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Guide to Tokyo's Old Quarter: 7 Quaint Spots in Yanesen!

Guide to Tokyo's Old Quarter: 7 Quaint Spots in Yanesen!

Date published: 25 July 2019

The area covering Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi is called 'Yanesen' - a portmanteau made up of the three towns. Largely a non-commercial residential area, this shitamachi (old downtown) area is where visitors can enjoy a nostalgic, retro Japanese atmosphere.

Here we take a look at some of the unique sights in the Yanesen area.

1. Yanaka Cemetery: Remains of five-storied pagoda in its vast site

1. Yanaka Cemetery: Remains of five-storied pagoda in its vast site

Now you might think it curious to visit a cemetery while in Japan, but they are fascinating areas to walk through, and rather different than their Western counterparts. Yanaka Cemetery is particularly beautiful in spring, when cherry trees are in bloom.

Located on the ruins of Yanaka Tenno-ji Temple, Yanaka Cemetery was established in 1872 as a public cemetery. Within the vast 10 hectare (24.5 acre) patch of land, a Shogun of Edo, former prime ministers and other celebrities are buried.

There are also the remains of the five-storied pagoda of Yanaka Tenno-ji Temple in the site. The first pagoda was built in 1644 but it was burnt down in 1771. It was then rebuilt 20 years later and managed to survive wars and earthquakes. However, in 1957 it was burnt down again by arson. Today only the ruins of the pagoda remains quietly in the center of Yanaka Cemetery.

  • Yanaka Cemetery
    • Address 7, Yanaka, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 110-0001
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    • Nearest Station Nippori Station (JR Keihin-Tohoku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Joban Line / JR Ueno Tokyo Line / Nippori-Toneri Liner / Keisei Main Line / Narita SKY ACCESS Line)

2. Kayaba Coffee: Cafe in 100-year-old traditional Japanese house

2. Kayaba Coffee: Cafe in 100-year-old traditional Japanese house

The cafe was opened in 1938 in a private house built in 1916. Three family members ran the cafe where local people came to relax and the students of Tokyo University of the Arts had discussions about arts. It was once closed in 2006. But 2 years later it was reopened by those who wanted its continuation. Some deteriorated parts were repaired, but the appearance, chairs, pillars, glass windows and tableware are kept as they are. The cafe retains the atmosphere of its good old days.

Popular menu reproducing the original taste

Popular menu reproducing the original taste

"Egg sandwich and Russian" is a particularly popular order. Russian is a 50-50 beverage blending coffee and cocoa. It tastes like weak cafe mocha - different and satisfying. You can enjoy the atmosphere of good old days in tatami floored room on the second floor. And in spring, be sure to admire cherry blossoms and lush greenery through the window!

  • Kabaya Coffee
    カヤバ珈琲
    • Address 6-1-29 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0001, Japan

3. Walking beside the Tsuijibei (roofed mud walls): Creating an air of temple district in Yanaka

3. Walking beside the Tsuijibei (roofed mud walls): Creating an air of temple district in Yanaka

There is a 2.06 meters high and 37.6 meters long wall on the south face of Kannon-ji temple. This Tsuijibei wall is a mud wall with layers of earth and roof tiles and has roof tiles on top. This street with Tsuijibei wall is said to be more than 400 years old and creates that mysteriously wonderful air of Old Tokyo!

4. Nezu Shrine - Important cultural property of Japan

4. Nezu Shrine - Important cultural property of Japan

The shrine is said to be founded in Sendagi over 1900 years ago. In 1706 it was relocated to the current location in Nezu. All the seven shrine structures including the shrine pavilion and the Karamon gate still remain. And if images of the gorgeous torii gates in Kyoto's Fushimi Inari sparkle your imagination, you can get a glimpse of a miniature version at Nezu Shrine!

Nezu Shrine has a strong connection with some Japanese leading writers who lived in this area. You can find the historic spots such as "Bungo-ikoinoishi" stone in the precinct. It is said that famous writers sit on this stone to develop ideas for their stories.

5. Nezu Church - 1900's Western style architecture

5. Nezu Church - 1900's Western style architecture

A wooden church with a characteristic small spire is nestling in a quiet residential area near Shinobazu-dori street. It was built in 1919 for American chapel. It survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and the war. The building has historic value to learn about Western-style architecture in Japan between 1912 and 1926 and is registered as a tangible cultural property. It has a distinctive British style siding on the exterior wall.

6. 90-year-old Himalayan cedar

6. 90-year-old Himalayan cedar

When you reach the top of Miyakezaka, you will see an over 90-year-old huge tree standing next to the bakery. The current bakery owner's grandfather started to grow the tree in a pot. It has since grown to a huge 20-meter tall tree!

There were temples in the area and it was developed as a temple district where Buddhists and people who dealt with them lived. The Himalayan cedar keeps growing through the earthquake and war - and it is still going strong.

7. Ohirasei-Pan: Try some soft koppepan (soft rolls)!

7. Ohirasei-Pan: Try some soft koppepan (soft rolls)!

Ohirasei-Pan is a small bakery shop located in front of the Sendagi 2-chome bus stop on Shinobazu-dori street. The shop renovated a stationery store before opening as a bakery. Its signature product is oval shaped koppepan - soft roll. It is said that koppepan was first made in early 1900's when bread was not yet common in Japan. People ate it with jam or margarine at that time. Ohira Seipan's koppepan is made in a traditional method and it tastes tender. (Remember that photography is not allowed here.)

  • Ohirasei-Pan
    大平製パン
    • Address 2-44-1 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 2-44-1, Japan

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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