When most people think of Nippori, they think old-school Tokyo: classic kissaten (coffee shops), ramshackle but charming bars and historic shopping strips. While those assumptions aren’t far off, the neighborhood is also filled with many other secret and one-of-a-kind wonders. Spend a little time here and you’ll quickly discover there’s a lot to see and do in Nippori that isn’t written in the guidebooks.
Sakura Hotel Nippori
The best way to properly uncover everything Nippori has to offer is to spend a few nights in the area. One place to consider staying at is Sakura Hotel Nippori. Like the neighborhood itself, this hotel is the perfect harmony of old and new. Popular among backpackers, and ideal for family stays and school trips, Sakura Hotel Nippori features traditional Japanese rooms (think: tatami mats and futon bedding) but with all the hotel amenities you’d expect from modern lodgings.
Run by the lovely people at Sakura Hotel, now a quarter of a century into the business of helping foreigners live and holiday in Japan, Sakura Hotel knows just how to help you make the most of your time in Tokyo.
1. Go cat shopping at Maneki-ya
Well not for an actual cat but if you’re a feline fan you can’t miss the chance to visit Yanaka Ginza, just a short stroll from the east exit of Nippori station. Known to the locals as “cat town” here you’ll be able to meet a lot of cute kitties, both real and not. Over the years, the small area has become a hotbed of feline activity, attracting more cats than anywhere else in the city. Why, exactly, is anyone’s guess but the theory is that the cats love to lounge around the nearby temples.
The locals have embraced their new neighbors and dotted around the houses and stores that populate the main shopping street you’ll find milk dishes and makeshift kitty homes. Many stores around here sell rather unique cat-related paraphernalia too. Visit Maneki-ya to eat taiyaki, traditionally a fish-shaped pastry filled with adzuki beans instead shaped like Japan’s iconic lucky cat: the maneki-neko.
2. Immerse yourself in history and cherry blossoms at Yanaka Cemetery
A cemetery may not seem like the type of place you’d want to spend your holiday but Yanaka Cemetery is really something — especially during spring. Many of the tombs here have been ornately decorated and you’re welcome to wander through and explore.
What’s most special is Sakura-dori (street), which runs through the heart of the cemetery. Home to a large collection of cherry trees, this walkway strip comes alive during spring when the ground below is carpeted in soft, pink blossoms. If you’re after a more unique sakura experience — this is it.
3. Nourish your intellectual side with museums and art galleries
Nippori (and nearby Ueno) boasts a ton of museums and galleries, ranging from small and quirky to grand and stately, that make this side of Tokyo one of the best places to delve into the city’s world-class roster of exhibitions.
Yanaka is known for its contemporary art scene; Scai The Bathhouse is a high-ceilinged treasure of modern Japanese and international art set inside a 200-year-old bathhouse, while just across the neighborhood border you’ll find enough history and culture on display to keep you occupied for several days, including the National Museum of Western Art and the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.
4. Stuff yourself with food and beer from around the world at Sakura Café Nippori
Run by the international, multilingual team behind Sakura House and Sakura Hotel, Sakura Café Nippori is the latest venture from the accommodation and events organization, and it’s been a roaring success.
Connected to their Sakura Hotel Nippori, the cafe’s main focus is food from around the world for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Whether you’re chasing some borscht, empanadas or would rather a little French fare you can get what you’re looking for here. They even have a patissier from Europe who’s created a wholly organic Afternoon Tea set for guests using Japanese flavors and ingredients.
Beyond the diverse food menu, the large cafe space also features 60 craft beers from around the world. Non-hotel residents are welcome to visit and the kitchen is open 24 hours — perfect for a late-night, post-karaoke snack in the company of the friendly, English-speaking staff and all your new friends. The cafe also hosts regular events for locals and guests. You can see what’s coming up on the hotel’s website.
5. Hunt for textiles at Tomato
Contrary to its name, this multilevel outlet is not a fruits and vegetables store but rather one of Nippori’s best — and most thoroughly stocked — fabric outlets. If you’re feeling inspired and want to try a little sewing of your own, then no matter what fabric you’re chasing chances are Tomato have you covered.
Towering over the area at five-stories high, it can seem a little overwhelming. Don’t fret. The shop is carefully divided into well-organized sections, covering everything from sewing tools to upholstery to a ¥100 corner where yep, you can buy one meter of fabric for just ¥100!
6. Munch on Menchi Katsu at Niku no Suzuki
This is a not-so-well-kept secret among the locals, but for guests from outside of Japan, Niku no Suzuki is a Nippori culinary icon you may not be so familiar with.
Located along Yanaka Ginza’s main shopping street (close to Maneki-ya), Niku no Suzuki is famous for its menchi-kastu, a type of croquette — in Japanese “korokke” — or juicy, flavorful hamburger patty covered in fried breadcrumbs. It’s so popular there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait in line to get your hands on one — but don’t worry it moves pretty fast (so you can easily go for seconds too).
7. Get spiritual at Nezu Jinja
One of the oldest shrines in Japan, Nezu Jinja rarely gets a look from travel guidebooks enamored with Senso-ji Temple on the other side of Ueno Park.
But given this shrine’s spacious grounds, lined with more than 50 varieties of azalea — which get their due moment in the spotlight during the Tsutsuji Matsuri (azalea festival) from April to May — as well as the stunning path of vermilion torii gates, there’s no justice in ignoring this gorgeous spot.
8. Try your luck at Nana’s Amusement Casino
Let’s hope the gods heard you in Nezu before you hit up this little hangout just across the road from Nippori station’s east exit. Nana’s Amusement Casino will let you live out all your high roller fantasies while enjoying cultural immersion as you mix with the bar’s friendly loyal patrons.
Here you’ll find the bar kitted out with blackjack tables, roulette wheels, and video slot machines. Though it’s unique, Nana’s Amusement Casino keeps a pretty low profile. Chances are you won’t find a lot of information online or elsewhere about the place, so to find out more about this mysterious watering hole you’ll have to check it out for yourself.