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We were looking for places in Tokyo that was more low-key and not bombarded by tourists and stumbled upon a city called Yanaka, also known as Yanaka Cat Town, which is located in Nippori. It was a breathe of fresh air stopping by here after being surrounded by an immense crowd at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
We reached Nippori via the JR train line and exited north. Before we made our way to Yanaka Cat Town, we noticed that we were on an overpass looking down at numerous train tracks. It was great fun watching all the trains pass by every 10 seconds or so and it was even more exciting when we saw a shinkansen, or bullet train, pass by. We have seen bullet trains before, but it was interesting to see it from above and discover that they had different tracks than normal trains. It’s a fun little observation if you want to stop and take a look before you make your way to the cat town.
Yanaka is part of the Yanesen neighborhood and it’s famous for it’s old world charm and friendly stray cats. It’s also significant because it managed to survive destruction from war and earthquakes. It’s one of the few places in Tokyo where visitors can see a typical old town of Japan.
To get to the cat town, you make your way towards Yanaka Ginza, which is a little shopping street. As we made our way towards the town, we walked by several temples and stopped at the Daikokuten Kyoo-ji Temple. We’ve never heard of this temple, but thought it would be fun trying to find bullet holes at the gate’s main entrance. The temple was under attack in 1868 and the original bullet holes remain today. I imagined they would be smaller, but the holes were actually quite large so they were easy to spot.
You’ll notice Yanaka Ginza when you come upon a staircase leading down to a narrow street with a sign above that says Yanaka Ginza in Japanese. These stairs are actually pretty popular with the locals because it’s featured in many Japanese TV dramas. We walked down the narrow street lined with various souvenir shops and little restaurants. Every other shop had some sort of cat theme to them.
There are numerous shops with cheap street food and one of the more well-known shops on this street is Yanaka Shippoya. Crystal was really excited to see these donuts unique to this town. They are donuts that are shaped like a cat’s tail and some have little paws imprinted on them or have cat features like a striped yellow and brown tail. There are a variety of flavors to choose from like chocolate, milk cream, salty caramel and strawberry. Crystal went with the Tora donut which had the stripes and it’s currently the most popular donut.
We glanced at the various stores and walked for about 15 minutes but we didn’t come across a stray cat anywhere. We also thought there would be some kind of sign explaining how this town became known as Cat Town, but there was nothing, so we asked a store clerk if he knew the history behind this town. The answer we got was pretty funny. He basically said he had no clue how the town became known to be a cat town. He believes one person started to sell cat items in their store and then other shops began to do the same thing.
After reading a couple of articles online, apparently, there ARE stray cats around this area but not actually on Yanaka Ginza street. You have to go into the neighborhoods or alleyways to come across them.
We would have tried more street food, but we wanted a little break and needed to sit down somewhere, so when we reached the end of the street, we saw a cute cafe called Tensuke Cafe. Their menu was limited but it was perfect for us since we just wanted something to drink with a little snack.
It was a fun little stop and we enjoyed walking around a little old town. If you want a break from the massive crowds of Tokyo or want to be surrounded by cat themed goods, this will be the perfect spot. Maybe you’ll be able to see some stray cats too.