Off-the-beaten path Tokyo neighborhoods: Yanaka
While Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara, Asakusa and Ginza are probably the most visited neighborhoods in Tokyo, the city has a lot of gems to offer that might rise more your attention than the most popular ones. When I stumbled upon Yanaka, that looked straight out of an anime, I knew it had to be one of our first visits from our last Japan adventure. Well, for full disclosure, the only thing that I needed to know to include it on our plans is that the best egg sandwich (my guilty pleasure!) is served in a coffee here. Always food-driven, ha!
We have compiled a quick guide to show all the amazingness in Yanaka, both visits & food options. There are even more spots we had in our map that weren’t able to include, because how can I manage to eat 10 times in half a day? FOMO alert. Well, I always tend to think that over pre-selecting places is good, because then I have an excuse to come back another day to try the rest, right? ^wink^
Now, let’s go to Yanaka, the cat-lovers traditional neighborhood!
How to get here
You may be surprised to learn that Yanaka is super central and easily reachable with the famous JR Yamanote line. It is located north of Ueno & Akihabara, west of Asakusa.
It took us 28 minutes to get here, from Shibuya to Nippori station, directly, no transfer needed.
If you don’t have a JR Pass or are using it later on your trip, you can choose between travelling with the Yamanote, the Chiyoda or Keihintohoku lines and stop at Sendagi or Nishi-Nippori from the Tokyo metro.
Yanaka Ginza & Yūyake Dandan
Although there are cute stores & restaurants located all around the neighborhood, Yanaka Ginza shopping street could be considered the perfect example of what Yanaka can offer, a must to include in your itinerary. The street also is very lively, with lots of locals and some visitors wandering around, it ends where Yüyake Dundan staircase begins and is flanked by two large doors, typical of Tokyo streets and which I love.
One of the most iconic thing about Yanaka Ginza is that there’s a strong cat presence, not only by real cats but lots of cat-themed shops & snacks, which is always a plus in my book. We bought a cat-themed noren(-ish) curtains that I plan to display in our bathroom with cats bathing in an onsen, and yummy snacks!
My first food recommendation has to be the egg sandwich from Kayaba Coffee.
Have you ever tried a japanese egg sandwich (tamago sando)? It’s a popular option at combini stores like 7/11 or Lawson. I like to eat them for breakfast or as a take away in the trains, in fact it’s my favorite sandwich in the whole world (I know, so simple!).
Here they take the sandwich to another level with a fluffy omelette & a light mustard. Not only the egg sandwich was amazing, but also the special spring drinks: sakura matcha latte & lemon float ice tea.
The coffee has around 5 tables and a 70s vintage inspired decoration. I wish we had taken more pics of the place, because it was super lovely.
Also, look at the amazing wood building (dates from 1938), which is a signature in Yanaka. LOVE.
The Nezu shrine could also be considered like the little sis from Fushimi Inari that lives in Tokyo *wink* for its walk of toriis.
The shrine grounds convey a calm feeling, and it’s not that difficult to enjoy the toriis on your own. Our main challenge here was the time of the day, were the light was too harsh. The walk of the toriis is, of course, much shorter than in the Fushimi Inari & the toriis are also much smaller, but it was so fun to reminiscence the walk under them.
The shrine grounds also have other attractive elements, such as the stone torii in the entrance, a red gate & the main shrine building.
Do you like Taiyakis? These fish-shaped waffles filled with azuki beans have been manually made in this family shop since 1957 and sell for 170 yens (bargain!). The red beans come from Tokachi in Hokkaido and are converted into a yummy jam. Each Taiyaki is made individually by the owner of the shop and it’s a lovely detail that they display the pictures of their parents & previous owners.
You’ll probably find a line but, don’t worry, it’s worthy! Also, be sure to not come here super late because they are open only until they ran out of Azuki.
Yanaka Cemetery Park
If you stop at Nippori station it will make a lot of sense to cross the Yanaka Cemetery in your way to Kayaba Coffee.
It is specially lovely during cherry blossom season because it makes a cute & more alternative sakura peeking spot. We visited on the morning and were mostly surrounded by locals, walking around, riding bikes or carrying water buckets for purification. I am not sure if it was to purify the tombs or something else. Do you have any clues?
A famous snack in Yanaka is the beef cutlet made out of wagyu bits and pieces (leftovers from the A5 level wagyu steaks) from this shop dating back from 1933.
The cutlets called “Genki cutlets” are a meat blend with spices that has been perfected by the three generations owning the store. Also, you will be happy to know that we read that the oil is changed super regularly, which is my main worry when buying street food. Can you see the photos of all the famous people that has stopped here? Always a fun touch.
A few steps away from Nippori station and just before entering the cemetery you will find the peaceful Tennoji temple, it’s rather small but the complete change of vibe, after all the rush at the station, was amazing. The painter in the pictures was super concentrated in his art and taken away by the beauty of the sakura.
Yanaka Ginza has a few cat-themed snacks, the one we tried was this doughnut with the shape of a cat tail. There were several flavours and it wasn’t oily at all. Totally recommended! If you are looking for more cat snacks you can check Café Nekoemon or Maneki-Ya too, all of them in Yanaka Ginza as well.
Yanaka streets & overall ambiance
Have you been to Yanaka before or heard about it? We loved it! I would have never guessed this neighborhood is so near Akihabara, quite opposite vibes, right? What caught more your attention? Let me know!