Riding the Yamanote Line in Tokyo

Yamanote line in Tokyo

The Yamanote Line probably has the most crowded trains in Tokyo during rush hours. Yes, rush hours because Tokyo has several in the morning and evening. The beauty of The Yamanote Line is that a train comes about every 2-3 minutes during these times and there is never an interval of about 5 minutes even during off peak times. Kudos to the train drivers, they epitomize being efficient.

Yamanote Line, Tokyo

Popular Tourist Stops on The Yamanote Line

ShibuyaShinjukuHarajuku and Akihabara are the most popular stops for tourists on this train line. It also serves some of the business hubs around Tokyo hence why it is super crammed in peak hrs (7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.- 9 p.m or later especially on Friday nights).

I transition at Shibuya station daily and I notice that it is quite the pull for tourists. Everybody stands and looks out on the Shibuya Crossing in awe while trying to capture the best shot or video of a sea of people moving in synchrony. It is quite a marvel to behold but after seeing it and being apart of the mass, i have lost my sense of wonder. I am the person scurrying by to get away from the crush.

You can get to Shinjuku in 10 minutes from Shibuya and you can pretty much sit on The Yamanote Line for a full loop and see some interesting scenery around the belly of Tokyo. I don’t know if many visitors do this but it is something to do for 90 minutes as you people watch as well.

Shin Okubo is one of my favourite stops on the line. It is great for eating some good Korean food and checking out the supermarkets for all kinds of products that the mainstream supermarkets might not carry. This is a nice slice of Korea in Tokyo, so check it out when you visit. It is a nice walk from Shinjuku as well.

If you are visiting Japan for more than a week get the JR pass. It is so very cost effective and you will be able to ride around Tokyo on the Yamanote Line and check out some of the lesser stops. Just get off the train and wander around NipporiUeno and Tokyo stops on the line.

Yamanote line, Tokyo

Advice for Travelling on The Yamanote Line with Luggage in Peak Hours

There are more and more tourists visiting Tokyo and many of them will take the Yamanote Line at some point. It intersects with the trains that go to both Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. It is quite the culture shock to try to get on or off with luggage during peak hours because even sardine cans have more room than the trains. Here are my tips:

  • If there are more than two of you travelling, separate into different cars of the train. If you are going from Shinagawa station to Ebisu for example you could team up and get a taxi which may be less hassle. Check how far apart the station you want to get to before committing to getting on Yamanote in rush hour just to save a few bucks.
  • If you get there and there is a long line wait for the next train. It comes in 2-3 minutes as I said above. Many times a relatively empty train follows a jam packed one even in rush hour.
  • Don’t stand in the path of the door with your luggage, try to get into one of the corners of the train because people will push you to get in and out.
  • Don’t go on the cars that are nearest to the stairs/escalators since most people go for these.
  • If it is first time here in Tokyo and catching the train, watch what others do and imitate them.

Ideally, you shouldn’t be travelling on the train in peak hour with loads of luggage. This is seriously annoying for other commuters since space is at a premium. Most people with many luggages ship them to and from the airport to avoid taking up too much space. If possible try to arrive in the day time where there are far less people on this line.

The Empty Train Seat Beside the Foreigner

This is a thing and it happens even on the Yamanote Line. This morning I had this experience, one I haven’t had in a while because I don’t often get a seat on this line. So there I was riding in a car at a not so busy period. I got on at Ikebukuro and there was a lovely seat between me and another person. I watched many an individual run on to the train and dash towards the seat only to draw up and restrain himself or herself when they saw my ‘foreigness’. I had to bust out a laugh at one poor lady who almost fell into the seat who then pretended to stand upright and occupy herself with her phone. She must have heard my snickers because she rushed to the next car and promptly sat in a priority seat. Read here for more about this wonderful aspect of Japanese hospitality on the trains.

I am keeping it real. brace yourself because sometimes this train is boiling hot in winter with the heater and crush of people. Oh yes, in cold season people may sneeze and cough on you and the like. The strangest phenomenon comes from those who wear a mask then pulls it down to shower us with their bacteria/virus as they sneeze – good times. In the heat of summer, the Yamanote Line can be down right frigid so keep a light cardigan and again brace for the muskiness of those not acquainted with deodorant at these times. I feel like every season brings a whole new adventure on this line.

Yamanote Line, Tokyo

Final Thoughts

The stop for the Olympic stadium for the 2020 Olympics will be on The Yamanote Line it seems. The name of the station has not been decided yet. It will be interesting to see how this train handles the additional crowds associated with the Olympics. Exciting times ahead.

While The Yamanote Line is convenient for many places there may be train lines that can get you to some points quicker. For example, even though  The Saikyo Line and The Shonan Shinjuku Line may not run as frequently as The Yamanote Line they may be worth checking out. You can get to Ikebukuro from Shibuya faster on these lines for example. Taking some of the metro lines are also quicker but are not covered with the JR pass.

Riding on The Yamanote Line is an experience itself and dare I suggest you trying it out in rush hour to get a feel of this unique Tokyo experience. If you really want to try this go for the last train on a Friday night. It ain’t for the fainthearted.

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2 Comments

  1. I love this article so much!!! It brought back my childhood memories of riding the yamanote line. You described it perfectly as a foreigner!!!

    1. Thanks, I took Yamanote everyday for the last 3 years it feels like and have much insight. I just moved to avoid it haha.

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