Situated in the eastern part of Tokyo, Yanaka is one of three neighborhoods along with Sendagi and Nezu that complete an area collectively referred to as 'Yanesen'. (Ya from Yanaka, Ne from Nezu and Sen from Sendagi) This neighborhood is one of the city’s shitamachi districts, a charming and traditional area where life goes on as it did a century ago. If you love tiny alleys, quiet streets, small shops and appreciate a historical charm, be sure to give this place a go.
The traffic here is very light. As lanes are too narrow for cars, people ride bicycles. They water their gardens of potted plants outside their homes on what is actually a public footpath.
The area is a home to a number of historic temples and shrines that well preserved over a century. Ones could probably spend a lifetime getting the hang of the history of this neighborhood. However, to me, just strolling along the streets, exploring the shops and watching people can be very energizing.
Yanaka has the alluring combination of old and young business from row house style grocery stores that have been doing business for generations to stylish cafes, funky boutiques and mini galleries ran by Tokyo's hipsters、who have been moving here in a recent years.
The place to see all of this is Yanaka Ginza, the main shopping street of the neighborhood, which can be reach on foot from Nippori Station. It is a long established market where local residents do their everyday shopping. There is little shops selling food, veggies, kitchenware, crafts, and clothes from traditional to fashionable.
At the end of this shopping street, turn right, there is a small visitor center staffed by English-speaking volunteers. You can get maps, brochures and some useful information there. Then just a few blocks from the center, you would find Gayoshi （がようし),a 10 -year- old humble cafe I gave myself a delicious treat today.
Flooded with natural light that pour in from a glass front door, it's a perfect spot for relaxing, and more or less, for a piece of cake I've got a hankering for. The cafe menu includes Japanese - style baked goods and a healthy beverage selection of Japanese tea, herbal tea, coffee and pure natural fruit juices.
My dessert choice was a piece of melon mousse cake, a refreshing chilled dessert with mildly sweet taste and creamy smooth yet incredibly light texture. A small slice of melon on top was just fresh and juicy, not to overpower the delicate flavor of the mousse. The cake was made one by one using the superior quality of organic eggs and carefully selected cheese, milk and fresh cream from Hokkaido. If you are here on a weekend, be prepare to wait.
Then the mint chamomile tea was served in a beautiful extra clear glass pot along with a tiny hourglass letting me know when my tea would be ready. The drink was refreshing, aromatic and very soothing. At a tasting bar, you can sample this inexpensive but good quality loose leaf tea before purchasing.
All in all a day trip back in time at Yanaka was a fantastic experience to me. The aroma of the good old Tokyo and the glimpse of slow paced, leisurely life were all I need after a long busy day.