Whenever I travel to Tokyo, its always strikes me that Japan is a country of contrasts. Walk down busy Shibuya at night and all you’ll see are neon signboards, high tech vending machines and green cars zooming about. However, in the hidden corners, just 20 steps can bring you to a secluded Shinto shrine where you are transported into another world.
Therefore, when I learnt of Yanesen and how one can be transported back a hundred years, I was fascinated by what it offers. Yanesan is the combination of the 3 neighbourhoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. The Japanese National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) lists Ya-Ne-Sen as a Tokyo travel destination for those looking to experience a traditional Japanese Atmosphere.
If you travel to Tokyo looking for traditional art and crafts, you just might find something at Yanesen. Textiles and design from Japan have always beguiled me with their beauty, form and textures. They conspire to tell a story of a nation’s culture and tradition unfurled on tapestry. The simple monograms one sees on a piece of cloth may in fact be a family crest that goes back centuries or how a ‘tie-dyed’ fabric is in fact a complex, dying art form called ‘Shibori.’
Landing at Sendagi station with initial aim of finding Isetatsu (A traditional Washi or papercraft store), I managed to get lost and wander into Yanaka and Nezu. I did find Isetatsu but could not take any photos as it was packed with customers. However, you can read more about Isetatsu on Posts & Pens’ Blog. Inside, you’ll walk into a fountain of colours with cute patterns and prints made of paper. I still can’t get over the Papier-mâché Maneki Neko (Waving fortune cat) at the front.
The coolest street though, was the short walk through the fascinating Yanaka Ginza en route to Nippori. All manner of commerce is conducted along this busy street, where the locals could buy groceries and other everyday items.
This narrow street was abuzz with activity from the locals doing their everyday shopping. The air did have a tinge of tradition to it as everyone went about their business.
Wonderful aromas wafted from every corner, from pickles, fresh seafood, tea to fried foods. This store above in particular sold Beef Korokke that was apparently featured on TV. There was a line of customers and I regret not lining up to have a taste. Definitely try it next time!
I chanced upon this wonderful store 金吉園 (Kanekitien) along Yanaka Ginza. A hot cup of green tea greets visitors, encouraging them to stay a while and browse through their teas and collection of traditional woodcrafts and textiles. Looking around, I found the perfect gifts for friends. They had a myriad selection of teas, each having its own character that made it hard to choose!
Further down Yanaka Ginza, a little shop selling quaint Japanese figurines and textiles captured my attention and it was here that I found some beautiful Furoshiki.
Time was not on my side and I had to rush to Nippori and chanced upon an ancient looking temple. A quick photo shot and peek beyond the gates revealed that it was Yanaka Cemetery, an ancient cemetery where Tokugawa Yoshinobu is interred. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was the last Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Remember Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai?
Nippori Station is just a short walk away from the cemetery and just beyond that, the Nippori Textile Town.
Calling this a town would be an overstatement, but it is a rather big and long street filled with textiles shops. For those with no time, a visit to the Tomato Nippori shop will fill most needs. This is a multi-storey textiles superstore with an extensive range of textiles for the bargain hunter, budding designer or connoisseur of cloth.
This was a very pleasant afternoon’s stroll and a refreshing break from the bright lights from the city. Yanesen is a charming area slightly off the beaten track for tourists and well worth the detour to experience travelling into Tokyo’s traditional past. Spend an afternoon at Yanesen the next time you travel to Tokyo.