Away from Tokyo’s Crowds: Yanaka & Nezu

Are you looking for the more traditional, culturally-enriched old alleys of Tokyo away from the crowds? Then Yanaka is the place to go! We first discovered this area in late autumn last year and were amazed by the small Japanese lanes full of character. When we had friends and family over in the spring this year, we took them all to Yanaka & Nezu and they loved this district’s authenticity, temples and food stalls. The recommended route is to take the train to Nippori Station, start walking through Yanaka Cemetery Park, go to the Yanaka Ginza shopping street and at the end, stroll around the little alleys surrounding it to get to Nezu Shrine.

Tennoji Temple
Tennoji Temple was founded in 1274 and used to take up most of Yanaka Cemetery.

Near the entrance of Yanaka Cemetery, there is a wonderful temple called ‘Tennoji’, with a buddha statue blending in between lush trees, old Japanese houses and skyscrapers in the background. There are so many little temples and shrines as part of the cemetery, they are all peaceful and beautiful, but make sure not to miss Tennoji!

Temple visitors can wash themselves before praying.

When we visited Tennoji, it was the start of the cherry blossom (さくら) season and the pink petals started to spread everywhere. It was magical… I also just realised I haven’t posted any photos of our first cherry blossom season in Japan yet!

Yanaka Cemetery
Statues with red bibs tell a very sad story…

We’ve seen so many small statues with red bibs at Japanese temples and were always wondering why. After doing some research, I found out that this tradition was started by parents who were grieving for their deceased children, placing bibs on the statues to protect their children in the other world. What a heartbreaking story!

Yanaka’s neighbourhood

As nice as Yanaka Ginza is, with its famous ‘sunset stairs’, street food vendors and Japanese souvenirs, it can get quite crowded on weekends and we enjoyed just wandering around the small alleys. The neighbourhood seems so friendly, every house traditional and unique and there are a few cafes, boutiques and second hand shops scattered around. So make sure to walk this route when going from Yanaka Ginza to Nezu Shrine!


Since moving to Japan, I’ve become a real flower enthusiast and am taken by the way Japanese people hype about certain flower seasons. Before moving to Japan, I thought they just celebrate the cherry blossom season, but actually, they celebrate a different flower every couple of weeks. I could just go out with my camera and take flower photos all day these days!

Air Con Decoration

One of the things that we love most about Japan is, how people use the tiniest spaces to create something beautiful. Only space for an air con outside the door? No problem! Let’s put these cute flower pots on top to decorate our missing front yard!

Air Con Decoration Pt 2
There seems to be a whole theme around outdoor air con decorations
One of Yanaka’s many alleys

Nezu Shrine is one of the most beautiful ones we have seen in Japan and every time I’m there, I’m wondering why it’s so quiet while places like Asakusa are so over-crowded with tourists. But I’m mainly just glad about it and enjoy the quiet! A few weeks ago, though, there was a huge flower festival at the shrine and it was packed. It’s better to stay away from these big touristy events.

Torii gates at Nezu Shrine

After a day at Yanaka and Nezu, it feels like having taken in a whole lot of Japanese culture. You can either end the day by going to a nearby, cheap authentic ramen place or taking the bus to Asakusa for some late night bustle. The options in Tokyo are seemingly endless and wherever there’s a busy place, take a byroad and be surprised by its small-town-esque calm and quietness.

– Her

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