Welcome back to my ongoing series exploring Tōkyō’s Yamanote Line. We’re pretty much in one of the most important stretches of the loop. We’ve just been to Ebisu and Shibuya and we’re bound for Shinjuku.
“So, why are you cramming 3 train stations into 1 article?” you ask. That’s a good question. The reason is this: I have a pretty solid article from back in the day on Yoyogi and recently I’ve written about both Shinjuku and Harajuku. All three articles contain the historical and etymological info you’ll need if you want to dig deeper. Since this article is about viewing Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line, I’m going go light on the history and focus on my impressions of these areas.
Read About These Areas in Detail:
Harajuku is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Tōkyō. The name is a reference to an ancient relay station where messengers could change horses in what was once one of the most remote parts of Japan. But for the last 30 some odd years, Harajuku has been a sort of ground zero for Japanese fashion. Tōkyō fashion is a serpentine ghost that haunts a certain space for a while and then whisks itself away to a new shelter where it settles or reinvents itself. This means that Harajuku’s flame doesn’t burn as bright as it once did, but the area is still very much associated with shopping and fashion.
The station gives access to such iconic spots as:
- Meiji Jingū (shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor[i])
- Takeshita Dōri (an ally of stylish clothing boutiques)
- Omotesandō Hills (a stylish shopping mall on ‘roids)
- Yoyogi Park (one of Tōkyō big 3 “party parks[ii])
Long time readers of JapanThis! know that I’m not the biggest fan of the imperial family or the Meiji Coup in general. That said, 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū (which means “Meiji Shrine”) is something you should check out at least once.
Yoyogi Park is a great park and hosts a variety of events around the year. It attracts a bohemian crowd and, well, it’s just a fun park. It’s super crowded on holidays and weekends, but so are Tōkyō’s other huge parks on major train lines.
Yoyogi is most famous for 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park which I mentioned earlier. The park is a pretty awesome place to chill out in the summer and fall, but because it always draws a rather bohemian crowd. It’s particularly fun in the spring for 花見 hamami cherry blossom viewing, but the pathways around the park are nice for people wanting to go for a stroll or even jog. When my friend and author Ashim Shanker got accepted to Harvard, we chose Yoyogi Park as the place to catch up over a can of beer and say goodbye before he returned to the US to make something of himself[iii]. We’d hung out in the park a few times back in the day when we were coworkers, so it only seemed natural. I guess what I’m saying is that great parks make great memories.
Anyhoo, the park itself is located on a plateau where some daimyō, notably the 井伊家 Ii-ke Ii clan had their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence (ie; suburban palace). The name literally means “Generations of Trees” and most likely refers to a forest that existed here in the past. Interestingly, on the grounds of Meiji Jingū, there is a tree called the 代々木村ﾉ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi Yoyogi Village’s Generations Old Tree which marks the spot of Utagawa Hiroshige’s famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e painting of a tree in the area. Few people know of this spot, but it’s there.
Dude, I Just Remembered…
All of this talk of Yoyogi Park, just reminded me! The best access point to Yoyogi Park is not by Yoyogi Station, it’s by Harajuku Station which is located at the official entrance of the park. So, if you want to visit Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station. I repeat: If you want to go to Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station, not Yoyogi Station.
Why? Well, because other than the park, I’m not sure what else to say about the Yoyogi Station area. It’s just a bunch of companies, restaurants, and convenience stores. You’ll also have to walk quite a distance to get to the park from here because your friends are probably waiting to meet you at Harajuku Station.
If I had a $1.00 Patreon donation for every time I mentioned Shinjuku, I think I could quit my day job. Unfortunately, that’s not the case so I scrape by and stay up late at night pondering how you can explore Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line lol.
Anyways, Shinjuku is a huge business district, a 都心 toshin city center, if you will. It was originally a post town for travelers going in and out of the city. Much like its modern incarnation, the old post town was a notorious destination for those hell-bent on drinking and whoring. It’s also the capital of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.
That’s all I’m going to say about Shinjuku because if you want to know more, check out my most recent and fairly definitive article on the subject below. Peace out!
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Shinjuku:
- What does Shinjuku mean? (includes further links to past articles on Shinjuku)
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[i] And his wife, 昭憲皇太后 Shōken Kōtaigō, usually translated as consort, empress consort, empress or dowager. Without getting into the details of the title kōtaigō, which is peculiar to the imperial family, there are a few reasons why these other words are preferable to “wife.” She was married to the 天皇 tennō emperor, but she did not share any of his political power. If the emperor died, she could not finish out his reign until her death (as is the case in England). Just as the shōguns and daimyō had concubines to ensure hereditary succession of male bloodlines, the emperors did too. Shōken was actually barren and all 15 children of the Meiji Emperor were born by concubines. So, yeah, it’s easiest to just say she was his wife, but these other titles get thrown around to better describe her actual position in Japanese society and in the imperial court.
[ii] The other 2 being Inokashira Park and Ueno Park.
[iii] Meanwhile, I’m stuck here just writing this trainwreck of a blog lol.