Yanesen: A photowalk through Tokyo’s Old Downtown

There comes a point when you think Tokyo is nothing but skyscrapers, shopping and neon signs.


Electric City, complete with sensory overload

Then someone told me about Yanesen, a suburb full of temples and shrines, with shops housed in buildings dating from the Edo period. I expected it to be a long train ride away, but Yanesen sits right there on the JR line (Nippori station is the nearest). Yet it feels as if it is a million miles away from the skyscrapers and neon lights of the city.


Yanesen comprises the suburbs Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi (it takes its name from the initials).

There are an impressive 117 temples and shrines in the area; even by Tokyo standards that is a lot.


Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you look at pictures of all 117 temples.  Trust me, even I am not that enthusiastic

The ‘High Street’


Yanaka Ginza shopping street

Yanaka Ginza is the main shopping street, and a good place to start your exploring. It is only a few hundred metres from Nippori station.

The area escaped much of the bombing during world war 2, so it still consists of old timber shops and cafes, reminiscent of pictures of ‘old’ Tokyo.


Eclectic mix of shops on Yanaka Ginza



The area has been given the nickname cat town, due to the high number of cats that have ‘moved in’. The cats tend to make themselves scarce whilst there are people around, however you can’t avoid noticing the cat theme gong on in Yanaka Ginza.


How many different things can you put a picture of a cat on?

From shops selling ‘cat’ merchandise to hidden cat statues, the street is full of these cat references. There are in fact seven cat statues to find in the street.




2… ok that’s enough

It is a great place to just wander around and disappear down the various alleys and see what you find.


Cedar of the Himalayas, a huge protected tree in the middle of the street

Yanaka Cemetery

Being the start of cherry-blossom season, I couldn’t resist a walk along the side of Yanaka cemetery. This is a popular walk at cherry-blossom time.


The cherry blossom just starting to bloom beside Yanaka Cemetery


Yanaka cemetery

There are 76 temples and shrines dotted around the cemetery area alone. The most famous is Tennoji, a Buddhist temple.


Tennoji temple. Buddhism was introduced here by the Chinese.

Temples and shrines

You can easily become completely templed-out in Yanesen.

I’m not a big fan of visiting lots and lots of temples.  The main ones to see here are Tennoji (Buddhist) temple next to Yanaka cemetery and the Nezu Shinto shrine, a 30-minute walk from here (or a couple of stops on the Chiyoda line if your feet are hurting by now).


Entrance to Nezu shrine

However  you might also want to stop off at Enjuji, where people come to pray for recovery of various diseases of the legs, or for sporting success. Yes seriously.



Shinto and Buddhist religions live side by side in Japan. Many Japanese identify as both Buddhist and Shinto. For example, weddings are normally Shinto (although sometimes they are Christian). Funerals are generally Buddhist.

Shinto shrines have the torri gates.


Nezu shrine with the torri gates; this is a Shinto shrine

Shintoism influences many facets of Japanese life, such as the harmony of nature which is strongly present in architecture and garden design. Also the practice of removing shoes before entering a building came from Shintoism.


Nezu: Shinto involves the worship of Kami (spirits or gods). On arriving at a shinto shrine the worshiper will generally sound the gong to wake up the spirits.


Nezu shrine is famous for its azalea festival, when the shrine is covered in pretty pink flowers.  Unfortunately I was a little too early for that.

4 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah. I want to go back to Japan now after seeing your photos. It really is a very beautiful country. I hope all is well xx

    • Actually it was my last day and I’d planned to go to the pot noodle museum in Yokohama but they were closed. I’m glad now because I’m sure this was better.
      If I went back to Japan I’d go to another island; i found Tokyo and Kyoto just too busy for me. But good fun for short time
      All ok. I’m just sitting around Brisbane trying to make a decision on what’s next.
      Hope things are well with you there

Leave a Reply