Enjoy the Retro, Working Class Feel of Yanesen! Here are the Top 20 Picks for Where to Go in this Charming Area!
Yanesen, the combined nickname for the areas of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi in Tokyo, strongly retains a working class feel along with elements of Japanese culture, and has numerous shrines and temples lining its streets. There are a large number of these holy sights packed into a small area, so it is perfect for groups of friends on a hunt for shrine seals. There are atmospheric walking tours available but you can also feel free to enjoy touring the area alone. Enjoy stepping into the past at one of the galleries, or cute, retro cafes popular with overseas visitors.
Jul 23 2019 (Apr 15 2020)
Top 10 Temples and Shrines in Yanesen
1. Nezu Shrine
The seven main shrine buildings (such as the inner sanctum and hall of worship) that comprise this shrine are registered as Important Cultural Properties of Japan and boast 1900 years of history. In 1975, Nezu was designated as one of the top 10 shrines of Tokyo. The shrine is said to have been founded by legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, Yamato Takeru. There is an azelea garden of over 6000 square meters on the grounds. In spring of every year, the Bunkyo Azelea Festival is held here and features street stalls that local children look forward to visiting.
The shrine grounds are also home to the Otome Inari Shrine. The thousand red gates that lead to the main shrine building of this shrine are very popoular with overseas visitors looking for an instragammable picture. The Nezu Shrine is also known by the affectionate name of Nezu Gongen* and has appeared in numerous novels. The shrine offers an original shrine seal collection book, replete with the design of the main shrine building and an azelea motif. It is popular with groups of female tourists on the hunt for goshuin (shrine seals).
*Gongen refers to the manifestation of a Buddhist deity in the form of a Shinto deity.
2. Komagome Tenso Shrine
The impetus and inspiration for the shrine came to Minamoto no Yoritome in a dream, with enshrinement occuring in the year 1189. In February 25, 1945, the shrine was burned to the ground following an air-raid, however, owing to the efforts of the local community, it was rebuilt in 1954. This quiet shrine is surrounded with lucious trees, making this a great shine to take children to.
It was in the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) that people gathered to worship here under the name Komagome Jinmeigu. A descendent of the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie, Amaterasu is enshrined here. The main shrine is built in the Ise Grand Shrine style of architecture, which gives it a solemn and dignified feel. At the shrine office you can pick up a goshuin.
3. Chomyoji Temple
Chomyoji Temple was founded in 1609. In the spring, large weeping cherry trees can be found on the grounds of the temple. When the cherry blossoms are in bloom, large numbers of overseas visitors come to enjoy them. Moreover, because of its 'instagramability', it is popular with groups of women coming home from parties and looking to take a picture. This makes it a fun and lively place. It is also famous as a place to spot fireflies, as Tokugawa Mitsukuni is said to have came here to see them.
The copper bell found here has been registered as a tangible cultural property of the Taito Ward area. It has a diameter of 75.1cm and a height of 122.9 cm. It is said to have been crafted by the same person who forged the grave of the fourth generation shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna. Chomyoji Temple is very easy to access, just a 5 minute walk from the nearest station. There is also a free parking lit available on site, meaning that it also convenient for those coming by car.
4. Hakusan Shrine
Hakusan Shrine boasts more than 1000 years of history. It was built at the suggestion of the Shirayama Hime Shrine in 948 and subsequently was moved two times until it found the location at which it rests today. The name for the area in which the shrine is located originates in the name of the shrine. The shrine is famous as a site at which Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and Kei Shoin were said to worship. It is also said that the deities here aid in alleviating toothaches.
Within the grounds of the Hakusan Shrine and the Hakusan Park, there are 3000 bigleaf hydrangeas. Every year, the Bunkyo Bigleaf Hydrangea Festival is organized here. There are photo competitions involving children and a Hydrangea Concert is held. This is when the grounds of this shrine come alive. Due to this shrine's connection with dental hygiene, here is also a special area where you can hold a mourning ceremony for used tooth brushes.
5. Hongyo-ji Temple
Because of the view provided from this temple on top of the hill, it is also known as 'Tsukimi-ji' (Moon Viewing Temple). In 1526, this shrine was built on the grounds of Edo Castle. It subsequently moved a number of times until it arrived at its current location in 1709. One unique feature of this temple is its large wooden entrance gate. It also features English signposting and explanations, making it a great choice for overseas visitors.
Within the grounds of Hongyo-ji there are slabs featuring the haiku of famous masters Kobayashi Issa and Santoka Taneda. The slab of Santoka is particularly valuable, being the only of its kind in Tokyo. There are no specific parking spaces for the shrine. If you are coming by car, make use of the parking lots located nearby.
6. Enjo-ji Temple
Enjo-ji is famous as the site of the grave of Yaoya Oshichi and is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism built in the second half of the 16th century. The story of Oshichi, who torched her own home out of desperation to meet her love, has been performed across a number of different art forms such as kabuki and puppet theatre, leaving a distinct mark on Japanese culture.
The 'Oshichi Temple Hall' that is found on the grounds here is said to bring luck in love and has gained popularity as a date spot. Oshichi's tomb features three gravestones; one erected by the chief priest of the temple at a memorial service, one erected by kabuki performers and one erected by local citizens at the 270th Buddhist service held here. They are reknowned for bringing protection against fire.
7. Komegome Fuji Shrine
Komegome Fuji Shrine was established as one of the central shrines of the Mt. Fuji worship movement in the Shinto faith, popular in the Edo Period. A Fujizaka is found on the grounds. This is a small mound made to ressemble Mt. Fuji. On top of this mound, a prayer hall has been constructed, with the mound coming to be known as 'O-Fuji san' by locals (the same name give to Mt. Fuji in Japanese). Lava taken from Mt. Fuji is also found at the site, which is popular with overseas visitors. The seal found here is decorated with the image of Mt. Fuji.
Mt. Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant: the three items said to be auspicious if they appear in your first dream of the new year are found here at Komegome Fuji Shrine. There is a falconer's residence located nearby to the shrine and eggplant is one of the regional delicacies of the area. Every year, at the beginning of summer, the Open Mountain Festival is held with the local children eagerly looking forward to taking part. This festival is the only time during which visitors are able to purchase the traditional barley rakugan hard candies that are known as a delicacy in the area.
8. Joshin-ji Temple
A large statue of the Chinese monk Budai is one of the symbols of Joshin-ji. It was built in 1612 and belongs to the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism. Joshin-ji originally stood at Koizaka in Yushima, however, it was rebuilt in the current location after being burned to the ground in The Great Fire of Tenma (also known as the Fire of Yaoya Oshichi) in the Edo Period. It is also famous as the home of Japan's largest wooden fish. The grounds are also popular during sakura season with overseas visitors who come to see the cherry blossoms.
The temple features 1000 statues of Jizo, the guardian of children, and there are many worshippers who come here to pray for the children in their lives. The seal received at this temple features the symbols 子育桜観音 (Child-rearing, cherry blossoms, and Kannon, deity of compassion). The deity worshipped here is Amitobha, the principle Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism. There is no free car park attached so the temple, so if you are visiting by car, please use the low-cost parking lot nearby to the temple.
9. Tenno-ji Temple
The inspiration for the five tiered pagoda featured in the novel of the same name by Koda Rohan is found here at Tenno-ji. It was burned to the ground in 1957 with its remains registered as a historical artifact of Tokyo. There are English signposts and explanations installed in Tenno-ji, making this temple popular with tourists from overseas.
The temple gate is made of undressed concrete, giving it an extremely modern feel. Once you enter, you will be greeted by the sight of Gautama Buddha. This large Buddha was prized as a symbol of the historic city of Edo. The grounds are also used as a playground for children, as it is filled with luscious trees and acts as an oasis from the bustling metropolis.
10. Zuirin-ji Temple
Zuirin-ji Temple is reknowned for providing safety in childbirth and guarding off evil spirits. Bodhisattva Nichiren is said to have prayed to a rice paddle for those women suffering in childbirth and therefore he is worshipped as one of the ten great Edo Period Buddhist sect founders under the name "The Safe Birth and Rice Paddle Founder." Many faithful visit seeking a safe birth or praying for the health of their children.
Zuirin-ji Temple was founded in 1591 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is said that while Ieyasu was a child he received lessons from the priest Nisshin. After he unified the country, he kept a promise he had made to Nisshin and established this temple. The bell tower found on the grounds of the temple was said to have been donated by the 3rd generation shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Jump Back in Time with the Top 5 Cute and Retro Cafes in Yanesen!
1. Kayaba Coffee
Kayaba Coffee opened for the first time in 1938. It closed for a period but then subsequently reopened again in 2009. Kayaba is synonymous with the Yanaka district. The retro feel flowing throughout the interior and exterior of the building with make you feel as though you have been transported back in time to the Showa Period (1926-1989). The staff here take the upmost care in their selection of ingredients and prioritize sourcing local produce. Moreover, parents can rest assured that children will be welcome.
The first floor is home to western style seating with tables and chairs, while the second floor contains tatami flooring with cushions. For Japanese people, a trip here may make them feel as though they are visiting their grandmother's house. Conversely, as this first floor area is dripping with a traditional Japanese atmosphere, overseas visitors are sure to be pleased. The top pick from the menu is the coffee, as well as the fluffy and light egg sandwhich.
2. Hachorui Kenkyujo 8 Bunshitsu
Hachorui Kenkyujo 8 Bunshitsu (Reptile Laboratory 8 - Annex) is located on the aptly named Hebi-dori (snake street). The name was chosen to give the feeling that the cafe was used as a research loboratory for reptiles. Please note that this cafe is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. The sign displaying the name of the cafe is so small that you may even miss it if walking past alone. Despite the name, the inside of the cafe does not have any reptiles and is instead designed to look like a cafe attached to a laboratory.
The cafe is located inside of an old-style Japanese home, however the interior is decorated with the clinical and robotic style typical of a lab. The color of the walls ressembles that of an old-timey chalk board. The menu focuses on drinks. Outside, couples can be seen dotting the street.
Okaeri serves up good, honest Japanese food that you can opt to order as take-out if you wish. The Okaeri Teishoku served at lunch times comes with four side dishes and also a bowl of soup. Refills of both tea and rice can also be availed of free of charge. The afternoon coffee menu is centered on drinks and sweet treats. This cafe is particularly popular with groups of young women.
The evening menu also offers traditional Japanese meals with side dishes and soups. Okaeri also offers alcoholic beverages, making it a popular date spot. It is found inside of a renovated Japanese style home, located in an alley leading up to the rear gate of Nezu Shrine, giving you the impression that you have stepped into another world. It is also popular with overseas visitors.
4. Sanpota Cafe Nonbiriya
This cafe is located inside a 100-year-old traditional Japanese home that has been renovated. The large open entrance way gives the cafe an inviting presence. It was originally a stationary store. Inside, there is a space with tatami mats and low tables. It is particularly suited to relaxed parties of groups of women.
This cafe also sells alcohol and you while you are here you may feel as though you are in the kind of laid-back traditional Japanese izakaya with red lanterns outside. The drinking snacks, available for just 300 yeh, are extremely popular. It is also the kind of place that isn't too intimidating for non-Japanese guests to visit. If you would prefer, you can also order to take-out, so you can stroll the streets while enjoying your food.
5. Amane Saryo
Amane Saryo is replete with a wooden interior giving rise to a light and refreshing atmosphere. The wood, heart and glass come together to allow visitors to experience a relaxed and pleasant space. All of the tables, fixtures and bathrooms have rounded edges so you can rest assured that children will be safe if they happen to bump into them.
The menu is also quite unique here. The items on the set menu are perfectly illustrated on a white sheet of paper, so guests from overseas who are unable to read Japanese will be able to understand the choices available. The logo contains rain drops (a reference to the name of the cafe) and the interior is extremely stylish, a true dining experience for customers to enjoy.
Expand Your Mind in Some Unusual Surroundings! The Top 5 Galleries in Yanesen
1. Gallery Neko Machi
2. Teramachi Art Museum
Teramachi Art Museum is extremely popular with visitors from overseas and features a vast array of ukiyoe woodblock prints on display. It is located on the main street of Yanaka, named Hatsune no Michi, and offers visitors the chance to see the works of Hokusai and Sharaku from up close.
The museum is home to the collection of doctor Tomizawa Yuzo, with pieces changed in and out every 3 months. There is also a sizeable number repeat visitors looking to see a variety of different works. Perhaps owing to the fact that the building was originally used as a kendo (Japanese swordfighting) dojo, there is a sense of dignity flowing through the walls. If you are looking to get close to the culture of old Tokyo, you are welcome to bring your children along for the trip.
3. SCAI THE BATHHOUSE
Scai the Bathhouse originally began life over 200 years ago as a bathhouse, before being reborn as a modern art gallery. It has garnered 2 stars from the Michellin Green Guide, so it is not just popular with domestic tourists but also those from overseas.
This museum was founded in 1993 and leverages a unique and traditional working class space which it changed into an art museum. Scai introduces visitors to established Japanese artists as well as up and comers, while at the same time also supporting creatives from abroad. This gallery is long established in the area, opening before it became the trendy hotspot that it is today.
4. Asakura Museum of Sculpture
The unique Asakura Museum of Sculpture stands out in the middle of Yanaka. It is famous for being designed by the celebrated sculptor Asakura Fumio, who was active during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Showa Periods. It was originally constructed to act as a family home and as an atelier for Asakura. It is registered as a Tangible Cultural Property of Japan. It is not only popular with fans of sculpture but also with visitors from overseas.
In the exhibition rooms you will find the works of Asakura, as expected, but also a variety of writings and other collected works. The sunroom, that was once used to grow orchids, has been reborn as the Cat Room that features art pieces themed with a cat motif. The gallery also runs what it calls the "Kids Supporter" initiative, where elementary school students help out in the vegetable patch on the roof in order to better understand the importance of the museum.
5. Yanaka Red House Button Gallery
The Yanaka Red House Button Gallery leaves its mark with the impactful red bricks in its design. It displays and sells antique European buttons. You will feel as if you have been transported to Europe the moment that you step inside the door. It is perfect for a trip with a group of female friends or with that special someone on a date.
The design of the Yanaka Red House was inspired by the red house of William Morris, a famous pioneer of the Art & Craft Movement. Wallpaper and stained glass designed by Morris are on display here. You can also find exhibits of rare and precious buttons. You will find youself swept away by the unique beauty in every one.
The Retro and Cute Yanesen Area with Leave you Wanting to Come Back for More
This article hopefully gave you an insight into the Yanesen area, bursting with the working class character of Tokyo. There are a number of cute and classic spots to take in and a streetscape that will leave you wondering if you have traveled back in time. Visitors can also enjoy collecting goshuin from shrines and temples, or having a bite to eat while strolling the streets. Moreover, a visit to some of the art galleries will surely be an experience you remember. The Yanesen area features traditional Japanese culture passed down from the Edo Period and is also recommended for visitors from overseas. Cat lovers and solo travellers are also sure to enjoy a trip to Yanesen. The area keeps changing and evolving so be sure to keep up to date with the latest info.
Header Image: Sanga Park / Shutterstock
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.