For most Tokyoites, trains are just another part of daily life. They are a means of getting to the office and back, and on occasion carrying you to a nearby town for a short trip. For others though, trains are an obsession; they are the subjects of # trainspotting (or toritetsu in Japanese) weekend photoshoots, and holidays revolve around riding unique and scenic trains across Japan. Riding trains, photographing trains, eating exclusive train station bentos, collecting train merch, and learning about the technical details of each specific model are just some of the activities that these train-lovers enjoy.
While I certainly don’t know all of the train models, liveries, or jingles of each train line, I can still appreciate the convenience of trains in Japan, and I definitely enjoy taking the scenic local routes when I travel. Whether it is a charming one-man train or a sleek and modern shinkansen, I often find myself impressed by the practicality of Japan’s favorite mode of transportation.
If there is one place in Japan where you can see a vast variety of trains, it is Tokyo. This list doesn’t aim for a detailed record of each train line, rather it suggests trainspotting locations that are emblematic of Tokyo’s impressive infrastructure and practical beauty.
1. Kanda River between Ochanomizu Station and Akihabara Station
This location has a scenic city view with two train bridges and one line running parallel to the Kanda River. The red, yellow, and orange of the Marunouchi, JR Sobu, and JR Chuo lines make for a wonderful color combination if you are lucky enough to catch all three in one shot. No matter how many trains you get though, the balancing act between the river, the tiers of bridges, and the towering skyline will surely result in an interesting photo. Once you are finished watching the trains, head over to the former location of Manseibashi Station under the tracks of the JR Chuo Line. Here you will find an old scale model of the station, pop up shops, furniture stores, and even a craft beer brewery in the redbrick arches of the oddly named mAAch ecute shopping center.
2. Kitte Building Rooftop Garden near Tokyo Station
This former post office building turned shopping mall has a public access rooftop garden that is perfect for shinkansen-spotting. It offers a view of dozens of glistening shinkansen rolling in and out of the station per hour, in addition to all of Tokyo station’s above-ground tracks. You can also get a great view of the old Marunouchi side of Tokyo station. If you have never been to the Kitte Building, it is certainly worth checking out. There are lots of places that sell modern goods with Japanese aesthetic sensibility. There is also a free museum called Intermediateque which has a permanent exhibition of many natural history specimens collected by Tokyo University. Map
3. Yurikamome Line Loop from Rainbow Bridge
I’m including this selection at the risk of offending train purists as the Yurikamome Line is actually not a rail line but instead runs on rubber-tired wheels on a concrete track. But i t’s these rubber-tired wheels that allow the train to make the tight and steep loop up to the Rainbow Bridge. I recommend starting from Odaiba-Kaihinkoen station and walking the full length of the Rainbow Bridge before finally getting to the roller coaster-like loop on the opposite side of the bridge. Watching the Yurikamome Line’s automated people-movers wind up and down the 270 degree turn is like being at some kind of infrastructural Disneyland. If you have never walked across the bridge, it is quite an exciting walk with views of Tokyo that you can’t get from anywhere else. If you plan your walk during sunset, you will get to see the city lights turn on and maybe even see the silhouette of Mount Fuji against the Tokyo Skyline. Map
4. Intersecting JR and Keisei Lines from Yanaka Cemetery
If it feels a bit weird to visit a cemetery to go train watching, that might be because it is. Luckily, Yanaka Cemetery, surrounded by several temples and famous for its cherry blossom street, is actually a rather popular spot to visit. If you are lucky, you will find some cute cats napping around the area. The cemetery is also famous for being the resting place of the last shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshida, so make sure to see his burial place there. As for the trains, when you enter the cemetery from Nippori Station, make sure to stay to the side next to the tracks and try to catch a view of the intersecting trains with Tokyo Skytree towering over the retro buildings of Taito Ward in the background. Map
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5. Tokaido Shinkansen from Kotsu Kaikan Building in Yurakucho
The Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Building near Yurakucho station is probably the best place to get a close-up view of a moving shinkansen in Tokyo. The building has an outdoor terrace garden on its third floor that is right at eye-level with the elevated shinkansen tracks at Yurakucho station. The trains are departing from, or arriving at, nearby Tokyo Station, so they aren’t moving too fast; this makes it easy to capture a nice photo. The terrace has short opening hours, so be sure to check them before visiting. After you are done train watching, you can head to one of the many restaurants and izakayas located under the brick arches that hold up the train tracks. Map
Any location you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!