Sure you know how much Japanese people love cats, sure you know about Japanese cat cafes but you might not know that there is no need to pay to cuddle a furry friend in Tokyo if you know where to go.
The place to be is Yanaka Cat Town. Yanaka is an old neighborhood in the north part of Tokyo, just behind Nippori station on the Yamanote loop line, it is easy to reach but, despite this, it is still a bit off the most beaten tourist paths.
Yanaka seems suspended in time in a Tokyo where everything is fast, new and constantly moving. One of the few areas that survived earthquakes and bombing during World War, Yanaka keeps the charm of the shitamachi, the old town.
To reach the main street, called Yanaka Ginza, take the north exit of Nippori station and turn left, walk head and you will find a staircase where people usually stop to take a picture of the scenic shopping street below. Almost every Japanese person would feel for some reason familiar with that staircase because it is featured in many dorama, the Japanese TV series, but a part from that the neighborhood is unknown also to the majority of people living in Tokyo.
In Yanaka Ginza street you will find a number of shops, old shops selling the same items since generations and new shops blending into the old buildings of the street. A number of shops sells cat related goods, others sell street food for incredibly cheap, you can get a korokke, Japanese potato croquette, for 30 円 or a kushikatsu, fried pork and onion skewer, for 50 円. There are also shops selling tea and ceramics and other traditional crafts like bamboo goods and shops selling traditional Japanese candies and sweets along with cute cafeterias and bakeries.
If you like Japan traditional taste and crafts I highly recommend buying some souvenirs here, prices are reasonable and the quality is good, I personally bought some ceramics to use at home.
With the exception of the shopping street Yanaka is a residential area where you can grasp a bit of old town daily life while exploring the winding alleys and maybe discover one of the many small shrines scattered around.
Once you have explored the shopping street and maybe had a snack turn into one of the narrow side streets and enjoy getting lost while making interesting encounters with the real rulers of the place, the cats.
Yanaka Ginza street is full of cat statues, paints, and wherever you look you will probably spot a cat but if you leave the main street and enter one of the alleys you will also find real cats. There are a number of stray cats in Yanaka and the majority does not disdain to be pet. There are signs around warning not to feed the cats but here and there you will find hidden or not so hidden bowls of cat food left by the locals. Especially in the cemetery, that is located right on the left of Nippori station north exit, many locals feed the cats and some even leave food on the graves of their loved ones to attract cats there. The cemetery is especially popular among the locals during the cherry blossoms season when the sakura trees turn the place in a pink wonderland.
Yanaka does not offer great entertainment facilities or large famous temples but if you like to have a feeling of a different Tokyo, slow, cozy and a bit worn out, you definitely should put Yanaka on your list of places in Tokyo.