Given its history of earthquake, war, fire, and development, little of pre-World War II Tokyo survives. The neighborhoods in the northeast section of town are an exception, filled with museums, galleries, and shops. “It’s quiet and peaceful, and it gives you a sense of old Japan.”—Rochelle Kopp, Managing Principal, Japan Intercultural Consulting.
Take the JR Yamanote Line to (1) Nippori station, and head left out of the north exit. Continue to the left once you reach the street, and in a couple of blocks the intimate Keio-ji Temple will be on your right, the first of many temples along this route.
Continue in the same direction, turn right where the road forks and head down the stairs and through the gateway to the pre-war shopping street (2) Yanaka Ginza. Shops sell clothing and shoes, flowers, pots and pans and, a rarity in this city, foods you can snack on while walking around. Yanaka Ginza comes to a T-junction at a second gateway; here, the perpendicular street (3) Yomise-dori is another step back in time, with shops selling housedresses and, in fair weather, a chance to see futon bedding airing out on balconies.
When you’ve finished browsing, head back up the stairs, continue straight ahead, and turn right after the Indian restaurant with signs advertising tea and crafts. About 110 yards (100 meters) ahead on the left is the (4) Asakura Choso Museum (7-18-10 Yanaka, Taito-ku), home of the man considered the father of Japanese sculpture (1883-1964). Many visitors find the home more interesting than the sculptures.
Back on the street, continue for another few hundred yards (300-400 meters). When you reach (5) Choan-ji Temple (5-2-22 Yanaka, Taito-ku) on the right, take a left and head into (6) Yanaka Cemetery at the end of the block; final resting places of important historical figures are marked with plaques. Here the gravesites are vertical—they entomb ashes as Japanese tradition is to cremate. You may notice flowers or burning incense on some graves, while wooden slats on grave markers indicate visits by the family on auspicious anniversaries of the death of their loved ones.
At the four-way intersection inside the cemetery, turn right and continue until you see the restroom on the left. From here, signs with small English labels indicate the path to the (7) family plot of the 15th generation of the Tokugawa clan, which ruled Japan during feudal times.
Double back to the restroom, turn left again, and at the end of the cemetery bear left at the traffic light. Follow this street (as it narrows) for about one-half mile (about one kilometer) into Ueno Park. Along the way, you’ll pass tiny storefront shops and galleries, (8) SCAI (6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito-ku), a contemporary museum set in an old public bathhouse, and the (9) Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music.
Inside the (10) Tokyo National Museum (13-9 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku), browse priceless works of Japanese religious sculpture, ceramics, arms, and woodblock prints. From the museum, cross the street and bear left around the fountain. Turn left where you see the three-story metal-clad police box. To your left will be the (11) National Museum of Western Art (7-7 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku), and to the right is the (12) Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall (5-45 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku). Ahead and to the right is (13) Ueno Station, where you rejoin the Yamanote Line.
Nat Geo Traveler All Access
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!