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I took the Yamanote Loop Line and alighted at every stop (Part 1)

I took the Yamanote Loop Line and alighted at every stop (Part 1)

The Yamanote Line (山手線 Yamanote-sen) is no stranger to Japan Lovers as it connects tourists to the major attractions around Tokyo (東京). However, how many of us can actually boast that they have visited all the stations of the Yamanote Line and alighted at every station? Although I may not be a railway otaku (fanatic), I realised that this was an opportunity to indulge in the Yamanote Line completely, which few Japanese and foreign tourists have experienced. 

 

From interesting discoveries to insights of everyday life in Tokyo Metropolitan, I will share with you my anti-clockwise (内回り uchi-mawari) adventure on the Yamanote Line in this three-part special!

 

Preparation

JR Yamanote Map 2.jpg (210 KB)

The famous loop line in Tokyo: Yamanote Line! Takanawa Gateway Station is the line’s latest addition which opened to the public on 14 March 2020. (Image credit: JAPAN RAIL CAFE)

 

Do not be deceived by the small size of the Yamanote Line when you view Tokyo’s railway map. It took me two full days to complete my adventure due to the sheer distance and area of exploration. I will list a must-have item if you wish to undertake the same adventure:

 

Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (Tokunai Pass)

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The Tokunai Pass, my life-saver! (Image credit: Endure Goh)

 

The Tokunai Pass (都区内パス) is a one-day pass that may be used for unlimited rides on local and rapid JR East Trains (excluding reserved seats) within the valid area. You can even board the Shinkansen between Tokyo (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki) and Shinagawa Station (品川駅 Shinagawa-eki)! The average cost of travelling from one station to another on the Yamanote Line is approximately ¥140. This pass was a life-saver as I could have unlimited rides on the Yamanote Line for a flat fee of ¥750 (Adult), which would have otherwise cost me at least ¥2,100 (15 stations) for one day of my adventure. This pass can be easily purchased at any of the major JR East stations and was the key item for my adventure.

 

Preparation aside, I will now share my adventure on the Yamanote Line!

 

Shibuya (JY20): The bustling district

(Image credit: LERK & Sunen / CC BY-SA 4.0 & Endure Goh)

 

From major apparel companies setting up a stronghold in the area and displaying the latest fashion craze, to the daily time sales that initiates skirmishes among shoppers to grab apparel of the best deals, it is no wonder Shibuya (渋谷) retains a strong image of a fashionable and youthful district.  

 

 

An ongoing protest against COVID-19. (Image credit: Endure Goh)

 

However, the vicinity around Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) is also one of the prominent places for protests and political campaigns. During my visit, I chanced upon an ongoing protest against the COVID-19 measures and curfews, denouncing COVID-19 as “a lie”.

 

Ebisu (JY21): The romantic district

(Image credit: LERK / CC BY-SA 4.0 & Endure Goh)

 

The next stop, Ebisu (恵比寿) is a popular dating spot for couples to spend a romantic evening. The architecture reminds me of the castle that appeared in Disney’s Cinderella. The plaza around Ebisu Station (恵比寿駅 Ebisu-eki) looks majestic in the day, and I can imagine why couples like to indulge in its magical atmosphere at night.

 

 

I will be back for you, Museum of Yebisu Beer! (Image credit: Endure Goh)

 

Romance aside, the Museum of Yebisu Beer (ヱビスビール記念館 Yebisubīru kinen-kan) is also located in the heart of the plaza. To my dismay, the museum was closed due to the then-state of emergency restrictions in Tokyo. However, I have marked this museum as my next place of visit once the COVID-19 situation stabalises.  

 

Meguro (JY22), Gotanda (JY23), Osaki (JY24): The office districts

(Image credit: LERK / CC BY-SA 4.0 & ykanazawa1999 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 & Endure Goh)

 

The next three stations—Meguro (目黒駅 Meguro-eki), Gotanda (五反田駅 Gotanda-eki), and Osaki (大崎駅 Ōsaki-eki)—are mainly business districts where buildings of various heights house company offices and corporate workers make their way back to workplaces or depart for their next business appointments.

 

(Image credit: LERK / CC BY-SA 4.0 & 柳田亮 / CC BY-SA 3.0 & Endure Goh)

 

Small shopping malls and retail arcades in these districts are likely catering to the needs of office workers in the vicinity. The atmosphere was strangely tense and my casual attire (t-shirt and shorts) definitely stuck out like a sore thumb in an ocean of suits and formalwear.

 

(Image credit: Cheng-en Cheng / CC BY-SA 2.0 & Endure Goh)

 

However, I felt more relaxed around Osaki Station where I saw greenery being incorporated into the office spaces. The beautiful landscaping added a touch of serenity and a relaxed atmosphere, allowing office workers in the area to unwind during their break.

 

Shinagawa (JY25): The transit district

Onwards to the Shinkansen! (Image credit: LERK & Mister0124 / CC BY-SA 4.0 & Endure Goh)

 

Shinagawa Station (品川駅 Shinagawa-eki) serves as a transport hub in the south of Central Tokyo as one of the biggest stations along the Yamanote Line, where numerous passengers transit or board the shinkansen. The walkway connecting to the shinkansen boarding area is huge and overflowing with commuters.

 

Shinagawa Station also features a major ekinaka (駅ナカ shopping complexes within train stations) for commuters to shop and dine in. Numerous shops also sell various souvenirs of Tokyo, targeting businessmen who need to make a last-minute purchase before departing via the shinkansen. In contrast to the casual atmosphere within the station, the vicinity outside the station is a quiet office district, consisting mostly of tall buildings with sleek, modern designs.

 

Takanawa Gateway (JY26): The future of train stations in Japan

The liberating design of Takanawa Gateway Station. (Image credit: JAPAN RAIL CAFE Tokyo & Endure Goh)

 

The latest addition to the Yamanote Line, Takanawa Gateway (高輪ゲートウェイ駅 Takanawa Gētowei-eki), is definitely the most modern station of the Yamanote Line. The station is rather deserted because major development around the station vicinity is still ongoing. I observed that there were several construction sites laying the foundation for upcoming mansion apartments and office buildings.

 

What differentiates Takanawa Gateway from other stations is the ‘openness’ of the area. The roof of the station is translucent, allowing natural light to filter through and brighten the place. Combined with the light, naturalistic colour scheme of the entire station, visitors can experience the pristine beauty of the station on a clear day.

 

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Need help? Pepper-kun to the rescue! (Image credit: Endure Goh)

 

The other differentiating factor is that the station is, for the most part, unmanned. I did not see any station staff during my short visit (or maybe I just couldn’t find them). Rather, the place was tended by Pepper, a child-sized humanoid robot with the capability to identify human emotions and engage in simple conversations. Several Pepper robots are deployed in the station to provide directions and answer the queries of passengers, serving as the replacement of station staff. I also had a seamless shopping experience at the unmanned convenience store nearby. 

 

Unmanned convenience store. The possible future of ekinaka? (Image credit: JAPAN RAIL CAFE Tokyo & Endure Goh)

 

I have a feeling that Takanawa Gateway currently functions like a preliminary site to evaluate the implementation of technology to create a futuristic train station to counter Japan’s demographic crisis. Should Takanawa Gateway prove to be a success, we could see similar stations across Japan in the future.

 

Tamachi (JY27): The trendy office district

(Image credit: LERK & SEIBU LINER / CC BY-SA 4.0 & Endure Goh)

 

The first thought that came to my mind when I alighted at Tamachi Station (田町駅 Tamachi-eki) was, “This feels familiar to the vicinity of Tanjong Pagar Station in Singapore”. Elaborate shopping malls and trendy shops were sandwiched strategically with office buildings in an orderly fashion, and I certainly felt more comfortable here than the office districts in Meguro and Gotanda.

 

Affordable meals were available for those with a lighter wallet while those who would like to reward themselves with culinary indulgence could do so at exquisite restaurants situated in the luxury shopping buildings.

 

Hamamatsucho (JY28): The “amusing” district

Guess shо̄ben kozо̄’s cosplay! Hint: It’s a character from Demon Slayer. (Image credit: LERK & Mister0124 / CC BY-SA 4.0 & Endure Goh)

 

I was most amused when I alighted at Hamamatsucho Station (浜松町駅). At the end of platform 3, there is a Peeing Boy Statue (小便小僧 shо̄ben kozо̄) which was donated by a dentist to commemorate the 80th year of railway operation in Japan. Visitors will never see this statue naked as a local volunteer group dresses the statue in a costume and changes the costume every month! The choice of the costume is influenced by major trends that occur in Japan. During my visit, the Peeing Boy Statue was dressed as one of the characters in an iconic anime series. You can view more amusing images of the statue online.

 

Overhead view of the Kyu Shiba-rikyu Gardens. (Image credit: Endure Goh)

 

Another major attraction nearby Hamamatsucho Station is the Kyu Shiba-rikyu Gardens (旧芝離宮恩賜庭園 Kyū Shiba-rikyū Onshiteien) which is one of the oldest surviving Japanese gardens owned by a feudal lord. The garden underwent a restoration project after the Great Kanto Earthquake and has a fascinating history. Unfortunately, the garden was closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is definitely a place I plan to visit in future.

 

Shimbashi (JY29): Transition to entertainment

(Image credit: LERK / CC BY-SA 4.0 & nesnad / CC BY 3.0 & Endure Goh)

 

Shimbashi Station (新橋駅) gives the impression of a transition stop where commuters will transit from the business districts to the entertainment districts of the Yamanote Line—vice versa if you are travelling in the soto-mawari (外回り clockwise) direction. There is a good mix of business and entertainment. It is also where I start to notice groups of youngsters and students roaming the streets in enjoyment amidst office workers on business appointments.

 

Stay in the loop...

E235 series. (Image credit: yagi-s / CC BY 2.0)

 

The stations featured here only cover one-third of the stations on the Yamanote Line. Stay tuned to the next part of this special to learn more about the entertainment and residential districts located on the Yamanote Line! 

 

Header image credit: yagi-s / CC BY 2.0

 

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