The area name “Ya-Ne-Sen” comes from the first character of each neighborhood it covers: Yanaka (in Taito-Ku ward), Nezu and Sendagi (in Bunkyo-Ku ward). It is a traditional preserved district conveying a charming old downtown atmosphere that brings the travelers back to the Edo period, showing a less-known side of the Tokyo metropolis. A stroll in Yanesen offers a unique opportunity to experience the contrast between modern and traditional Japan in the heart of the capital. The area is ideal for couples seeking tranquility for romantic walks out of time.
Start at Nezu shrine, one of Japan’s oldest shrines. In April/May, during the “Bunkyo Azalea Festival”, couples can stroll among 3,000 bushes of pink and white flowers from 100 species. The path of lined-up red-torii gates that reminds Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, the small ponds abunding carps and turtles, as well as the seven buildings designated as Important Cultural Properties makes the Nezu precinct a particularly appreciated venue for wedding pictures.
After leaving the shrine, taste a local “Taiyaki”, a fish-shaped Japanese pastry filled with red-bean paste, and get ready for a journey to the past. Move away from the main road and favor side-streets to feel the old downtown atmosphere.
Many traditional facades and temples are lining up along the narrow alleys that crisscross the area, bestowing a nostalgic scent. Among the most famous locations, we can mention the Former Yoshidaya Liquor Shop, an old wooden store now transformed into the annex of the Shitamachi Museum, SCAI The Bathhouse, a contemporary art gallery built in a renovated public bathhouse, Jyōmyōin Temple and its countless stone statues of deities known as Jizos, the Tsuiji-bei Wall of Kannonji Temple or Zenshoan Temple usually displaying its collection of ghost paintings in August. More confidential temples also display charming attributes and can be the setting of original pictures.
Don’t hesitate to enter Yanaka Graveyard. Far for the gloomy image cemeteries may have in some Western cultures, Yanaka Graveyard is a vast, peaceful, verdant area. Tokyo Skytree can be seen behind the tombstones, displaying an impressive combination of the modern and historical Japan. During Hanami season, “Sakura-dori Avenue” that runs through the graveyard is an original location to admire the cherry blossom with your partner ; and in autumn the golden leaves of the ginkgo trees offer a romantic scenery for enchanting strolls.
When you start getting hungry, head towards Yanaka Ginza, an old-fashioned pedestrian shopping street with many small traditional food stalls and grocery stores. Taste the various delicious snacks sold along the street while walking: menchi katsu (a deep-fried minced meat cutlet), croquettes, skewers, kakigori, rice crackers, ikayaki … there’s a wide choice of street-food – share with your loved one to have the chance to taste them all! The area is also a paradise for cat lovers, with gift-shops selling all sorts of cat-related souvenirs, street decorations depicting cats and it’s not rare to come across some real ones.
At the other end of the street, climb the so-called “Yuyake dandan” staircase, meaning literally “sunset staircase” in reference to the pleasant viewpoint of the sun falling in the evening. So, as the end of the day draws nearer, just sit next to your loved one, enjoy the elevated view of the slowly illuminating Yanaka Ginza and, in each others’ arms, admire the sun getting down on old Edo.