It was pointed out to me on Twitter that I unintentionally left you with a cliffhanger. We started this “Explore the Yamanote Line” in Shinagawa and I didn’t say where we were going next.
While the Yamanote Line consists of 2 true loops, one going one way and one going the opposite, for this series I’m going to follow the “official” JR East path which begins in 品川 Shinagawa and heads to 大崎 Ōsaki. So, yeah, that’s where we’re going.
This was probably one of the more boring parts of the Yamanote circle, but it grew in importance since the 1980’s when the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line began servicing the station. The Saikyō Line is a south-north train that goes from Ōsaki to 大宮 Ōmiya in 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. Sure, Saitama isn’t very exciting, but the station had to be completely rebuilt. After all, you saw the previous picture, right? Can be handling a population boom in the city and host 2 busy train lines with a shack like that, son.
And even though it was home to Sony’s head office for many years[i], the station area underwent a total redevelopment in about 2006 when a new shopping center and business district opened there and the area is now thriving as a commercial district. Unfortunately, it’s starting to eat up the former 下町 shitamachi low city that flourished since the end of WWII. In the side streets and areas where the shinkansen tracks pass you can still feel the shitamachi vibe. Most of Ōsaki is residential.
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If I hadn’t worked for a year or two in Shinagawa, I’d probably have no reason to go to this place. The first time I had to go here was because they had a CitiBank. I needed to go there to access my old American bank account and at the time this was one of the few places to access international bank accounts 24 hours[ii]. What I discovered was a red light district that pretty much seemed to be an outgrowth of the Edo/Meiji Period bayside culture of Shinagawa – lots of drinking & whoring, lots of hostess clubs, and karaoke[iii]. One very noticeable difference was Chinese streetwalkers operating openly in flagrant disregard for the laws restricting the sex industry to established shops that “kept the streets clean.” This kind of unlicensed prostitution has been under a crackdown in the build up to the 2020 Olympics, I don’t expect you’ll see them for the next few years. I’ve noticed a big “clean up” in 鶯谷 Uguisudani and 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō, two other red light districts; I just haven’t visited Gotanda at night in about 10 years so I can’t say for certain. If anyone has, I’d like to hear what you know about the area.
For the average tourist or history buff, there isn’t much reason to visit the area. If you’re up for a 10-15 minute walk from the station (or a 5 minute taxi ride), you can visit the 畠山記念館 Hatakeyama Kinenkan Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art which specializes in tea ceremony utensils. The museum rests on the former site of a detached residence of the 島津家 Shimazu-ke Shimazu clan, the lords of 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain[iv]. If you’re interested in 茶道 sadō tea ceremony and 侘寂 wabi-sabi a traditional Japanese aesthetic and world view, you’ll probably love this museum! If not, you’ll probably be bored to tears looking tea cup after tea cup after tea cup.
Anything else I’m forgetting? Ummmm, oh yeah! There’s a theater that puts on Broadway musicals. I loathe musicals with every fiber of my being so I haven’t been here and can’t speak to their quality, but they’ve put on some major shows like Miss Saigon, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia, and The Lion King. If you’re into that sort of thing, knock yourself out. Oh yeah, one more thing, the Brazilian embassy is located in the area so a Mexican friend and I came here to visit a small grocery store that specialized in South American ingredients. I don’t know if it’s still there – this was like 10 years ago – but we could buy corn masacorn masa, the key ingredient to making tamales. We looooove tamales and couldn’t find any places in Tōkyō to get them, so we decided to make them ourselves. Hopefully the shop is still there.
Even though these 2 station may seem a little boring on the surface, both areas are fascinating to me. Please read the “related articles” for more info and most importantly, please join me for the rest of the series. We’re gonna hit some major areas of Tōkyō, so it’ll be fun to have you all along for the ride (see what I did there?)
If you know the Yamanote Line well, where do you think we’re going next?
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[i] Sony City still remains in the area. I was actually in the old Sony HQ a couple of weeks ago and it was a lot of fun to hang out in their visitors’ section. I got to help test some new prototype technologies and learned that the company cafeteria’s food is shit – didn’t taste it myself, but that’s what I was told by the people who work there.
[ii] Except for 新生銀行 Shinsei Ginkō Shinsei Bank and 7-11 ATM’s, Japanese banks/ATM’s don’t accept foreign ATM cards. In the build up to the 2020 Olympics, this is expected to change but it hasn’t yet. That said, there’s a 7-11 on almost every corner and I dare say 90% of them show up immediately on Google Maps – something I’ve learned very quickly now that I’m giving personalized guided tours of Tōkyō.
[iii] This is a vibrant residential neighborhood; but both high rises and old shitamachi (low city) culture exist side by side.
[iv] Their suburban palace was located in 田町 Tamachi, our final destination when we complete the Yamanote Line Loop.