A couple of years ago a colleague wrote an article in our company’s in-house magazine about walking round the Yamanote line which is the circular line connecting most of the main stations in the heart of Tokyo. From that moment on I had the idea of doing something similar and having dreamt up a few poor ideas (drinking a beer at each station?!) the most feasible idea was to do by bicycle what takes 58 minutes by train. The major problem with this idea was that I didn’t have a bike but once I’d aquired one last month the wheels were set in motion and fellow TESOL participant Michael and I started to make plans.
So last Friday we met in Takadanobaba (about half way between our houses) and the journey began at 9am or at least it would have done if Michael hadn’t been even later than myself!
There are 29 stations on the Yamanote line over a distance of 22 miles and going in a clockwise direction we were at our first stop Mejiro within a few minutes of uphill riding. I saw a bank and decided to get some money out while the opportunity was there and Michael said he needed to do something in there too. His bank transfer took ages and so with it approaching 10am we’d still only done one station!
Once we got going, we ticked off a few with the only problem being going down dead-ends about four times while trying to reach Tabata as we wanted to stick as close to the line as possible which aint half difficult at times. We went through Uguisudani, the least used station on the line, where I spotted a rather apt Engrish mistake on one of the love hotel signs.
At Ueno I wanted to get a shot with my bike in front of the giant furry panda but getting our bikes up to the Panda Bridge exit wasn’t an option for cyclists. A couple of stops further on was the electrical town of Akihabara station which disappointingly was under reconstruction and there were no maids giving out pamphlets outside the station which would have added something more interesting to the background of the photos.
Tokyo station was also under construction and finding a sign for the obligatory photo was actually hard work and we had to do a circuit of the huge station before settling on a rather basic small sign.
A quick visit to the Godzilla statue in Hibiya following Yurakucho station and it was finally time for lunch at a tiny local restaurant under the tracks. The rule of sticking close to the tracks went out of the window as the afternoon went on and we pelted it along the huge road between Tamachi and Shinagawa which is the longest distance between any two stations.
Having gone over time it started to get dark (and I was still in just a t-shirt) as we left Gotanda on a fairly steep (by Japanese standards) climb towards Meguro and Ebisu which were quite quick photo stops and then it was the potential nightmare of Shibuya and the chaos that goes with that place amid the worlds busiest crossing.
A bit of mild pain was finally felt as we took in the final few stations but we just wanted to complete the mission and that involved cycling on the busy roads without lights as we took the long long way round to do the short distance between Shinjuku and Shin Okubo. Once there I realised that my back wheel was very loose and the quick release nut needed tightning which was quite a worry as an afterthought but better to have noticed then rather than having the wheel come off on the final leg of the journey.
It was 5.45pm when we returned to where we started about 8 hours earlier. Balloons, fireworks, pretty girls with flower bouquets and champagne – of course there was none of that waiting for us but we did celebrate our (pointless?) achievement with a few beers and some food before heading home in opposite directions a few hours later.