I’ll clarify right off the bat that this is not really a review of a hot chocolate. While I went looking for a hot chocolate, I found something that, on this day, was even better. It wasn’t hot, and it didn’t have chocolate, but it reminded me of a hot chocolate, so much so that I wanted to share it with you.
My trip to Japan inspired many new hot chocolates experiments that I have been working on for my book. Before I get to the drink, let me introduce you to the neighbourhood. Whenever we spend more than a few days in the same city, we usually switch hotels halfway through. This give us a good chance to explore different neighbourhoods and get a better feel for a city. Yanessen was the last neighbourhood we stayed in and, subsequently, fell in love with. One of the reasons I chose Yanessan was because I had heard so many amazing things about Inamura Chocolate Shop located in this neighbourhood, including of their decadent hot chocolate. When I visited they said that they no longer serve hot chocolates unfortunately. It is still worth a stop to drool over all of their beautifully made French pastries before buying more than you need (not that there is a limit of course).
The official entrance to the Yanessan area is at the top of a long staircase, overlooking the main shopping street. This is just a few minutes walk from Nippori Station (take the upper-level west exit). When we visited, there was a very fat cat that lived in front of the homes to the right of the staircase. This was the first of many cats we discovered in this area. A few were lazy fuzzy ones like this one but most were painted on the sides of buildings or cat shaped toys, sweets, cakes even cat shaped taiyaki.
Many of the buildings in this neighbourhood survived both the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Second World war making this area feel like a little village within a bigger city. There are so many interesting shops, too many for me to list here so you will just have to go and explore them all for yourself, not just on the main shopping street but throughout the neighbourhood. My favourite was a pottery shop on the main strip where I guarantee you will find your next favourite hot chocolate mug (I did).
But before you start, stop at a tiny cafe right at the start of the shopping street.Up a narrow set of stairs is a Yanaka Kenshindo. There is room for maybe 10 people in this one man shop but make sure you are one of those 10 people, especially one of those people with a window seat. The views over the shopping street are fantastic and really help you get into the mood of Yanessan.
There is a hot chocolate on the menu but, just this once, try something different. Anmitsu is a very old Japanese dessert often found in restaurants and in particular in the summer. It is usually made with ice cream but here it is served alongside green tea and the flavours changes based on the seasons. A selection of different dishes are presented on a wooden tray. I’m told to taste them individually and then to combine together. There is a bowl of green tea from Uji (everything at the café is sourced from Japan). Another clear bowl has a generous amount of kanten cubes; a neutral flavoured jelly with a slight natural sweetness (known as agar agar in English). There is a bowl with a large scoop of anko (sweetened red bean paste) topped with a few Shiratama dango (Japanese sweet rice dumplings). To finish that off there is a small pot of black sugar syrup and a pink of salted kelp. The whole thing made me smile. I have been experimenting with the flavours and textures of this Anmitsu in a hot chocolate for my book. Stay tuned for the tasty results of my experiments!
The café also sells loads of cute little trinkets. It’s impressive how much the owner was able to fit into such a small space. I could have spent all day here. There is so much delicious street food on this street to try and I highly recommend choosing accomodation around here (we stayed at Ryokan Katsuma Annex and Sakura Hotel, both great options).
Verdict: Already have our next trip to Japan planned as soon as we get COVID under control and it starts in Yanesen. Yanaka Kenshindo, Yanaka-Ginza Shopping Street, Tokyo, Japan