Yanaka (谷中) is a located in northern Tokyo and a must if you have come in search of the true shitamachi ambience. Located 4–5 km north of Tokyo Imperial Palace, Yanaka escaped the devastation that other parts of the city suffered in the air raids of the war, leaving behind the wooden structures and narrow streets that today give the area its charm. It is also home to about 60 temples, many of them sub-temples of larger ones built in Kanda and Ueno.
While places like Shibamata and Kawagoe give better examples of Edo architecture, there’s a lull to the streets of Yanaka that lets visitors glimpse into the everyday life of people for whom Tokyo is both the capital and their home. The area is also known as Yanesen, an amalgamation of the first three syllables of three places (Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi)—all located south-west of Nippori Station. Starting out in the morning at Nippori Station and slowly meandering your way to Ueno Park is one of the best ways to see the area.
Things to Do
As you wander the streets of Yanesen, make a detour via this mud and tile wall. Built in the latter half of the Edo period, this 40m x 2m section has managed to survive the natural disasters and air raids, and today stands as a perfect representation of how the city would have been divided up in times gone by.
A contemporary art gallery open in 1993 which is housed inside a former bathhouse and building that is over 200 years old. The gallery is known for introducing Japan’s avant-garde artists to the world as well as for helping foreign artists establish a presence in Japan.