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After Shin-Okubo comes Shinjuku, the west side's big divider in terms of wealth and prestige, especially among younger, fashion-conscious Tokyoites. South of this overwhelming commercial and entertainment centre, Tokyo begins to take on a more moneyed polish. While the change is not immediately obvious outside of Yoyogi Station, the first stop past Shinjuku, concrete evidence lies a few blocks away, at Yoyogi Village. This fashionable new development consists of cafes and boutiques housed in shipping containers arranged around a landscaped garden. It is a sign of what is to come.

From here, the train skirts along the wealthy southwest edge of the city, through neighbourhoods that less than 100 years ago were nothing but rice fields. Harajuku and Shibuya, with their wall-to-wall boutiques and department stores, are both shopping meccas for fashion-conscious teens. Ebisu, with its open-air, brick-and-mortar shopping centre Ebisu Garden Place draws more sophisticated shoppers. Meguro, whose main street is lined with houseware boutiques and antique shops, is known as Tokyo's design district.

The city's southern edge grows increasingly business-like from west to east. Going from Osaki through Gotanda to Shinagawa, the buildings become bigger and taller, more glass and steel than concrete. Shinbashi and Yurakucho, in the southeast quarter, represent the beating heart of “salaryman culture” -- that of the hard-working, hard-drinking, grey-suited company employee. Their haunts include smoky yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) stands crammed under the Yamanote Line tracks and raucous beer halls, like Beer Lion.

Heading north from Tokyo Station, the Yamanote Line traces the gradual lowering of the skyline though Kanda, Akihabara and Okachimachi to Ueno. The crowds of suits, too, become diluted with students in school uniform, bar hostesses in flashy dresses and labourers in overalls. Returning to the northeast corner of the city, the train passes through Uguisudani before winding back up to Nippori. And proving that no two stations in a row are alike, Uguisudani is notorious as the point of embarkation for some of Tokyo's seamier love hotels.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Seeing Tokyo along the Yamanote Line’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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