Spring in Tokyo 2019: An excursion to Yanaka-Ginza & Takeshita Street

COVER Tokyo Yanaka Ginza Takeshita - Spring in Tokyo 2019: An excursion to Yanaka-Ginza & Takeshita Street

I think it’s fair to say that Takeshita Street is the most colorful shopping street I’ve ever visited, both literally and metaphorically. It’s not just a trendy shopping street where creative blends into quirky, it’s a shopping street with a real spicy personality. You don’t even need to make much of an effort to spot unique things as they will be all around you. Lolita dresses? Pirate costumes? Grunge fashion? Why, come right this way!

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Unsurprisingly, the crowd at Takeshita Street is mostly young because of this. I imagine they are able to buy anything and everything they can think of here, from kawaii items to the more avant-garde ones. If Harajuku is the birthplace of Tokyo’s unique popular and kawaii culture, what does that make Takeshita Street then? The soul?

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I always remember the name of this street because it has the same name as the amazing Yoshie Takeshita, retired setter extraordinaire of the Japan women’s national volleyball team. If you go on YouTube and watch her old game clips, I imagine you’d find her difficult to forget. Usually she’s the tiniest person on the court, but she has this understanding of the game that makes her seem so big. In a way this street is kind of like that– shorter than most shopping streets, but packed with unexpected things! 

This 400-meter street is made up of a combination of chain stores and independent brands, lumped together in a way that doesn’t feel claustrophobic. However, because the street is quite short and not that wide to begin with, it can get REALLY crowded.

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Thanks to its popularity and the age group of its usual visitors, Takeshita Street has become a place for manufacturers to test the appeal of product prototypes. They convert small shops along the street into launch pads to see what products will click among locals and tourists alike before rolling them out. Clever, right?

If you enjoy window shopping, doing it here at Takeshita Street can be almost jarring, but never boring. If you enjoy people watching, I’ve been told weekends are when the younger crowd would be out and about in fashion-forward outfits. (I have no idea what the situation is right now though.) If you enjoy modern Western fusion food, you will most certainly find something that will pique the interest of your tastebuds. 

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Crepes are so popular in Japan!

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There’s a store here called Calbee PLUS that I think a lot of people will enjoy. You can buy fresh Calbee chips and piping hot Calbee fries here, along with certain limited item Calbee products. Products are a bit pricey but if you’re a fan I’m sure you’ll even love to keep the pretty packaging as a souvenir. 

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Another place we recommend is Zaku Zaku, a shop specializing on freshly baked churro-shaped choux pastry, filled with rich and creamy vanilla custard. It’s essentially a long filled puff pastry that’s crunchy and addictive! No wonder people line up for this stuff. We also tried their soft serve and it hit the spot on a warm spring day.

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In contrast, Yanaka Ginza is every bit the opposite of Takeshita Street except for the similarities in level of liveliness. This shopping street is settled within a residential district, and so it has a completely local soul. Its crowd is more mixed in terms of age, but where Takeshita Street has a lot of funky things to behold, Yanaka Ginza makes room for more traditionally Japanese things. (For the record, we did not visit the two places on the same day.)

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The ambiance of Yanaka Ginza will remind you of the old Japanese streets you might have seen on movies, and the vibe is so completely different from Tokyo’s busy metropolitan energy. We came here to catch the supposedly lovely sunset that can be seen from the stairs approaching Yanaka Ginza, called Yuyake Dandan. We didn’t stay long enough for it though. 

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If you’re not really up for Western food while in Japan, then I guarantee you will enjoy this 175-meter shopping street more. The stores are tightly packed side by side, most with tables partway out on the street to make browsing that much easier. The combination of smells from different Japanese snack foods and packed meals is thick in the air, and your eyes will find delight in all the lovely trinkets and handmade things you will come across. 

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We stopped by one alleyway to enjoy some takoyaki, a family favorite. I wanted to paint this lovely storefront then and there.

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We ended our visit to Yanaka Ginza with a decidedly Japanese flavor in the form of matcha soft serve too!

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Before heading back home, we wandered a quiet residential street where a cherry tree hung halfway outside a property’s walls. (Or was this a small shrine? I can’t quite remember.) It was the perfect place for photos.

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How to get to Takeshita Street:

  • On the JR Yamanote Line, alight at Harajuku Station and take the Takeshita exit.
  • On the Tokyo Metro, take the Chiyoda Line (C) or Fukutoshin Line (F) and alight at Meiji-jingumae Station.

How to get to Yanaka Ginza:

  • Nippori Station is the closest station to Yanaka Ginza. You can reash this station using the JR Yamanote Line, the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line, and the Keisei Main Line.
  • On the Tokyo Metro, take the Chiyoda Line (C) and alight at Sendagi Station.

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