A Guide to Every Tokyo Neighborhood on the JR Yamanote Loop Line
The sheer size of Tokyo can be intimidating. After living there for more than three years, I was just starting to familiarize myself with the different areas of the city. If you’re visiting Tokyo and want to get information on where to stay, or a local looking for new haunts, hopefully my guide will be able to help.
Before starting, I want to make it clear that this isn’t every Tokyo neighborhood. In fact, a majority of these stops are so close together that many times two different stops are considered to be within the same neighborhood. But, at the same time, a lot of neighborhoods reside within the same ward which can get confusing.
If you’re looking to book a hotel or Airbnb, hopefully this neighborhood guide can provide some clarity when you’re deciding where to stay. Know this, though: there are no bad neighborhoods in Tokyo. Some may be less savory than others, but there is nowhere you can stay that you will be in danger or a dangerous situation.
Instead, you should focus on what you want to do in the city. Stay somewhere nearby or central to a lot of things you want to do, or somewhere that’s a great transportation hub to get to where you want to go. Or, if you’re looking to enjoy the nightlife, choose somewhere that you’ll be in the heart of it all—and you just have to stumble a few minutes back to where you’re staying rather than endure a drunken taxi or train ride.
What is the Tokyo Loop?
Rather, I’m organizing this by stops on the JR Loop Line (in Japanese: Yamanote Sen / 山手線). One of the many train lines and train companies, the Loop is one of the most iconic and easiest to navigate. It comes every few minutes, so you don’t need to worry if you miss one train because the next one will be there shortly.
The line runs in either a “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” direction. If you get on going the wrong direction and don’t want to get off, because it’s a loop, you’ll eventually end up at your destination no matter what. It’s practically foolproof.
The Loop also hits a lot of the big tourist sights in Tokyo—Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, etc. so it’s a great line to stay near if you plan to see a lot of the city. (However, sometimes the subway is more convenient than the Loop, but that’s for another time.)
There are 29 stations on the Yamanote Loop. That’s a lot of choices. I’ll only be talking about the general information about each station so you can get a great overview of each stop.
Officially, trains start and stop at Osaki Station, so we’ll start there by neighborhood, and go in a counterclockwise direction:
Don’t get this mixed up with Osaka, a huge city down south in Japan. You don’t want to book an Airbnb at a great rate (sign up through my referral link to get $40+ in credit), thinking you’re going to Osaka, when in fact you booked one in the commercial district of Osaki.
Many companies have their headquarters located here. It makes the skyline nice because of the tall buildings and corporations, but it’s nothing that can’t be seen in any major city.
Most people don’t go to Shinagawa to make a day of it. It’s a huge station but that’s because it’s a big hub out of Tokyo. A lot of lines going south to Yokohama stop here, it’s a bullet train stop, and you can get to Narita Airport with the NEX from here too.
There’s a few shopping malls near the station if you have a “layover” here. Outside of the station, there’s a lot of buildings and hotels, usually for business conferences held in the area. It’s a pretty boring area but useful.
Technically, this station isn’t even open yet. It’s slated to be opened in 2020. Everyone wasn’t thrilled when the name was announced. This image reimagining all Loop stops with English-katakana names is my favorite reaction to it.
This station flies under the radar because it’s a quiet, primarily residential neighborhood. There are some satellite universities there, including a branch of Temple University and one of Keio University.
There’s not much to see here but if you ever end up this way, try some soba. It’s a pretty popular dish!
Much like its Yamanote Loop neighbors, Hamamatsucho is also a commercial district. This means there are always a lot of people in the area.
If you’re tired of seeing skyscrapers and concrete, be sure to stop by one of its gardens. Hamamatsucho boasts both the Hamarikyu Gardens and Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens. Both have amazing flora and are particularly beautiful in spring when the plants come back to life. The architecture makes them visitable year-round, though!
Because there are a lot of businesses in this downtown area, it’s a hotspot for Japanese salarymen. It’s bustling and lively, but… with salarymen. Which means there’s a lot of fast food places, izakaya restaurants, and hotels.
There’s a lot to do here and you can see an integral but often overlooked aspect of Japanese culture: work culture. Pop into any izakaya (there are too many to name and they are cheap!) to see it for yourself.
If not for my side hustle in Shimbashi, I wouldn’t have spent much time in Yurakucho. Now it’s one of my favorite areas to drink and have fun. Because there’s so much to do here, you’ll find a wide range of ages and walks of life here.
Go shopping, check out Hibiya Park, eat at a food stall, walk down one of the aesthetic alleyways, see a theater performance or movie… You can do all this and more in this hustling and bustling little area.
For a station named after the actual city, you’d expect everything to center around Tokyo Station. And while it’s the most central of the stations in the city, that doesn’t mean it’s the busiest or most exciting or even the most practical station to center your trip around.
Because it’s so close to the Imperial Palace East Garden, there’s not a lot of houses. The station’s architecture is beautiful, though, and it’s worth it to stick around in the evening to see it lit up.
Kanda Station is a typical in-between station for two large ones. It bridges Tokyo and Akihabara together, transitioning nicely from a more reserved area into another bright city mecca. You can find a lot of shops and businesses nearby.
Recently, there have been a lot of hostels opening up in Kanda. You can get a good feel for the Japanese salaryman life here and you’ll often see coworkers out and about at the restaurants and izakayas in the area.
Any anime and manga loving person knows what Akihabara is. If you’re not in the loop, it’s the central place to find anime figures, posters, DVDs, and whatever other kind of merchandise you’re looking for. No matter how obscure the series is, if you search hard enough you’ll find it. There are also a lot of game centers here.
On the other side of the station is the electronics area. Back in the day, this is where you could go to get just about any part you were looking for. Now, the DIY shops are replaced with bigger technology stores that sell all sorts of cool gadgets.
A lot of Japan geek culture was centered here, but a lot of that has moved to Ikebukuro Station now. Instead, you can find a lot of what people expect to see like maid cafes, but also a lot of interesting places like third wave coffee joints. There are still manga cafes aplenty though, so don’t worry about that!
Exiting Okachimachi Station takes you smack dab in the middle of Ameyoko, one of the most famous shopping streets in all of Japan. There are also lots of department stores and food chains (and local places) to check out here.
After the shops close for the evening (minus the bars that may remain open) there’s not as much to do here and it can get kind of sketchy just because there’s a lot of bars and drunk people (why else would you be in Ameyoko after the clothing stores closed?) in a small area.
Ueno Station is large and quite crowded. But, its also very conveniently linked to many other train lines, and based around Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo. There’s also a lot of shopping in the area. Try exploring one of the many side streets and checking out the goods there. If you head down the shopping street Ameyoko, be careful of the touts.
You’ll be pressed to find good accommodation right next to the JR Station, but once you get a few blocks away it’s possible. I recommend this anyway, because the station and its surrounding areas can be crazy at times, especially when there’s a new baby panda at Ueno Zoo, or when the cherry blossoms are blooming at Ueno Park.
A tiny, very quiet residential station. There’s not much here and no night life, but it’s a good spot for cheap rooms (hotel and long-term stay). According to some locals, the general area is frequented by some seedy characters.
Nippori Station has a lot to offer. You may see that the platforms are crowded, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s getting off at Nippori to explore the neighborhood. It’s a popular transportation hub.
If you do decide to exit the station, depending on which exit you choose, you can be taken to Yanaka Cemetery or the Textile District. Yanaka Cemetery is gorgeous and is the final resting place of many important Japanese dignitaries and Westerners. It’s also an underrated cherry blossom viewing spot.
If you’re into fabrics and sewing, Nippori’s textile shops will impress you with their wide selection and cheap prices.
Nishi-Nippori, literally South Nippori, is the quieter counterpart to its neighbor Nippori. (That sentence sure is a mouthful.) If you’re looking to escape the city and see some of the residential life of Tokyo, this is the stop for you. If not, while its charming in its own way, it doesn’t offer anything particularly unique.
Historically, Tabata Station was a hub for literary and artistic expression. Nearby is the Tokyo University of the Arts as well as the Memorial Museum of Writers and Artists. Both cultivate and encourage a new generation of artists.
Now, it’s a shell of what it was formerly. There are a lot more interesting artistic areas in Tokyo now, rather than this historically academic place. That doesn’t mean that it’s boring, though, but if you want to find Tokyo’s contemporary art scene, it isn’t necessarily here.
Besides having a fun to say name, Komagome Station boasts some of the most beautiful gardens that Tokyo—or any metropolitan city—has to offer. Rikugien Gardens is designed off of traditional Japanese poetry. The second garden, Kyu-Furukawa blends Western and Japanese garden elements into one beautiful landscape.
If you’re a nature photographer or garden enthusiast, check out both gardens.
This is called the Harajuku for the elderly. It’s a popular shopping street for the older generations in Japan, so it’s not somewhere a lot of people visiting normally tend to go. It’s also popular for older people because there’s a shrine there that helps with ailments and the like.
Neighboring the busy Ikebukuro, you may wander into Otsuka unwittingly. The scenery changes from a huge commercial district to a scaled-down version of that. Stroll through the shopping arcades and stumble onto mom and pop food and drink stands.
A huge, huge station that also connects Tokyo to outer suburban areas. It has a lot of entertainment, shopping, and eating options so you’ll never run out of something to do. Popular options include Sunshine City (aquarium and shopping) and a lot of anime cafes. The age range is geared from anywhere from 20 year old students to 40 year olds.
This has become an increasingly popular area for people to stay because of its convenience and the number of things to do. You can find a lot of hotels and Airbnbs in the area for a reasonable price. And if you don’t mind crowds and sounds at all hours, it’s a good option.
You’d probably have no reason to visit here unless you were a student. Mejiro is home to some of Japan’s most prestigious universities, the most famous in the area being Gakushuin University.
Outside of seeing a few college campuses, the houses and apartments here are pretty high scale and . you can see the money. If none of that appeals to you, Mejiro is easily skippable.
If you’ve ever heard of Tokyo’s liberal arts college Waseda University, this is the spot where all the students hang out. It’s a vibrant area that’s often overlooked. You can find cheap food and drinks here because it caters to the young (and oftentimes broke) college student crowd.
Tokyo’s “Koreatown” area. It used to be pretty quiet and unassuming, but because of the boom in K-Pop and K-Beauty with Japanese teenagers, it can get crazy during peak hours. The small station wasn’t built for all the foot traffic and the attendants need to stop people from going in sometimes to clear it out.
It’s a good station to visit (especially if you like Korean food and want to check out some new Korean import products) but it’s definitely not one to stay. It’s really popular with young people now days.
Shinjuku Station is one of the world’s busiest train stations. No matter what exit you pop out of, expect to find something interesting to do. The bright neon lights, compact streets, and bustling crowds are the image many people have of Japan.
There’s a lot to see, do, and eat here. Some of the newer tourist attractions like the Robot Restaurant and VR Park are here, too. There’s also a large (former) red light district that still houses some seedy characters, though they’re more interested in locals than tourists. It doesn’t stop the loudspeakers from blaring warnings about touts, though…
This is the closest station to Meiji Shrine, which is part of Yoyogi Park. (But if you want to access the actual park, Harajuku Station is closer.) There isn’t much to see around this station apart from the shrine. You’ll mostly find residences and buildings.
Gwen Stefani catapulted Harajuku into the mind of most Westerners. However, for the most part, the “Harajuku Girls” no longer line the streets and check out the shops for new finds. Most fashionistas that hang out here now are either tourists or non-locals, but photographers flock to them the same.
Try to check out the back streets of Harajuku if you can (rather than the main drag of Omotesando or Takeshita Street) and you’ll get a better taste for the cool, local Harajuku vibes.
One of the most famous areas of Tokyo for a variety of reasons. Here, you can see the famous Scramble Crossing, Hachiko, the Shibuya 109 building, among many other iconic landmarks. It’s where a lot of clubs that appeal to visitors and locals alike.
In the recent years, it’s gotten quite rowdy (to the point where Halloween is now banned from Shibuya). But it’s still a popular place for teenagers and early 20-something year olds to hang out and get fashionable clothing and trendy food.
A residential area that has some fun things going on around the station. Outside of a few block radius, though, it becomes a very quiet and peaceful, albeit expensive, area. Recently, there have been a lot of fancy bars popping up in the area that appeal to the cool 20-somethings and 30-somethings of Tokyo.
Another residential area that’s a bit expensive and for the most part pretty quiet. The only time it gets out of control is during cherry blossom season. Meguro River is famous for it’s cherry blossom lined canal and it can get extremely crowded during that time.
Outside of cherry blossom season, you can check out trendy shops and boutiques that are scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Again, another residential area. However, this one has a bit more character (in good ways and bad). The seediest part is the small but active red light district, with some expats nicknaming Gotanda “Blowtanda,” if you catch my drift…
It’s not all shady, though. There is plenty of good food and drink in the area. There are also a few shrines that are easily accessible. During cherry blossom season, you can see the trees lining Meguro River without the Meguro Station crowds.