5 Reasons to Visit Yanaka Ginza – A Hidden Gem in Tokyo

Yanaka Ginza
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Part of Tokyo’s Taito Ward, Yanaka Ginza is a charming area of Japan’s capital, offering a glimpse into a more traditional way of Japanese life. With its independent shops, slower pace of life and authentic wooden houses, Yanaka is a stark contrast to many other popular spots in Tokyo.

It’s no secret that Tokyo is a bustling and modern city, and I think it’s fair to say the crowds can sometimes be overwhelming. Yanaka Ginza shows a completely different side to Tokyo, and one I was desperate for after spending almost a week in the city.

In this guide, I’ve shared five reasons why you should visit Yanaka Ginza, as well as the top things to do and how to get there. Known for its delicious street food, love of cats and handcrafted souvenirs, visiting Yanaka Ginza is one of the best things to do in Tokyo, especially if you’re keen to escape the crowds.

How long to spend in Yanaka Ginza?

I’d suggest dedicating a few hours to exploring Yanaka Ginza. You could easily see most of the highlights in a morning or afternoon.

Although, it’s the type of place where it would be easy to get lost wandering the narrow backstreets and finding hidden gems. It’s much slower-paced than other popular spots in Tokyo, so it’s worth slowing down and not rushing around to see everything.

The sunset steps of Yanaka Ginza
Yuyake Dandan Steps

How to get to Yanaka Ginza?

The closest stations to Yanaka Ginza are Sendagi Station and Nippori Station. If you’re already exploring Ueno Park, you might find Yanaka is a walkable distance.

How to get to Yanaka Ginza and which station to travel to will depend on where you’re coming from. I got the JR Yamanote Line to Nippori.

The Japan Travel by Navitime app is, in my opinion, the best app to help you get around Tokyo and Japan as a whole. It’s customisable depending on if/what railcard you have, and covers all the various train and bus lines.

Five good reasons to visit Yanaka Ginza

To experience traditional culture

Tokyo is a modern city and while incredible, it can be difficult to experience the more traditional side to Japanese culture. Most people think they need to travel to areas cities such as Kyoto for this, but Yanaka Ginza offers an interesting insight into local Japanese life and traditional culture.

While interest in Yanaka Ginza has certainly piqued in recent years, it’s still very much a place dominated by locals going about their daily lives. It’s yet to cater too much to Westerners and visitors.

The streets of Yanaka Ginza are much quieter than in some other popular areas of Tokyo
The quiet streets of Yanaka Ginza

To escape the crowds

Tokyo is an incredible city, but there’s no denying that visiting the popular sights can be an overwhelming experience. By the end of my week in Tokyo, I was desperate to have some time away from overcrowded tourist attractions and waiting in long lines.

Thankfully, Yanaka Ginza certainly offers an escape from the chaos of Tokyo. Granted, it can still be a busy area, but in a very different way.

Yanaka has a much more tranquil feel, and no one seems to be in any big rush. I felt like I could breathe properly again when visiting Yanaka Ginza. There were no intense crowds, no standing in lines for photos, and no pushing and shoving.

For the cats (and the area’s love of cats)

Yanaka caught my attention when I read about the locals’ love for stray cats (I’m a cat lady…!). So I couldn’t visit Tokyo and not check the area out.

Most of Yanaka’s main shopping street is dedicated to stray cats. There are cat statues, bakeries selling cat tail cakes and cat-themed souvenir shops. In fact, it’s nicknamed ‘Tokyo’s Cat Town’. There’s even a shrine dedicated to cats which is managed by local residents.

Yanaka is also known for its “Seven Lucky Cats,” wooden carved statues of cats dotted around the surrounding area.

If you want to find some real cats, the best place to look is the Yanaka Cemetery. This serene spot was almost empty when I visited. I found several cats sleeping on the gravestones and wandering around.

Try and find the Seven Lucky Cat statues while in Yanaka
The Seven Lucky Cats

To try the local food

Yanaka Ginza has some of the best and most authentic Japanese street food in Tokyo. The best part is it’s catered towards the locals, so is much cheaper than many of the tourist hot spots.

The main street has many stands selling all sorts of street food. I found a lot of food to be very fish-focused (which is not unusual in Japan), but if you’re like me and not a fan of fish, you’ll be pleased to hear there are a few other options.

I had some of the best Korokke (Japanese croquettes) I had in Japan in Yanaka Ginza. The little street food stand sold all different flavours, including cheese and curry. It was delicious! I’d also recommend stopping at Niku no Suzuki which sold some incredible menchi-katsu (minced meat katsu). They have a stand on the main street.

For a sweet treat, I recommend stopping at Yanaka Shippoya, which sells cat-shaped treats (including cat tail shaped cakes). Manekiya also serves up cat-shaped treats filled with traditional red bean paste.

If you’re after something more Western-themed, try Fuku Bagel Yuyake Danda Yanaka Ginza. They’re not quite like the bagels you might be used to, but are tasty nonetheless.

Traditional Japanese Street food
Yanaka Ginza Street Food

To go shopping for traditional Japanese gifts

Yanaka’s main shopping street is lined with small independent shops selling a range of gifts and souvenirs. There are also a few artisanal shops/market stands.

Yanaka Ginza is a great place to do a bit of gift shopping (or shopping for yourself), especially if you want to avoid the usual tourist-style gifts.

If you know a cat lover, there are several shops selling cat-themed gifts. Many of the shops also donate a portion of their profit to a local cat charity or use the money to feed the local beloved street cats.

Top things to do in Yanaka Ginza

You don’t really need any specific plans before visiting Yanaka Ginza. It’s a small area and can easily be explored in a few hours. It’s one of those areas where you can get lost wandering the many backstreets and admiring the beautiful temples.

Here are a few of the best things to do in Yanaka Ginza.

Visit the Yanaka Cemetery

No visit to Yanaka would be complete without a walk through the cemetery (as odd as that sounds). The huge cemetery is one of Tokyo’s most important graveyards and is home to over 7,000 graves.

The cemetery is especially good to visit in the spring during the cherry blossom season. The main path is lined with cherry trees which bloom during the spring. It’s much less visited than many of the famous cherry blossom spots in Tokyo. I visited in the autumn, and the fall colours were beautiful.

The cemetery is a short walk from the main shopping street.

Visiting the Yanaka Cemetery is one of the best things to do in the Yanaka area
Yanaka Cemetery

Wander the Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street

As I mentioned above, Yanaka Ginza is home to a traditional shopping street lined with souvenir shops, cat-themed gifts and several delicious food spots. With a retro feel to it, be sure to spend some time exploring.

If you want to design your own souvenir, you can paint your own maneki-neko at Nekoemon Cafe (as well as eat plenty of cat-inspired cakes and sweet treats).

Yanaka Ginza is filled with cat-themed souvenir shops
Cat-themed souvenir shops

Visit Yanaka Beer Hall

The Yanaka Beer Hall is one of the best places to visit in Yanaka, especially if you’re interested in trying different beers.

Set in a traditional wooden building, this beer hall sells a range of Japanese craft beers. It has indoor and outdoor seating and is the perfect spot for a sunny day.

Admire the temples

The backstreets of Yanaka Ginza are home to around 70 traditional temples. Most of these temples are closed to tourists, but you can still admire the beautiful structures from the outside.

The majority of temples in Yanaka are Buddhist temples. Tennoji is the oldest temple and actually used to be part of the Yanaka Cemetery. It’s possible to visit the temple and it’s currently free admission. If you’re tired of visiting crowded and busy temples, consider Tennoji. There was barely anyone else there when I visited.

Go on a food tour

Yanaka Ginza is known for its delicious Japanese food. Home to several famous street food spots and restaurants, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming trying to decide where and what to eat.

While I don’t think you necessarily need a guide, having one does have its benefits. Consider this guided street food tour.

Bagels in Yanaka Ginza
Bagels in Yanaka Ginza

Take a photo at Yuyake Dandan

Yuyake Dandan is one of the most photographed spots in Yanaka Ginza. Literally translating to ‘sunset staircase’, the steps offer a brilliant view of one of Yanaka’s main streets (this is also where I saw my first cat).

While particularly special at sunset, the steps are worth a picture at any time of day.

Visit the Lesh Nezu Shrine

Built in 1706, the Lesh Nezu Shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Tokyo. While not technically in Yanaka itself, the shrine is just a short walk away in the neighbouring Nezu area.

The weather changed during my visit so I made a quick escape, meaning I didn’t get to spend much time here. However, the grounds are said to be beautiful, but I’ve heard it does draw the crowds.

Visit the cat shrine (and search for cats)

I can’t lie. The main reason I visited Yanaka Ginza was because of the area’s love of cats. After searching the area for cats, I came across a shrine to cats. I’m not too sure of the backstory, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you love our feline friends. To see the shrine, head to Nennekoya cafe.

If you want to see an actual cat, the cemetery is normally the best spot.

A Cat shrine in Yanaka Ginza
A shrine for cats in Yanaka

Summary: Is Yanaka Ginza worth visiting?

Yanaka Ginza is absolutely worth visiting. It’s completely different to the chaos of Shibuya and the modern lights of Shinjuku.

This quiet neighborhood is the perfect place to slow down and experience a more traditional and classic side of Tokyo, and well worth building into your Japan itinerary. I personally loved Yanaka Ginza, and it was one of my favourite days in Tokyo.

I visited Yanaka Ginza on my solo trip to Japan. As with most places in Tokyo, it’s very solo female traveller-friendly.

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