It was a few weeks to go until the start of another spring term when the idea struck me. Travelling around Tokyo on Yamanote Line. It would not be my first time going one full loop on the lime green-coloured line, though, since I sometimes spent one hour sleeping on the train as it circled the metropolitan area. But this time I wanted to get off at every station and have a look at the surrounding areas, especially the northern part of the city I rarely visited. I planned to start at the Tokyo Station, but then changed my mind in the last minute. Tokyo was to be the finish line and I would start from the neighbouring Kanda Station, taking the uchimawari anti-clockwise route.
Asakusa may be the most well-preserved–and most famous–Tokyo “shitamachi”. But the Yamanote Line stations listed below are also situated in areas that are part of the shitamachi, where the atmosphere of old Tokyo and traditional Japan still remains.
Kanda Myojin, a Shinto shrine, is actually much easier to reach from Ochanomizu Station (both JR and Tokyo Metro). It is also closer to Yamanote Line’s Akihabara Station than Kanda. It is where the famous biennial Kanda Matsuri (Kanda Festival) takes place. Located just opposite the Kanda Myojin complex is Yushima Seidô, a Confucian Shrine, home to the world’s tallest Confucius’s statue.
Across the Kanda River, on the southern side of JR Ochanomizu Station, there is the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, the main cathedral of the Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan. The Japanese often refer to it as Nikolai-dô.
It was my first time exploring the area. When visiting the nearby Tokyo YWCA I always used the Ochanomizu Station’s West Exit and never bothered about the other one. So it was quite a discovery!
Akihabara: electric town, otaku mecca. However, a touch of ancient Tokyo still remains in the form of Manseibashi (Mansei Bridge).
By the time I arrived in Japan to live there, I was no longer an avid fan of manga and anime, so Akihabara was not really a thing for me. More often than not I went there with friends who came to visit me in Tokyo.
Ameya Yokocho–or mostly referred to as Ameyoko–is a place where you can find almost anything, from jeans to seafood, stationery to discount beauty products. In a less bustling area, about 500 metres west of Okachimachi Station, stands Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin, a Shinto shrine popular among test-takers to pray for “gôkaku”. The shrine is also home to the Ume Matsuri (Plum Festival).
While Ameyoko was not new to me, I had so much fun exploring the market more thoroughly. I had sashimi rice bowl for dinner at one of the food stalls; but the salmon and tuna were not so fresh anymore, probably because it was already night.
What else but the vast Ueno Park (one of the top hanami spots in the city) with its museums and Ueno Zoo. And speaking of Ueno Zoo…what else but the pandas? As I did not go inside the zoo, these panda-yaki would do!
Despite its location in the other side of the town, I loved visiting Ueno Park sometimes, either to transfer to get to Asakusa or to just take a stroll in the park. The museums were great and the park itself was never boring. It was also one of the places I went to on my first week living in Tokyo.
The least busy Yamanote Line station is situated in a residential area. There is a Tokyo Designated Cultural Heritage site called “Shikian” between Uguisudani and Nippori Stations. It was the residence of Meiji-era poet Masaoka Shiki, whom many say the founding father of haiku and tanka.
I walked from Tokyo National Museum to the station; it was pretty close. But apart from that I did not see anything interesting around.
There is a small shopping street with “old Tokyo” atmosphere called Yanaka Ginza on the west side of the station. If you are interested in something different, the large Yanaka Cemetery is a minute away from the South Gate. Its sakura trees are very beautiful in spring.
I used to come here only to transfer to/from Keisei Line to pick up or send off family members and friends at the Narita Airport. I was glad this trip took me out of the station; otherwise, I would have never discovered its interesting neighbourhood!
If you follow the narrow, one-way street between Nippori and Nishi-Nippori Stations, to the right-hand side there is a complex of temples and shrines surrounded by lush trees, from where you can see the train tracks running below. Just before the entrance to the complex, on the left-hand side of the street, is the arguably most popular spot in the area: Fujimizaka, or Fuji-view slope. Mount Fuji can be seen from here on clear days. I was not lucky.
On a different trip to the area, I went to Nezu Jinja in Nezu, two stations away from Nishi-Nippori on the Chiyoda Line (Tokyo Metro). The Shinto shrine is well-known for its beautiful tsutsuji (azalea) shrubs, and it has got a shorter version of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine’s “senbon torii” (thousand torii gates).
Railway buffs may want to see JR East’s Tabata Switchyard, located north of the station. There is also a shop near the South Gate called “Express Shop Hayate” which sells JR goodies. The shop may be small, but wait till you get inside! Another attraction near the station is Togakuji Buddhist Temple, about 300 metres south of the North Gate. It is home to the twin statue of Akagami Nio (red paper “Nio” deities) and kigan prayer plates in the shape of zori straw sandals!
Tabata was the fifth station and last stop of one of the trip’s leg that began at Ueno. The area I visited on that day was situated on the hilly part of Tokyo. It was a tiring leg, but I had so much fun discovering many new things.
A major attraction in the area is the beautiful Rikugien Garden. It is one of the popular spots for hanami and has interesting stone path in some parts of the garden. There is a smaller garden called Kyu-Furukawa Teien north of the station.
The young and young at heart can have Harajuku for themselves, but in Sugamo grandma rules! Dubbed “Granny’s Harajuku”, the most popular part of the area is Jizo-dori Shopping Street, home to statues of illness-curing deities and “rejuvenating” red-coloured stuff, including red pants! The street is also lined with street vendors and small restaurants serving traditional, “Old Tokyo” food items.
This place was great! It made a great closing to the trip around the northern part of Central Tokyo. I got to try a couple of Old Tokyo delicacies including Kanda-native “obanyaki”, cheese-flavoured. I would love to come here again someday.
Otsuka Station is also part of the Toden Arakawa tram line that runs along the northern outskirts of Central Tokyo with one end in Waseda in the northwest.
To be honest, I did not find many interesting things in the area. What I always remembered about Otsuka was the view of the city as the train took a corner before entering or after leaving neighbouring Ikebukuro Station.