Conductors share special views from the downtown loop line.

The Yamanote Line is a loop that encircles the center of Tokyo, making it one of the busiest commuter lines for people working or going to school in the city. At the same time, the 30 stations along the route also often make the Yamanote Line the fastest way to get to major downtown sightseeing and entertainment destinations.

But now rail operator East Japan Railway Company/JR East has come up with the idea of slowing things down on the Yamanote Line for a sightseeing train that’s all about the journey itself.

This isn’t a totally unprecedented idea. Though it’s become less common in recent years, there was a time when taking a ride around the entire Yamanote loop and getting off back where you started was a sort of in-the-know travel tip for tourists who’d just arrived in Tokyo and wanted a quick orientation of the downtown area, or for those who wanted one last, long look at the city at the end of their travels before heading home.

JR East’s Yamanote sightseeing course will be called the Tokyo Marutto Yamanote Line, marutto being a play on words that evokes ideas of roundness (like a loop or circle) and completeness in the Japanese language. Don’t worry if you’ve experienced the crazy congestion of Tokyo rush hour, not only is this an afternoon train, but it’s also exclusively for those taking part in the sightseeing tour.

The train will depart from Ikebukuro Station and make a full lap of the Yamanote Line before participants detrain, taking on no new passengers. During the ride, guides will point out sights of interest as the carriages pass through some of the most interesting and famous parts of the city. The tour was developed by conductors who work the Yamanote Line every day and have developed keen eyes for both the major and minor sights along the way, and to make sure passengers don’t miss anything, the Tokyo Marutto Yamanote Line will be running at a slower speed than the normally zippy commuter trains. Whereas a full lap of the Yamanote Line usually takes about one hour, the Tokyo Marutto Yamanote Line’s Ikebukuro-to-Ikebukuro course, despite stopping at no stations in between, will take a leisurely 66 minutes.

▼ And once you get off, you’ll be within easy walking distance of Ikebukuro’s gigantic new Animate anime specialty store.

The sightseeing train is scheduled to run on March 2, departing Ikebukuro at 1:26 p.m. and pulling back into the station again at 2:32. A total of 270 tickets are being offered, priced at 2,000 yen (US$14) for adults (designated as middle school students or older) and 1,000 yen for children (elementary-school age), with two younger-than-elementary-school children able to accompany a paying adult free of charge. Tickets go on sale February 1 at 3 p.m. via the JR East Mall website here, and while only a single Tokyo Marutto Yamanote Line train is currently scheduled, we’ll probably be seeing more if JR East sees a big turnout for this special opportunity.

Source: JR East via IT Media
Top image: Wikipedia/MaedaAkihiko
Insert image: Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he has fond memories of doing a Yamanote Loop the morning after a Waseda end-of-school year party.