Attractions Shopping

Yanaka – Exploring Tokyo’s Shitamachi

25 November 2015

Despite living in Japan for a few years now, there are still many places in Tokyo I have not heard of, much less visited. One such place is 谷中 Yanaka, a town, I was told, that still preserves the atmosphere and charm from decades ago.

Yanaka is known as a 下町 Shitamachi (lit. downtown) area, which is commonly used to describe traditional shopping and residential districts. The opposite would be 山の手 Yamanote which would be the likes of Shinjuku and Roppongi, with tall, modern buildings, all shiny and trendy.

Apparently many tourists know of and visit Yanaka though, so I have no idea why I haven’t even heard of it before this. When Carys visited recently, it was a good chance to make a trip there and explore together!

Yep, this is Yanaka! This street is called Yanaka Ginza to be precise. It’s really nice that it’s bustling with activity! I have seen 商店街 shotengai (a street concentrated with shops like the picture above), devoid of people, with many shops closed down and the remaining old shop owners looking out the window wistfully, and it really saddens me. So yay to thriving neighborhoods like these!

Yanaka has a wide variety of shops and it was fun to peek into all the different shops as we strolled down the street.

This is a shop where you can make your own customized seal. Unlike traditional seals, this shop has a great selection of fun and cute designs you can choose from, and it will be completed in about 30 mins! I have a friend who was so enamoured with these she made two, and then made a second trip to Yanaka and got another four!

And then we spotted this shop selling an assortment of snacks at INSANELY cheap prices! There was a no photos sign (not sure why), but… I couldn’t resist. Whoops. I made sure I wasn’t hindering their business or anything though! In case that was their reason. Maybe they just don’t want any more publicity. “Oh man, not more customers!” Haha.

HELLO? 50 YEN YAKITORI AND 30 YEN CROQUETTE?!! (that’s ~50 and 30 cents respectively) I really wonder how they make money! The yakitori was plenty delicious too! (the vegetable croquette not so much lol)

Other sights in Yanaka:

A house fashioned into a shop
(saw it when I went in search of a restroom. note: there’s probably a grand total of one public restroom in Yanaka. good luck locating it lol)

Fresh udon and soba shop!

伊達巻 Datemaki! It’s my first time seeing this and I called it Itachimaki LOL. It’s not entirely wrong since kanji can be read in so many ways, right?! Haha. But I knew I was probably wrong so I asked the lady for the name. So you can rest assured I’m not teaching you nonsense. Hahaha.

A spot of modern in the shitamachi

Japanese snacks shop

Soon, the last light faded out and this is what Yanaka looks like at night!

Although shitamachis may not be fancy or modern (some may even call it rundown), I really enjoy them as I find that they have more character than the many generic shopping malls out there. There’s just something comforting and charming about such small neighbourhoods :) And it’s also a way for me to glimpse into how Japan might have been 100 years ago!

If you are also someone who likes such things, I’d recommend you to give Yanaka a visit! You don’t need to stay too long; Yanaka is not a big place and you can cover in about an hour or so. It’s also in a location convenient to other places – you can walk to Ueno, or hop on the train and you’re back on the main Yamanote line where you can zip off to all the major spots in Tokyo.

Discover a different kind of Tokyo in Yanaka!

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How to get to Yanaka

Take the train to Nippori station.

Just walk in the direction of this sign. It’s about a 5-10 mins walk.
There are other signages along the way.
That’s all we used to locate Yanaka Ginza!

You can also walk from Nishi-Nippori or Sendagi station.


  • Reply Shu 27 November 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Glad u liked it! Did u try the chestnut sweets shop??

    Yanaka is my new motivation to return to Tokyo. Otherwise it was going to be looking like Kyushu haha.

    • Reply Rin 27 November 2015 at 10:04 pm

      We did! And nope, didn’t see the shop…
      You’re not going to get more seals, are you? Lol

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