Yanaka received the nickname Cat Town of Tokyo because of the large population of friendly stray cats who call the Yanaka Cemetery their home. But this area of the city, and the Yanaka Ginza pedestrian shopping street, in particular, is also known for its charming shitamachi (“low city,” historically poor and working-class regions) atmosphere. Take home a piece of Yanaka’s rich cultural history in the form of one of these artisanal souvenirs.
Many of the shops lining the main shopping street of Yanaka Ginza stock handmade bamboo pieces made by local artisans. Midori-ya, established in 1898, is a shop specializing in bamboo crafts and proudly continues to support local craftsmen. Find handwoven bamboo baskets, bags, chopsticks and more.
Midori-ya, 3-13-333 Nishi-nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3828-7522
Hanko are seals used to sign and seal documents. It is a stamp bearing your name and intended to be used with ink. If you want to customize one, get a Japanese-speaking friend to help; you will, however, have to wait several hours for it to finish.
Many shops in Yanaka sell traditional as well as modern hanko. Evil Hanko-ya sells hanko adorned with cats, flowers and other symbols meant to spice up your everyday boring office life—though you probably won’t want to use them on very important documents.
Katori buta are “mosquito repelling pigs.” These cute little vessels are used to hold burning mosquito coils during the summer months. Since Yanaka’s cat-loving reputation is well-known to the local merchants, you may even find yourself a katori neko (cat) instead of the traditional buta.
Plenty of sandals and house slippers made the old-fashioned way can be found in the district. Pick up a pair of casual geta (wooden sandals) to wear with your yukata or just some comfy sandals for hanging around the house. Hamamatsu-ya is a store specializing in traditional Japanese footwear and sits along the main strip of Yanaka Ginza. They have been in business since 1894.
Hamamatsu-ya 3-15-155 Nishi-nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3828-1301
Maneki neko are cat statues that bring luck to their owner. Their exact origins are unclear. Some say the maneki neko was modeled after a beckoning cat who saved a man’s life by calling him out of the path of an arrow, while others say cats washing their face means a guest will arrive—which, for a business, means customers are on the way.
Yanaka is famous for its inexpensive handmade snacks such as daifuku (stuffed glutinous rice cake) and konpeito (star-shaped sugar candies), which are available to purchase off the street. You’ll also find taiyaki—a stuffed griddle cake—in the shape of cats and treats shaped like cat tails at Yanaka Shippoya.
Yanaka Shippoya 3-11-12 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3822-9517
Furoshiki & Tenugui
Furoshiki are small squares of patterned fabric used to wrap gifts, bento or for anything else you can think of. Tenugui are hand towels that you can use as a personal handkerchief, though they’re typically not made of the looped cotton that comes to mind when you hear the word “towel.”
Light, easily stored and transported, tea makes a great souvenir that you can enjoy over and over again long after you’ve left Yanaka. Tea shops such as Kanekichien will be happy to provide you with samples and help you choose the right type for your needs. They also specialize in pottery.
Kanekichien 3-11-10, Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3823-0015
Many small pottery shops line the main shopping street of Yanaka Ginza, and the area is known for its potters. Search for authentic, handmade pieces with small imperfections or other unique charms. This appreciation of the imperfect is known as wabi-sabi and is especially prevalent in the world of pottery.