Cat Town, Japan.
Listen up, y’all. I’m about to tell you guys about the #1 cat lady destination in Japan: Yanaka.
Yanaka is a neighborhood in Taitō Ward, Tokyo. It’s a super traditional part of town filled with winding alleys, shrines and meticulously maintained temples. It’s a lovely place, but today we’re here to focus on the thing that makes Yanaka a magnet for nerds like me: good good kitties.
You see, Yanaka is a neighborhood with a butt-ton of stray cats. This makes sense, since it’s basically cat heaven. The streets and alleys of Yanaka are essentially just a series of hidey holes and ideal sunning spots that happen to have humans running around. Thankfully these humans are quite appreciative of their feline overlords, which is why part of Yanaka has essentially just become cat themed. It’s honestly like the neighborhood has just agreed that this is their thing now.
The first cat-themed establishment we visited in Yanaka was Nekoemon, a café with a scant 13 seats that’s covered in cat decor. The special thing about this place is that they offer a set (for roughly $15USD) that includes a cat-shaped cookie, a coffee drink of your choice and a little unfinished maneki neko figurine. Why the figurine? ‘Cause you’re about to customize yourself a neko, my friend.
The owner asked customers to choose between figurines to attract either luck or money. We picked luck and got our maneki neko along with a full assortment of markers. The owner even set out a few already painted figurines to provide inspiration.
Aside from the novel figurine offer, the café also had genuinely delicious lunch sets. They weren’t cat themed (though they had plenty of dessert options that were), but it was healthy and extremely tasty. I honestly recommend Nekoemon on all fronts.
Here’s my finished maneki neko. Followers of the blog may recognize him.
Nekoemon is great, but it isn’t even at the center of the cat madness. No, for that we’re headed to the shopping area: Yanaka Ginza.
Even if you don’t care about cats (in which case I’ve got to ask… why did you read this far?) this street is lovely. There are shops for handcrafted items, souveniers, sweets, savory foods and a lot more.
If you aren’t all sugared up from Nekoemon, you can always stop by Yanaka Shippoya, a shop that sells cat tail donuts. The donuts are named as cats would be rather than for their flavors, and they’re honestly very nice. We had a sesame camembert one that was lovely and not too sweet.
Donuts not your bag? You can always satisfy your sweet tooth with some maneki neko shaped taiyaki from Maneki-ya. Fluffy outside, rich and creamy inside. We got the matcha custard and red bean flavor and it did not disappoint.
Okay, so you’ve had enough sugar to last you a lifetime. Know what has no calories? Cat accessories. Yanaka Ginza has a bunch of shops that specialize in just… cat stuff. Cat jewelry? Check. Cat kitchenware? Check. Cat bento? Check. Cat bags? Dear heavenly lord, check. There’s even a store that specializes in making custom cat stamps. Seriously.
That’s just one tiny corner of just one shop. We visited 3, but saw more. Most of the shops had signs asking visitors to refrain from taking photos, so we kept the camera packed away. Honestly, I get it. These are shops best explored in person. It’s fun to see how the owner of each shop has a unique aesthetic and stocks totally different items (though there is certainly some overlap). You can tell these stores are curated by cat lovers.
Oh, and of course we can’t forget the feline residents themselves. When we first hit the area we saw zero cats. None. I was honestly really disappointed, but it turns out they were all hiding from the rain that started shortly after. Those kitty instincts served them well and kept them dry, and once the rain passed we suddenly saw little cat faces poking out all over.
This sweet girl roamed the cemetery and was the first kitty we met.
Shortly after we met a pair of housecats that chirped at us quite enthusiastically.
This orange boy said goodbye to us just before we left the area.
In conclusion: if you love fluffbutts and toe beans and are near Tokyo, get thee to Yanaka. It’s a fantastic weekend day trip that isn’t crowded to the brim with tourists, the whole neighborhood has a relaxed and peaceful vibe, and you can come home decked out in cat stuff and filled with sugar. What more could you even want?