Visit pre-WWII Tokyo in Yanaka

Visit pre-WWII Tokyo in Yanaka

Yanaka district is tucked away near Ueno Park in the modern city of Tokyo. The area emerged from WWII unscathed, went nearly untouched by the Kanto Earthquake and the Fire in 1923- making it one of Tokyo’s most traditional districts with historic buildings and temples still intact. With most of Tokyo destroyed in air raids during the war, Yanaka provides a unique glimpse into pre-WWII Tokyo.

Yanaka used to be home to some of Japan’s most well-known artists and writers. This is evident today as the area offer a host of arts and crafts for sale including textiles, wood carvings, stationery, ink prints and pottery.

Yanaka Ginza is a traditional shopping street (known as a shotengai) in Yanaka. While it is still a traditional shopping street where locals do their shopping, it is becoming more and more touristic. Shops in streets like Yanaka Ginza are popular because they often sell wares not easily found elsewhere. All the shops are unique with no chain stores or fast food franchises present- with the exception of a 100 yen shop.

The street is about 175 meters long with around 60 shops and no motorised vehicles are allowed to enter. This all make for a quaint and authentic experience as tourists and locals mingle to find the best (and cheap) meals, gifts and souvenirs.

Visitors can see many cats wandering around Yanaka Ginza, mingling with the 7 lucky cat statues that are placed along the street. To end off a day of shopping visitors can meander over to the eastern side of the street and take in the changing colours of the sun set while sitting on the yūyake dandan (sunset steps).

Yanaka Cemetery is known for its cherry blossoms in the spring. The cemetery opened in 1874 and, with over 7, 000 graves it is one of the largest cemeteries in Tokyo.

Tennoji Temple is located at the Northern boundary of Yanaka Cemetery. It was established in 1274. A large Buddha statue was erected at the Temple in 1690. The temple also holds the shrine of Bishamonten- one of the 7 Gods of Good Fortune. He is the god of warriors and often visited by warriors before entering battle. The other 6 Gods of Good Fortune can be seen at the following temples in the area:

  • Fakurokuju, God of longevity, wealth and wisdom – Toukakuji Temple.
  • Ebisu, God of fishermen, agriculture and prosperity – Seiunji Temple.
  • Hotei, God of abundance, joy and satisfaction – Shuseiin Temple.
  • Juroujin, God of wealth, wisdom and happiness – Chouanji Temple.
  • Daikokuten, God of harvest, prosperity and cooking – Gokokuin Temple.
  • Benzaiten, Godess of luck, love, education and arts – Shinobazu Bentendou.

Scai The Bathhouse offer more opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in art and culture. It is a contemporary art gallery set in the 2 century old bathhouse. It showcases contemporary Japanese and contemporary artists. The space seamlessly blends traditional architecture with modern works of art.

Yanaka is a truly unique place to visit. It provides visitors with an authentic, traditional Japanese experience that is not overly touristic along with the opportunity to take in both traditional and modern art and craft work.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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