippori station and Sendagi Station. This shopping street, with roots dating back to Edo-Era Tokyo, is dotted with charming local shops mostly run by older women selling delicious street food such as karage (fried chicken), bento boxes and grilled fish for very reasonable prices. There are also some liquor shops that offer everything from sake to draft beer, as well as plenty of stores specializing in traditional Japanese snacks.
The same families have run several of the shops around here for generations, and local residents often stop and chat with the owners. Despite Yanakas location in the middle of Tokyo, the atmosphere is more akin to that of a smaller Japanese town.
Once you reach the end of Yanaka Ginza, you will get to Yamise Dori, another main street in the area, and one that’s also worth some of your time thanks to the myriad of shops selling Japanese crafts and the many cafés and restaurants.
Yanaka is one of those neighbourhoods that encourage exploration. We recommend that you just wander around freely and figure things out as you go. The area has plenty of hidden secrets so do not get surprised if you find some quirky shops, galleries or tiny restaurants on the myriad of charming smaller streets. However, in case you do not know where to start – here is a few places we really think you should not miss.
Scai the bathhouse
An old bathhouse turned art gallery focusing on contemporary Japanese artists. The entrance might look like a traditional Japanese bathhouse, but the inside has been tastefully reformed to accommodate the impressive art on display. Check the website for their current exhibition listings.
Up until recently, the owner used to run a record shop focusing on international ambient music. During his many trips abroad, he got to know interesting creators all over the world. This lead him to open up Ethnorth Gallery, a shop that sells everything from handmade notebooks from Beijing, scissors from Taiwan and clothes, bags and accessories from many parts of Japan as well as from the rest of the world. The second floor houses a small gallery and culture space.
A charming restaurant serving Sri Lankan curry, in the evening it turns into a dimly lit bar with a lovely ambience. We like the place for the friendly staff, delicious food and its tasteful vintage interior.
Warakuya specializes in Japanese style tableware. The owner carefully selects everything on offer, and most of it made by hand by local artisans. Many of the products on offer here cannot be found anywhere else.
Ueno Sakuragi Atari
A few traditional houses from the 1930’s that have been turned into a craft-beer bar, a bakery, a select shop and event space offering classes in different traditional Japanese crafts. A perfect place to rest your legs after walking around Yanaka.