Most visitors to Tokyo are enthralled by the neon lights, pachinko parlours, and the vast amounts of people. It is a place known for the meld of skyscrapers with Japanese traditional architectures and gardens. Yet, at times even for the most charmed visitor, the lights becomes too glaring, the hustle and bustle becomes exhausting.
Perhaps a short day trip away from those heavily populated areas is just the perfect remedy. Let’s spend the day together at Yanesen.
What and where is Yanesen you ask?
Well Ya-Ne-Sen is actually an acronym the first syllable in three neighbourhoods: YAnaka, NEzu & SEndagi. The best way to access Yanesen is to start from the neighbourhood; Yanaka.
Yanaka is just a short walk away from Nippori Station on the JR Yamanote Line. Perfect for those using an activated JR Pass. If you don’t have one of those, fret not, just use an electronic money card (IC) called SUICA.
Upon arriving at Nippori, take the West exit then take a 5-10 minute walk (maybe slightly longer using Malaysia walking style) to the Yanaka Ginza.
Yanaka Ginza is a shopping street filled with around 70 local shops; a little like Ameyokocho Street in Ueno. As it’s mostly locals shopping around, you’d get a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Tokyoites. You’d know you’ve reached Yanaka Ginza when you reach the top of the ‘Yuyake Dandan’ Staircase. This is a famous spot to view the sun set and often appears in the Japanese media.
Take a stroll along the street and be prepared for a glimpse of an old Tokyo as Yanesen was once of the areas that managed to escape the severe WWII bombings. Thus, reserving a little of that old Tokyo charm that’s usually lost in the metropolitan city centre. If you do have a keen eye, keep a look out for the seven lucky cats carved from wood. It was placed there in 2008 to wish for happiness. But you’d never run out of cat memorabilia around the area. IF you do come across any strays, they’re friendly enough to be pet however do bear in mind, not to feed them!
With all that walking, you may be feeling a little peckish. It’s the perfect time to test some of the local street food! The menchi katsu (meat cutlet) from Niku No Suzuki is famous for their Genki Menchi Katsu; a deep fried meat cutlet err unfortunately, I don’t believe the meat cutlets are Muslim-Friendly. Or buy some cat tail doughnuts from Yanaka Shippoya, they’re too adorable to pass.
From Yanaka Ginza, you can talk a stroll along ‘Hebi Street’ or ‘Snake Street’ named after its winding street along Sendagi. There are a few patisseries and cafes littered along the way. Once you’ve reached Hebimichi, take the turn towards Nezu.
At Nezu, take a visit to Nezu Shrine; one of Japan’s oldest and aesthetically pleasing shrines. One of the best times to visit Nezu Shrine is during springtime, around April when the azalea bushes are in full bloom. Talk about being Insta-ready! According to legend and local folklore, Nezu Shrine was first built in Sendagi by the fearsome Prince Osu (Yamato Takeru) then later relocated around the 17th century to its current location.
Nezu shrine is said to be styled after the Toshogu Shrine located in Nikko (perfect for JR Pass holders or you can opt to get 2 Day Nikko Pass from JTB Malaysia). One of the most memorable feature of the shrine are the “vermilion tori Shinto gates” that lines the hillside path, creating a tunnel path. A perfect replacement for those who aren’t visiting Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari.
The best part of Nezu Shrine is that it isn’t part of major tourist attractions of Tokyo, thus when you visit, there may not be busloads of obnoxious tourist bumbling around, creating noise and ruining your experience.
When you’re finally done taking those IG pictures, head over to have some taiyaki at Nezu No Taiyaki. This taiyaki store has been running for over fifty years!
After that, end your day at Yanesen by grabbing some coffee at Dandy; a traditional kissaten. Be forewarn, Dandy is a little hard to locate but worth it if you’re hunting for a little Showa period (1926-1989) experience. Dandy opened in 1975 and is still run by its original owners. With old tunes in the background, and a good ol’ cuppa joe, what a perfect way to end your time Yanesen. (You could also walk back to those stairs at Yanaka Ginza to catch that sunset if your feet aren’t hurting!). Don’t forget to take a stroll in Yanaka Cemetery, perfect for those history buffs. In fact Yanaka Cemetery is a great place to view some late blooming sakura.
There are many hidden gems around Tokyo. Yanesen alone contains many small and charming shops; filled with history charm and most of all character. Why not, take a visit yourself and see what special little places you discover. After all, isn’t that the best part of travelling?