Awarded ‘50 Tours of a Lifetime’ by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
Yanaka is a quiet Tokyo district in an otherwise bustling and ever-evolving city. While the capital center has become a symbol of an overwhelmingly modern Japan, Yanaka remains a charming and traditional counterpoint, one of the best neighborhoods in Tokyo precisely because it serves as a respite from all others.
A quiet evocation
Pinpointing the age and feel of Yanaka involves drinking in the neighborhood as a whole. According to the Associated Press, Yanaka - part of the old downtown district - evokes Tokyo as it was in the middle of the 20th century, making it a charming relic in a city that was otherwise mostly destroyed in that era by war and natural disasters.
That means a quiet neighborhood where pedestrians can shuffle among small specialty food and craft shops that still play a part in the domestic lives of its residents. Yet, the neighborhood is also charged with more ancient flourishes. A multitude of age-old temples from the Edo Period - between the 17th and 19th centuries - tie the neighborhood to deeper roots, according to Frommer's. A good pair of walking shoes is a good investment to begin a tour of this neighborhood.
It may be best to experience Yanaka chronologically, starting with some of its oldest structures. There are 73 temples in Yanaka alone, the AP noted, and some of the highlights are the Tennoji and Kannonji temples, as described by Frommer's.
At the Tennjoi temple, travelers can expect to come across monks still praying and chanting at this more than 500-year-old temple, which was once much grander, before a battle destroyed much of it in the 19th century. Inside, the temple houses a prized bronze statue of Buddha from 1690, as well as a statue of Jizo, a guardian of children's spirits. At Kannonji, there is a small pagoda dedicated to the 47 ronin who avenged their master's death in 1702 before committing suicide. It was at the site of Kannoji that the ronin made their plans.
The temples are places of lofty stories and legend, but the streets are where people can come down to earth. Many of the streets are unpaved, save for the lines of small homes and potted plants that lead pedestrians down quiet domestic lanes. Yanaka Ginza is an open-air shopping street for pedestrians only, where travelers can find food, clothing, arts and crafts. A tea shop is a great place to meditate on the sights of the day, while noodle restaurants and bakeries provide restoration for more exploring. From basket-weavers to silversmiths, there are plenty of places to see Yanaka residents work and live a world away from Tokyo's highways and skyscrapers.
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