The Yamanote Line

130321_1430The Yamanote Line was the first train to introduce electronic melodies at its stations, and remains one of the most musical lines in Japan. Of the 29 stations, 27 have a jingle, many of which are unique to just one station. Recently I took the hour-long trip around the full loop, travelling counter-clockwise from Shibuya around to Harajuku. Here are the sounds of each station:


In Japan, rail infrastructure doesn’t simply follow patterns of development; it determines the course of development. A common practice for private rail companies is to buy up empty land and build train lines, then make a bundle by selling houses to the people that flock to the area. The parent company reserves the prime real-estate for its own supermarkets, department stores, and amusement parks, creating streetcar suburbs that are practically company towns.

Similarly, the Yamanote line has determined the urban development of Tokyo itself. When the loop was completed in 1925, a government ministry decided that private railways could not cross inside its tracks, limiting them to servicing the outer suburbs. The result is that every commuter train in Tokyo terminates at a Yamanote station. These areas soon sprouted subway stops and bus terminals, along with department stores, video arcades, office towers, and restaurants. Today these stops are the many city centers of endless Tokyo.

If you find a list of the busiest train stations in the world, the top three are all on the Yamanote line, and several more make that top ten. The line itself serves 3.68 million passengers a day, not much less than the 5 million daily passengers on the entire New York City Subway System. Every 2.5 minutes, a train pulls out of every station to the sound of a little electronic tune. At that rate, these little jingles just might be the most listened-to music on earth.