One of the best ways to get around Japan is by train. The Japanese train system is one of the most advanced in the world and it is very tourist-friendly. If you’re starting out your trip to Japan in Tokyo, the biggest, busiest city in the country, it’s a good idea to take the JR Yamanote line.

The circular line connects all metro lines in Tokyo city, making travelers easy to access to major city centers. The Japan Rail Pass is valid on the JR Yamanote Line, which makes your train journeys in Tokyo even budget-friendly. Please note you can use your PASMO or Suica IC card to pay train fare every time you use JR Yamanote Line. IC card is created to give smooth access to all lines in Tokyo.

What is the Yamanote Line?

Train on the Yamanote Line, Tokyo city. Photo Credit: Melv_L – MACASRFollow at Flickr.

The JR Yamanote Line is the most important train line in Tokyo. Named for the hilly part of central Tokyo, it connects all of Tokyo’s major center cities in a large circle, making travel easier in lively Tokyo. The whole circuit takes around an hour to complete. It’s one of the fastest ways to get around completely different parts of the city and many major sights are located near its 29 stations.

Trains depart the stations along the Yamanote Line every 2 to 4 minutes in either direction. If you are trying to make an event or meet up with someone, the Yamanote Line is a very reliable way to get where you need to go. The Yamanote trains operate continuously except for a three hour period in the middle of the night.

The train will bound for Shibuya. Photo Credit: neepster at Flickr.

Every train stops at every one of the 29 stations. Every train is around 200 meters long. While crowded, you should have no trouble finding room on one of these trains. Even if you can’t, the trains are so frequent that all you need to do is wait a few minutes for the next one.

You can get a one-day Tokyo Combination Ticket for 1590 yen for adult and 800 yen for a child. This ticket will let you on all central Tokyo JR lines to include the Yamanote Line. You can purchase these tickets at any ticket counter in any major JR station.

The stations along the Yamanote Line sit close to many important and interesting locations. Whether you want to go shopping, see historic shrines, or get to the airport (required transfer), the Yamanote Line has stations that take you to where you want to be.

Major Train Stations along the Yamanote Line:

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of the top hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Kakidai at Wikimedia Commons.

1. Shinjuku Station

This is the busiest train station in Japan. Shinjuku Stations sits right in the middle of the Shinjuku district, a great location for business, entertainment, and shopping. There are also a number of suburban train lines that converge here, making it a good place to transfer to your next train to the outer areas of the city.

Major Attractions to visit are Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Hanazono Shrine, Kabukicho, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory, Omoide Yokocho, and Robot Restaurant.

2. Harajuku Station

Situated in the Harajuku District, an entertainment and shopping district popular with a younger crowd, especially teens. The crowd here is very diverse and interesting, including cosplayers and fashionable young people. The Meiji Jingu Shrine, famous Takeshita Dori (Takeshita street) and green Yoyogi Park are also nearby. The station itself is more than 100 years old and has kept its Edwardian architecture.

JR Yamanote Line Map, Tokyo City, Japan.

3. Shibuya Station

Shibuya district is busy, with plenty of shopping and business bustling throughout the area and visitors coming and going constantly through the station. There are many youth-oriented fashion shops here, as well as popular music venues, including pubs, bars, and karaoke parlors. One of the more famous sights is a statue of a dog named Hachiko, an Akita famous for meeting his owner every evening at the station as he came home, even after his owner passed away. The station is undergoing a large construction project.

4. Shinagawa Station

At this station you can find platforms for the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train, turning it into a major hub. There are a number of shops, hotels, and office towers in the surrounding area. This station is the closest one of Sengakuji Temple.

Tokyo Station at Night, Tokyo City, Japan. Photo Credit: bethom33 at Flickr.

5. Tokyo Station

This station is the symbolic origin point for railways in Japan. Many, many train lines converge here and visitors going to Tokyo Disneyland should take JR Yamanote Line here then take the Keiyo Line to their magical destination. The station has recently been renovated and its spectacular Victorian architecture is a sight to see itself. It sits right outside the Imperial Palace and Marunouchi business district, one of the most expensive places to live in Japan.

6. Akhibara Station

Akhibara station sits in the middle of Akihabara Eclectic Town. This unique area is a shopping center for electronics and geek (otaku) retailers. It grew out of post-war black markets and is today home to some very advanced electronics. Major electronics retailers have outlets in the area. There’s nowhere else in the world like Akihabara Electric Town.

A high speed train at Keisei Ueno Station. Photo Credit: Wei-Te Wong at Flickr.

7. Ueno Station

Trains to northern Japan stop here. It also links to Narita International Airport via the Keisei Skyliner, making this station an important stop for those traveling to and from the country. Next door to the station, you’ll find Ueno Park and the Ameyoko shopping district. You can visit many of Japan’s most famous museum at Ueno Park, including the National Museum of Western Art and Tokyo National Museum. It’s also home to Ueno Zoo and a number of cherry trees.

Read about the Top Hanami Spots in Tokyo.

8. Ikebukuro Station

Located in Toshima Ward on the northwestern portion of the Yamanote Line, Ikebukuro Station is one of the busiest train stations in the world. It is a major transportation and shopping center. You can find outlets from just about every major retailer in Japan in the area, as well as the Sunshine City mall complex, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space.

Yamanote Line Travel Tips

Yamanote Line is the most important train in Tokyo city. Photo Credit: Luca Mascaro.

As with any train trip in an unfamiliar area, plan ahead when taking the Jr Yamanote Line. There are a few quirks about this train line due to the fact that it is situated in the midst of one of the busiest cities in the world. Here are some useful things to keep in mind when traveling on the JR Yamanote Line:

1. Most of the trains make a complete loop around the Yamanote Line circle, but a few trains will terminate at Ikebukuro Station or Osaki Station.

2. All the trains are frequent and reliable. The morning rush is from 7:00 to 9:30 AM and trains are jam-packed during these hours as locals make their morning commute.

3. The evening rush is from 5:00 to 8:00 PM and is not as bad, though still more crowded than during the day.

4. Trains become less frequent during early morning hours, so be patient if you’re headed back in after a night out.

Finally, The JR Yamanote Line offers the best way to get around Tokyo without having to drive yourself anywhere. Where it does not take you directly, it can take you to a station where you can easily catch a train to your destination.