Sites of Potentiality Guidebooks: Yamanote Line

I wanted to explore the city. I wasn’t interested in the shrines and the temples, I was no longer interested in joining the queues and following the crowds.

Yamanote train

The Yamanote Line is a railway line that pretty much delimits what is considered to be central Tokyo. Running in a loop 34.5 km long it has no beginning and no end.

The Sites of Potentiality Guidebooks have maps, but no labels. They are fractured from their realities and yet applicable to any location.


Embarking on a 4-day investigation of the city of Tokyo, I used the same map to take me on a journey from each of the 29 stations on the Yamanote line. Straight across, turn right, turn left, turn right again and it’s somewhere on the left just up here. I can see the grid of lines and the square of the target destination even now.

Although each journey was the same as rendered by the map, what I experienced on the ground was profoundly different in each case. Scale became elastic; angles distorted; and rivers appeared to bisect my path.

smoker and out of order hydrant

The exact location of the destination was intuitive… and often indisputable. The trick is to learn how to look again.

Other times you just have to learn how to stop looking so hard – it’s right there in front of you.

Each of the 29 journeys is documented via railway tickets, photographs and my own anecdotal recollection of the event.

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