Walking Tour: Yanaka

  • Start Tokyo National Museum
  • End Sendagi Station
  • Length 3km; two hours

If you have time, visit the Tokyo National Museum before you start exploring Yanaka, with its temples, galleries and old wooden buildings. If not, simply follow the road northwest out of Ueno-kōen until you hit Kototoi-dōri. At the corner is the Shitamachi Museum Annex, actually a preserved, century-old liquor store. Across the street is Kayaba Coffee, if you need a pick-me-up.

Nearby SCAI the Bathhouse is a classic old public bathhouse turned contemporary art gallery. Continue down to the studio of painter Allan West. Beside it, on the corner, is an ancient, thick-trunked Himalayan cedar tree. Around here, you’ll pass many temples, including Enju-ji, where Nichika-sama, the 'god of strong legs' is enshrined; it's popular with runners. Feel free to stop in any of the temples; just be respectful and keep your voice low.

Double back towards the entrance of Yanaka-reien, one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious ceme­teries (also a favourite sunning spot of the neighborhood’s many stray cats). When you exit the cemetery, continue with the train tracks on your right, climbing until you reach the bridge, which overlooks the tracks (a favourite destination for trainspotters).

Head left and look for the sign pointing towards the Asakura Museum of Sculpture, Taitō, the home studio of an early-20th-century sculptor and now an attractive museum. Back on the main drag, continue down the Yūyake Dandan – literally the ‘Sunset Stairs’ – to the classic mid-20th-century shopping street Yanaka Ginza. Pick up some snacks from the vendors here, then hunker down on a milk crate on the side of the road with the locals and wash it all down with a beer. Walk west and you can pick up the subway at Sendagi Station, after taking a peek at the gorgeous pocket park Sudo-kōen.