JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo
The Unavoidable Train Line in Tokyo
Yamanote is a train line in Tokyo operated by the Japan Railways East company. Its circular outline defines the natural center of the capital and serves 30 stations, including the large Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno, and Ikebukuro stations. It is one of the most frequented train lines of the city and a must for sightseeing.
With its oval track that serves central Tokyo's main districts, the JR Yamanote train 🚅 line is of a great convenience, undoubtedly the quality that makes its success. When traveling in the Japanese capital, it would be surprising if you didn't ride it at some point.
The Yamanote line was built in several successive stages. Inaugurated in 1885 with the Shinagawa-Akabane section from south to north, it was completed in 1903 with the Toshima line (Ikebukuro-Tabata), connected in 1909, before closing the loop in 1925 with Kanda-Ueno and Tokyo-Nakano sections. With its 34,5 kilometers / 21,4 miles long, it grips the heart of Tokyo as its rail belt. It takes a little over an hour to make the complete circuit, which stretches over 12km / 7.8mi in a north-south direction and half in the east-west direction. The video below shows the entire loop, starting at Ueno station:
Thirty stations and as many vibes
To date, the Yamanote Line has 30 stations and as many hot spots, each of them also characterized by their own little jingle sounds. Clockwise, it goes like this:
- Takanawa Gateway (opened in 2020)
- and lastly Nishi-Nippori (the penultimate station added in 1971).
Here's the complete Tokyo Yamanote line map:
The thirtieth station was added in view of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games 🏅, nearly half a century after the latest addition. It was temporarily named "Shinagawa Shin-eki" ("New Shinagawa Station") and its operator JR East set up an online survey to find its final name in June 2018. The results were announced in early December: the station’s official name is Takanawa Gateway (despite being 130th, the most frequent entry being simply "Takanawa").
The new station is built between Shinagawa and Tamachi, south of Tokyo center, to eventually reach Haneda Airport even faster. Note that this stretch was so far the longest of the Yamanote with 2,2 kilometers between the two stations. Work began in spring 🌸 of 2015 and ended five years later (pictures of the ongoing works in August 2018), with an opening on 2020, March 14, on the White Day. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was in charge of the station’s design.
Each of the connected district has its own strong identity that reinforces the image of the Japanese capital's thousand faces, crossed by the green-strips steel trains of the Yamanote Line. The most famous are, for example, Shinjuku’s nightlife, shopping at Shibuya, the otaku tones of Akihabara, fashion in Harajuku, the Korean town of Shin-Okubo and the business center of Tokyo station.
The Yamanote Line often proves very convenient for sightseeing in these flagship districts. No wonder other Japanese cities were inspired by it, starting with the famous Loop Line in Osaka. In the same way, the Yamanote is not a subway 🚇 line but truly an outdoor circular train line. There are two directions of rotation:
- 外回り sotomawari (clockwise), and,
- 内回り uchimawari (counterclockwise).
As convenient as it is, the Yamanote Line should not become the alpha and omega of getting around the city. JR has other train lines that cross the great Tokyo and can be as useful depending on the ride, starting with the Chuo / Sobu Lines. And we don't even mention countless private train and subway companies. In addition, some well-known neighborhoods are not served by the Yamanote such as Roppongi, Asakusa, Odaiba, Ginza or Chiyoda. Even if they are never far away, do not hesitate to get out of this intramural it creates and to which Tokyo is certainly not limited.
Very specific trains
Each of the 51 trains running on the Yamanote Line spans over 200 meters long. And for good reason, since it is Tokyo's busiest line with 3,55 million passengers per day in 2005. Thus, although longitudinal seats facilitate optimal filling, sometimes stations' gloved pushers give a helping hand during the morning rush hour to get everyone inside. The loop timetable only pauses during the night for exactly three hours and ten minutes to perform a maintenance which guarantees a clean and optimal service quality. In view of the 2020 Olympic Games, rumors had it that the Yamanote could run 24/24. However, a March 2019 announcement just stated that the train service would end 30 minutes earlier, around half past midnight.
Because of their 2 to 4 minutes rotation frequency, these trains have no room for error. In a well-organized Japanese railway engineering where every train stops at every station, suicides are dreaded events that can jam the entire ballet. Therefore, since 2008, all platforms are protected by automatic gates to avoid any such event, and if they happen the whole unlocking process takes only about ten minutes. Then, JR East produces an apology on its website, that the apparently impassive salarymen can provide if they are late to work.
In a press conference reported by the Asahi Shinbun on 2015, October 13, East Japan Railways presented the new trains to run on the Yamanote (the 11 cars 🚙 E235 series) which had not been upgraded since 2002. They were put into circulation starting on November 30 of the same year. Among the main upgrades, are noteworthy:
- 28 screens for information and advertisement instead of 8 (they were also enlarged from 17 to 21,5 inches);
- 26 paper advertisements instead of 82, hanging from the ceiling (on 6 designated places) and pasted to the walls.
Those changes are introduced in the following video:
In 2016, from August 1 to September 15, a special train was operated on the Yamanote (with 11 carriages decorated like track fields) to encourage the Japanese team during Rio’s Olympic Games.
In April 2018, JR East announced that security cameras 📷 would be installed in every train of the Yamanote, in view of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The implementation of automatic trains is scheduled by 2028 and tests in real life situation are performed since October 2022.
For the nostalgic or curious, this Yamanote Tumblr offers, among other things, many of the line's characteristic music jingles.