Tokyo is… a lot. It’s overwhelmingly big, loud, and visually noisy. So, I do my best to find as many relaxing places in Tokyo as possible, Yanaka Ginza being the newest entry to that list.
Yanaka Ginza is not only a brilliant little shopping district for homemade crafts, street food, and kakigori, it’s also part of the wider area ‘Yanaka’, an old part of Tokyo that provides you with a whole host of things to do, places to see, and the time to chill out and relax for a bit in the big city.
So, is a visit to Yanaka Ginza something you should put on your itinerary? Well, I took a trip there the other day to figure out that exact question!
How to get to Yanaka Ginza
Getting to Yanaka Ginza is incredibly simple. It’s basically a 5-minute walk from the closest station (Nippori), and that walk is just straight down one road, depending on what entrance you get out of.
It’s a really nice walk to be honest, especially when it’s sunny and the light passes through the trees to Yanaka Cemetry at just the right angle. The cemetery is actually one of the most popular places to visit in the area and it’s the one place I didn’t know existed until I started writing this article…
Anyway, you’ll basically just walk straight up the very small hill in the picture above, and follow that road until you come across the Yanaka Ginza sign in the main image of this post. Simple!
The Shopping Street
Food, cute shops, cafes, friendly people, this place seemingly has it all. ¥100 kakigori (shaved ice) was perhaps our best purchase of the day, and eating it in someone’s driveway with seats they’d put out made it a real experience. More on that later!
Before you even reach the sign (and the street, I suppose?) there are a few stores worth taking a look at. They used pop-up gazebos, but I’m pretty sure that was just for shade, and they were actually connected to the buildings/houses behind.
So the photo above is of a shop that’s the first store in Yanaka Ginza that we came across. They were offering Obi, Jinbei, Kimonos, and Yukata, as well as any number of accessories.
The crazy part about this is that pretty much everything was ¥500. ¥500!!!!
That’s like, what, $3.60? For an entire Kimono! So, naturally, Nadia bought one.
I also wanted to, but the Jinbei (traditional clothes worn by men in the summer) are so popular that they’d already sold out. I’m guessing it’s a pretty well-known local spot, or perhaps no one can pass without buying one because they’re such great value.
Plus, the quality was genuinely very high for the price. We bought another Kimono for around ¥5000 ($36) from one of our local clothes shops, and the quality wasn’t nearly as good.
So if you’re looking to buy traditional clothing, it’s a great idea to find smaller places like these rather than ordering from Amazon or something.
Another shop that we liked the look of was selling these wicker baskets and other sorts of homewares inside. If our visas were sorted for the next few years and we knew we’d be staying in Japan, I’d absolutely have bought one!
Things was another shop I would have bought from if I was certain of the duration of time I’d be in Japan for. It sold things like cutting tools, scissors, and blades, all handmade and really high quality. It’s only a small shop and very easy to miss!
With temperatures over 100°F, I was more than happy with a few cold/refreshing treats along the way. One of those came in the form of peaches, and damn were they nice! Admittedly yes it was expensive for a single peach, but try Japanese fruit and then tell me it was a waste of money, I dare you!
Slightly further down the main street was another shop selling what I think was fresh lemonade, though I can’t quite remember. If you’re coming here in summer, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the refreshing food and drink on offer!
There were a lot of shops like this where I’m fairly certain it was just inside someone’s garage. As we’ll talk about in a minute, this really added to the laid-back vibe of this place.
I almost don’t care how good quality these wares are, or where you got them from – the experience of shopping in what felt like a yard sale kind of way in the middle of Tokyo was super fun to me.
There were also a few places that had tables outside of them like the photo above. Honestly, they didn’t really catch my eye apart from taking this photo and show you, and there were far better things on offer down the street.
But hey, if you like this stuff, then come and visit Yanaka Ginza in Summer!
When you get to the end of that street, you can either go left or right down another small (yet characterful) street. We went right and managed to grab ourselves some kakigori.
You have no idea how hyped I was to get it for ¥100 ($0.70), it honestly made my day!
I’m not entirely sure if this was because we came on the same day as an Omatsuri (Summer festival) where they were selling Kakigori, but you’ll usually find it popping up all over the place during summer. I’ve already had more than I can count haha!
I went for lemon, and Nadia went for strawberry. Literally just ice and syrup, and perhaps the greatest Summer dessert of all time.
My next paycheck is absolutely going on one of these machines!
As I said earlier, the vibe of Yanaka Ginza was spectacular. It was chilled out, everyone was having fun, and music from My Neighbor Totoro was playing on the town speakers. Can you imagine living somewhere like this? *frantically checks www.japanrealestate.co.jp*
There are lots of bikes around here, none are locked up of course, and most have children’s seats on the back. It seems like this place is incredibly popular with families as well as tourists etc.
I can’t understate how many places there were to buy kakigori and ice cream from. There was one place that served kakigori that I considered going to (and I think might have been renowned for it) but at ¥700 ($3.93) it seemed a little too much.
Side note: I always see people suggesting that eating out and traveling in Japan is really expensive, but to be honest, I can’t understand why. Maybe that depends on where you’re coming from but still, the food and transport here is incredibly good value for money!
The light always looks great in Japan, but in places like this, it looks even better. Late afternoon is a great time to visit Yanaka Ginza, especially in the summer.
Also, I don’t quite know why, but Yanaka Ginza is well known for having an extortionate amount of cats (it’s literally nicknamed ‘Cat Town’), and after coming back home I was disappointed that I didn’t see any.
However, after adding this photo above to the article, I found one! Can you spot it?
Well, I suppose here are two more! Plus, another place to grab some ice cream from!
Summer is an extremely festive time in Japan, and most of that has to do with the Omatsuri (Summer festivals). I’ve already been to a couple, and plan to go to a lot more, but it seems that without meaning to we stumbled into one in Yanaka Ginza!
It’s a high possibility that the matsuri changed the overall vibe of Yanaka Ginza, but even still, I got a similar feeling from here as I did from Koenji and Shimokitazawa, a great one.
Things to do near Yanaka Ginza
This is going to be a list of things to do near Yanaka Ginza. Technically these travel posts I make will usually be ‘things to do in‘ instead, but Yanaka Ginza is too specific and is technically a ‘thing to do/see’ in Yanaka itself.
Still with me? Great!
1. Yanaka Cemetery
Okay, okay, I know visiting a cemetery might not be on your typical travel itinerary, but trust me, this is no ordinary cemetery. Yanaka Cemetery is more like a peaceful park, full of history and tranquility.
It’s the final resting place of many prominent figures from Japan’s past, and the serene atmosphere offers a chance to take a reflective stroll amidst beautiful cherry blossoms in the spring or vibrant foliage in the fall.
..or in my case, had I remembered to visit, it would have offered some much-needed shade from the sun…
In any case, it’s a great spot to experience a different side of Tokyo’s culture and pay respects to the past.
2. Tokyo Bike
Now, if you’re a bike enthusiast or simply looking for a fun and eco-friendly way to explore the city, you should check out Tokyo Bike! This cool bike rental shop near Yanaka Ginza offers a variety of stylish bikes to fit your taste and needs.
I’m fully committed to buying one of these bikes if I manage to stay in Japan for the next few years as well!
In a chilled-out location like Yanaka, this is a super cool way to get yourself around. It’s an ideal activity for adventurous souls who crave a unique experience.
3. Himitsudo Shaved Ice
Oh, boy, I’ve heard incredible things about this place! On a warm day, you won’t want to miss a chance to indulge in the deliciousness of Himitsudo’s shaved ice.
Now, if you’re running low on money then this might not be your first choice (and the ¥100 kakigori I had was insanely good), but this really is the ‘level up’ dessert.
This isn’t your ordinary snow cone, my friends. Their shaved ice is fluffy like clouds and topped with all kinds of syrups made from seasonal fruits. It’s a true taste of Japan and the perfect treat to cool down after exploring Yanaka Ginza.
4. Yanaka Beer Hall
Cheers to this exciting find! For the beer aficionados among us, the Yanaka Beer Hall is a must-visit spot that rivals the beer scene in Sapporo.
Offering a wide range of craft beers, including local brews and unique imports, this cozy little joint is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing (or before, I’m not judging!).
Is it worth visiting?
Ultimately when it comes to deciding if Yanaka Ginza is worth visiting, I think it is under a few conditions. First off, if you love shopping and street food then it definitely makes sense to visit.
If you’re only staying around Tokyo, then once again I would highly recommend visiting. Tokyo can seem like such a modern city, so it’s great to find a slice of that old town Yanaka Ginza and have a wander.
However, if you’re running slightly shorter on time or are planning to visit somewhere like Kyoto, you may not need to go. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place but there are so many areas worth exploring in Japan that you’ll have to prioritize if either time or money aren’t on your side.