Hidden Gems on the JR Yamanote Line

Hidden Gems on the JR Yamanote Line

Underground spots on Tokyo’s most famous overground rail line


tokyo, japan - december 06 2020: Japanese Uber Eats delivery boy on a bicycle waiting that a Japan Railway train passing over the level crossing of Yamanote line called Nakazato railroad crossing II.

A perpetual motion of rail convenience, Tokyo’s famed JR Yamanote Line runs through 30 stations providing access to work, home and entertainment for up to 5 million commuters each day. Little known to many visitors though, lie a swathe of nook-and-cranny locations best known to the locals. From cafes to confectionery and shrines to shopping, here are some secret spots along Tokyo’s most well-known rail line.

JY1 Tokyo
Spaciously elegant, Kaiteki Cafe offers up quality fare in a stylish setting a short stroll from the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Its lunchtime vege plate is a gorgeous array of flavored color while their evening ambience strikes the right chord for a casual Tokyo night.

JY2 Kanda
Pancake-like dorayaki are a popular treat and few do them as delightfully as Dorayaki Kitera. Fluffier than usual, the dorayaki here are filled with sweet azuki red-bean paste and, depending on the season, flavors like strawberry and cherry blossom can also bloom.

Image courtesy of townstory.shop

JY3 Akihabara
Plenty of Japanese manga appeal but for those with a taste for American comics, Blister is the place to be. Collector editions, recent back issues and trade paperbacks are all available and supported by enough English to strike up a decent comic conversation.

JY4 Okachimachi
Immersed in depth, the chicken-based broth of Toribushi Halal Ramen is a dream to eat. Prepared with purpose, the smooth, mild tastes are a boon for Muslim patrons while the chicken gyoza dumplings add even more variety to the menu. 

JY5 Ueno
Sitting right by the famous Ueno Zoo, Shin-Uguisu Tei is a traditionally-minded Japanese confectionery restaurant that has been serving up daily delights for over a century. Their speciality is a deliciously refreshing tray of handmade uguisu dango, colored mochi and green tea.

JY6 Uguisudani
Dedicated to a witty ninth century scholar, the leafy Ono Terusaki shrine is home to an 18th century fujizuka mound. Guarded by stone monkeys, this six-meter Mt Fuji replica was built with stones from the mountain, and it is open to the public for two days at the end of June. 

JY7 Nippori
Over 90 stores celebrate Japan’s gorgeous fabrics and textiles culture along the shopping street of Nippori Fabric Town. Mainstays like Mihama and Tsukiyasu are famed for their accessible Japanese designs while its seven stores make Tomato an obvious behemoth. 

JY8 Nishi-Nippori
Along with bullet train views over the tracks, the Jizo Stairs lead to Jokoji Temple. Right by its gate can be found a couple of registered Cultural Properties of the city, seated and standing Jizo copper statues from the late 17th and 19th centuries.

JY9 Tabata
A haven for personality-laden art, Wish Less adores the fun, the quirky and above all, the independent. The brainchild of British and Japanese artists, this combined studio and gallery features regular exhibitions and has been promoting local and international artists since 2012.

J10 Komagome
One of the top research centers in the world, Toyo Bunko Museum is a treasure trove of Asian antiquities and literature. The museum features overwhelming floor-to-ceiling shelving that houses a million books including National Treasures and Cultural Properties.

J11 Sugamo
Retro is never outdated at Sugamo Jizodori Shopping Street. Affectionately known as Grandma’s Harajuku, this 800-meter-long traditional shopping street is famous for its red underwear, shio-daifuku pounded rice cakes and Arai Kannon, the all-healing statue of Kogan Temple.

J12 Otsuka
Rice balls are the main attraction at Onigiri Bongo, possibly the most popular store in the universe. Patrons have been known to wait over two hours for a taste of handmade heaven. Their top 10 toppings include sujiko marinated salmon roe, rannou egg yolk and pork kimchi.

J13 Ikebukuro
A little hole-in-the-wall in the heart of the city, Shinjuku Tsubakian are masters of handmade taiyaki cakes. Always in demand, these fish-shaped delicacies not only come filled with classical sweet red bean paste, but also custard, sweet potato and cheese.

J14 Mejiro
The Sakaki-dan stone altar was handbuilt by Japan’s “last samurai,” General Nogi. Over half of its stones were collected from the far-flung borders of the early Japanese empire and its sacred Shinto sakaki tree is a second generation planting, the original having been planted by the general himself. 

J15 Takadanobaba
The soundscape of the station is dominated by the musical theme from the famous anime Astro Boy. The adorable theme continues below the platforms with huge floor-to-ceiling murals of characters from the creator of Astro Boy, the legendary manga artist, Osamu Tezuka.

J16 Shin-Okubo
Slipping in between the crush for Korean cuisine and culture, Shin-Okubo’s melting pot of Asian cultures runs the gastronomical gamut. Flavors range from the robust tastes of Hisar, a father and son-run Turkish cafe, to Mi-chan, a Vietnamese restaurant loved for its karaoke bar and beef pho noodles.

J17 Shinjuku
Even entertainment heavyweight Shinjuku has its quiet spots. Hanazono Shrine, founded in the old Edo-period, is dedicated to fertility and success. Though considered a respite from the outside world, the Sunday flea market and an annual calendar filled with festivals and ceremonies keeps things lively. 

J18 Yoyogi
Dubbed the world’s smallest toy store, Cafe & Dine In Nope is a retro toy-themed cafe flavored with milkshakes, meals and movie magic. Boasting Star Wars X-Wings hovering from the ceiling to Wonder Woman soft drink glasses, the cafe is a unique labor of love.  

J19 Harajuku
In contrast to its nearby cousin, Takeshita Street, Brahm’s Path is a tiny slice of relaxed silence. Named after famed composer Johannes Brahm whose bust features, this hidden pathway leads visitors to boutique stores and dining.

J20 Shibuya
Sneaking past the wild energy of this famous neighborhood sits the ever relaxing Nabeshima Shoto Park. A one-time shogunate family residence, the park’s pond, rustic watermill and children’s play area make it a surprising respite from the neon-world surrounding it.

Image courtesy of feamag.com

J21 Ebisu
Udon Yamacho may be a trick to find but it is well worth the effort. Specialising in both thick and thin noodles, the firm texture of their udon and their rich dashi soup stock combine to make Udon Yamacho a definite neighborhood treasure.

J22 Meguro
A wedding hall-come-hotel and function centre, Meguro Gajoen houses one of Tokyo’s most jaw-dropping displays of Showa-era opulence. The highlight is the famous Hyakudan Kaidan 100 Steps, a registered Cultural Property connecting seven function rooms decorated with Edo-styled frescoes and even a waterfall.

J23 Gotanda
Soba Gotan pairs the rustic flavor of fresh buckwheat noodles with authentically brewed Japanese sake. A drinks bar makes it easy to sample Japan’s famous rice wines while the variety of dishes includes ‘simple’ noodles to seasonally prepared tempura toppings.  


J24 Osaki
A satisfying stream of regulars justifies The Shannons’ status as one of the most welcoming Irish pubs in Tokyo. Handmade lunches, a solid selection of drinks and regular live music all combine for a comfortably cosy atmosphere. 

J25 Shinagawa
Like a relic from a bygone age, Takayama Inari shrine finds itself tucked away amidst the area’s bustling modernity. Despite its small size, ancient appearance and big city location, the shrine exudes an otherworldly vibe. The ho-ou firebird carvings below the shrine awning are impressive.

J26 Takanawa Gateway
A location where the station itself is the destination, Takanawa Gateway’s high-tech features stem from classical Japanese design elements, all conceived by famed architect Kengo Kuma. Solar panels, cleaning robots, an AI-run convenience store and origami-inspired tent roofing makes this station a traditionally modern wonder. 

J27 Tamachi
The signature demi-glace sauces are a dream at Bistro Roven. Cozy, comfortable and full of care, this small but exceedingly personable restaurant has been offering French flavors for over a decade and comes with a full selection of wines to choose from. 


J28 Hamamatsucho
The beautiful Edo-period Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden is an obvious destination. But before leaving the station, head to Platform Four for the famous Shobenkozo. With his clothes changed monthly, this little statue of a boy monk urinating has become the area’s unofficial mascot. 

J29 Shimbashi
Some serious sushi can be had at Tachigui Sushi Akira. A classic standing room only sushi bar, the rice here is seasoned the traditional way using akazu red vinegar. The slightly darker color is not only sweet but balances perfectly with the fresh toppings.

J30 Yurakucho
A recent edition to the local culinary scene, Truffle Mini delights in its focus on fresh European-styled breads infused with truffle. Their slightly toasted salted rolls are a popular crowd pleaser but the truffle egg sandwich is their official best seller.