During your visit to Japan, you will repeatedly hear ‘Irasshaimase’ – which means ‘welcome’ – as Japanese girls greet you with a delightful smile at the airport, in department stores, restaurants, hotels, and ryokans (Japanese style hotels). When you yearn for an authentic Japanese experience, away from Tokyo’s modern noise and neon lights, the place you are looking for is Yanaka. We spent some time there a few years ago and loved it. It is the nucleus of the old shogunate capital Edo, which is centrally located, within a walking distance from some of Tokyo’s most important museums like the National Museum of Western Art or National Museum of Nature and Science. Two steps away from Ueno Park you enter into a world of the past.
The ancient culture is visible in the low wooden houses where local people sell gorgeous Japanese kimonos or shoes.
The tiny restaurants serve deliciously tasty noodle soup in traditional style. You will immediately realize the inexpensiveness of Yanaka neighborhood when you pay merely a few hundred yens (a few dollars) for your steaming hot bowl of soba soup. The narrow streets are crowded with hole-in-the-wall style restaurants whose menus offer – in addition to soba, ramen, and udon noodle soups – fresh sushi, lightly fried vegetable and shrimp tempura, and various curry dishes served with rice and Japanese vegetables (tsukemono).
When you are ready to fully emerge in Japanese life – and wish to pay little for comfort and authenticity – book your room at one of the attractive ryokans of Yanaka. The fascinating atmosphere of Yamanaka Ryokan will greet you already at the outer door where suggestive lanterns line the path that leads to the tatami-covered lobby. Another, equally fascinating Ryokan is Sawanoya. If you wish to find a room there, you need to make your reservation well in advance. A somewhat more modest accommodation is Ryokan Katsutaro, but even there you will find your bedroom separated from your living room area where you can enjoy your cup of green tea in peace and quiet after a day of sightseeing. In Yanaka district you can visit the Yanaka Cemetery, the Tokugawa family shoguns burying ground. If you yearn for the hussle and buzzle of modern Tokyo, you can take a walk around Ueno Park. Afterwards, you will feel so satisfied to retreat to the quiet calmness, the serene atmosphere of the ancient Edo. Sipping green tea in the living room of your ryokan is a perfect way to end your day in Tokyo.
‘Sayonara’ for now and ‘Irasshaimase’ again!