One of the most difficult things when it comes to travel in a foreign country is navigating public transport, am I right? Especially in non-English speaking countries it can be a bit daunting making sense of the buses, trains and subways as you’re never really sure you’re not paying too much -or even travel in the right direction, for that matter.
One look at the Metro Tokyo Map and you might get a little restless. Well, let’s start with the good news. In Tokyo, most signs are in English and if you’re at one of the smaller stations, or venture a bit out of the city, there is always a station attendant to help you out, I’ve found.
Sure, I broke some gates trying to insert my old museum and ZOO-monorail tickets (oops), or only figured out which stop I actually was when I already passed my destination about 7 stops ago (oops again), but in the end, I usually managed to get from A to B without making too much of a fool of myself.
Here is a short guide to help you through the basics of the Tokyo Metro, so that you can travel around with a bit of confidence, but still find enough adventure in figuring things out on your own. Because there really isn’t a better place in the world to get utterly confused about things -while still feeling excited about doing so.
What we'll cover in this article
METRO TOKYO MAP, TICKETS AND HELP GETTING AROUND IN TOKYO, JAPAN
Transport Tokyo: The Facts
I read on Wikipedia that Tokyo has the most extensive urban railway network of the world. Over 40 million passengers whiz around the city, using all of the 882 interconnected rail stations. ‘Only’ 282 of them are subway stations, so let’s just stick to them for this post, to narrow it down a bit.
The first thing to know about the subway in Tokyo, is that the lines (about 120 of them) are run by 30 different operators, producing their own maps with their own colour- and letter coding. This makes things a bit confusing, because for some of them you will also need different tickets, even though the trains share the same platforms often.
The only Government-run lines are the Toei Subway (4 lines) and Tokyo Metro (9 lines), which are the lines you will probably use the most anyway, so there is that at least. Another line that you’ll perhaps use is the JR East (‘East Japan Railway Company’), which operates throughout the Greater Tokyo area as well. In this post, we’ll cover these three, to keep it simple(ish).
We’ve all been there.
Metro Tokyo Map: Not for the Faint-Hearted
No matter what name the metro company has, the maps are CRAZY. Below you can see the one you’ll probably use the most: the one of the Tokyo Subway.
How to get around Tokyo with the Subway
Ok, so we’ve narrowed it down to the Toei, Tokyo Metro and JR Trains, now what?
A ticket, of course!
Remember that these 3 subway Tokyo operators all have different tickets with a different fare system, so pay attention to that when buying your ticket. (there are transfer tickets available, read more about that here)
There are a couple of different ways to buy tickets, depending on what your plans are. They are not too different to buying a ticket in your home country probably: single ticket, day pass (and a couple of other options which we’ll go into below)
How to get around in Tokyo in 7 Simple Steps:
1) Take a deep breath 2) Click English 3) Select number of passengers (left) 4) Select correct fare (touch screen) 5) Feed it with coins or paper money 6) Collect ticket and change 7) Applaud Yourself
If you only want to go from A to B, just buy a single ticket at one of the ticket machines. You can check the exact fare on one of the station maps above the ticket machines, but if you’re at a station where they don’t have English text on them, don’t freak out, just get a ticket for the cheapest price you can find. When you get off the train, just before you go through the electronic gates, locate a yellow ‘fare adjustment’ machine and pay any remaining money if needed. Simple!
The tickets of the Tokyo subway have a magnetic strip and you feed them through the gates. It comes back to you at the other end, so don’t forget to take it (when the single ride is finished, the machine will eat your ticket)
1-Day Open Ticket
If you’re planning to travel a lot by Tokyo metro (which you probably will if you’re only staying for a short amount of time), then it’s worth looking into day passes to get around. The 1-Day Open Ticket (600 yen adult) allows unlimited rides on the Tokyo Metro for 24 hours from first use. You can buy them on the day itself, or in advance (starts working when you first use it).
Common One-day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway
Not sure which lines you’ll be using? This ticket (1000 yen adult) is valid for one day of unlimited rides on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines.
Tokyo Combination Ticket
Train Geek? Don’t like sunlight? The Tokyo Combination Ticket (1590 yen adult) gives you unlimited rides on the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, Toei Streetcar (Toden), Toei Bus (except buses with allocated seats), all sections of Nippori-Toneri Liner as well as all JR lines within the Tokyo metropolitan area for one day.
At the ticket machine, on the left-hand side, you’ll also see the 11-ride ticket option. This gives you 11 rides (of any normal single fare) for the prize of 10. Valid only on the Tokyo Metro, but no time restrictions, they are just a pack of single rides for a bit cheaper. Handy if you’re travelling with a partner or in a group.
Plan Metro Tokyo with PASMO
Already getting the beginning of a headache thinking about buying tickets in Tokyo? Then the PASMO is something for you perhaps. I’ve never used it myself (not sure why), but it seems similar to the Oyster Card we have here in London.
In short, it’s a prepaid transportation card with a chip in it, so you can simply swipe your card on the reader at the tickets gates and get in and out. You can recharge it and use it over and over. Apparently you can use it not just for the subway, but also for buses and to pay for in shops and (because Japan) vending machines.
The price of the PASMO ranges from 1000 yen up to 20.000 yen (only up to 10.000 yen in the ticket machines) and this includes an initial 500 yen deposit, which you get back when you return the card, as well as any money left on the card (minus 220 yen handling fee). You can recharge the card from 10 yen up to 20.000 yen in 10 yen units.
Super easy and no bother with knowing how much money you need for a single ride, or to adjust prices. Even if you don’t have enough money left on the card, you can still go on and that money will be evened out when you recharge.
Want to know the different between off-peak and rush hour in transport Tokyo? Let my brother give you the answer below:
Getting around in Tokyo with SUICA
Another prepaid transportation card you can choose comes from JR East and is called ‘SUICA’. The Suica can be used not only for JR East trains, but subways and buses as well. And similar to the PASMO, you can use this card to pay for things in shops and vending machines with e-money.
You can buy the SUICA card in major JR EAST stations at Multifunction Ticket Vending Machines, JR Ticket Offices (Midori-no-madoguchi) and Travel Service Centers. The top-up prizes, deposit and return fees are the same as the PASMO (see above). You cannot use a credit card to load a SUICA, only yen coins and notes.
Please note: Additional tickets must be purchased to use the Suica for travel on a limited express, express or Green Car. The Suica cannot be used for travel on the Shinkansen.
Useful Websites to help you getting around in Tokyo:
Tokyo Metro – www.tokyometro.jp
Toei Subway – www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp
JR East – www.jreast.co.jp
PASMO Card – www.pasmo.co.jp
SUICA Card – www.jreast.co.jp/…/suica
Read the booklet of the TOEI Subway
See this PDF map for transportation systems you can use with the SUICA and PASMO (don’t freak out, but the map is a little bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll be fine!)
PS. We will cover the Japan Rail Pass (to travel outside of Tokyo) in a separate post soon! In the meanwhile, here is there official website: www.japanrailpass.net
Hope you found this guide to Tokyo transport useful! Only question left is: where to next? Let us know what your Japan travel plans are!
This post is also available in: Dutch