Metro Tokyo (東京都), Japan – Getting around Tokyo

Once I was in the city, obviously I needed to get around. Renting a car in Tokyo would be outrageous and incredibly difficult for a tourist.  As a result, everyone takes transit.  The map my hostel gave to me proved to be one of the most useful tools I had during my stay in Tokyo, and they had a seemingly endless supply of them.  Here is a photograph of mine:

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The official PDF from Tokyo Metro can be found here:

http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/subwaymap/pdf/routemap_en.pdf

As you can see (hopefully) my home station, Kuramae (蔵前駅) is circled, and is part of the Toei Asakusa Line and Toei Oedo Line.

One important thing to note in Tokyo is that almost all transit is operated by private or semi-private companies. Each part of the system is operated independently and profits are generated separately. There are so many different operators of transportation in and around Tokyo that it is a wonder that it all works together at all. But it does, and it does so quite well.

PLEASE NOTE: For some reason I took almost no photos during my stay in Tokyo, something that I really regret.  Most of the photos on here are borrowed from somewhere else.

TYPES OF TRANSIT

In Tokyo transportation is dominated by rail and famously the subway. However, there are of course a few other ways of getting around too: bus routes, one tram route, and long distance ferries also operate in Tokyo.

SUBWAY

Of course I took the subway many times in my stay in Tokyo.  There are actually two subways (actually even a few more, depending on your definition of a subway) in Tokyo: the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation (Toei) Subway:

http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/eng/services/subway.html

and the Tokyo Metro:

http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/

But if you don’t care about that then you can just think of it as one big subway  Between the two there are 13 lines, with 282 stations, on 310 kilometres of track. Every day in my stay in Tokyo I took the subway to get around.  I travelled to (at least) the following places:

Akihabara (秋葉原)

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Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

Shinjuku (新宿区)

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Borrowed from topwalls.net

Shibuya (渋谷区) – The place with the famous crosswalk.

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Borrowed

Ueno (上野)

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Borrowed

Harajuku (原宿). Harajuku station is actually on the Yamanote line (see below).

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Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

Basically hitting all the major spots!  Taking the subway was a pretty easy and convenient way to get around.  The trains and stations are almost always immaculate.  Since there are many different operators, lines, and track types, I encountered a lot of different trains in use in Tokyo. Here is a Toei Asakusa Line 5300 Series EMU:

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Borrowed from Wikimedia commons

The rolling stock for the “Tokyo subway” consists of around 20 or so different Electrical Multiple Units (EMUs) manufactured mostly in Japan by Kawasaki Heavy Industries.  I’m not that into recognizing different trains so I pretty much no idea what kind of train I was riding on. But honestly… they all look identical.  Most newer trains had digital signs inside with Japanese and English stop announcements.

The interiors of each train looks like this:

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Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.

Longitudinal seats on the outside walls facing inwards, where passengers can stand.

Every train I encountered had one or two cars reserved for women only at rush hour.  Presumably to discourage hands “slipping” to where they are not wanted by creepy dudes.

The Tokyo subway is pretty famous for overcrowding, but I never once experienced anything like this:

Probably because I was very careful to never take the subway during rush hours.

Overall, taking the subway in Tokyo is an absolute blast. You get to see all kinds of different trains, the seats are comfortable (and heated), there’s people-watching galore, enough English signage to get around without knowing Japanese, and amazing Japanese things everywhere.

COMMUTER RAIL

The only rail line I took to get around in Tokyo was the ultra-famous JR East Yamanote line.  This line does a circle around most of Tokyo and is an absolutely essential line for people moving in Tokyo. 3.68 million people a day ride this line.

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I took the Yamanote line just once to get from Harajuku back around to my hostel in Asakusa.

It’s also a great line for tourists as it hits up all the major tourist spots.  Also, it would of course be free for holders of a JR pass. One cool thing about the Yamanote line is that it is above ground and often elevated, so you get a good look at the city when you’re traveling around. The interior is essentially identical to the EMUs used in the subways, but the exterior has the classic green livery. A very good looking and iconic commuter train in Tokyo.

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Borrowed from panoramio.com tokyoforum.com

OTHER TRANSIT

Other types of transit that I regrettable did not take include the following:

At least four monorails, at least three automated guideway trains (kind of like the SkyTrain), one tram line, buses, and other smaller subways.
There’s so much transit in Tokyo that you could spend your entire life there and not try everything – as no doubt most Tokyoites do. Although, most are probably not obsessed with transit as I am!

PAYMENT

As with most things in Japan, payment is a little complicated… Payment can be in the form of single journey tickets which get sucked back into the turnstiles when your trip is over or contact-less RFID cards – of which there are two options.

The two options for cards in Tokyo are Suica and Pasmo. The two cards are competitors but do the exact same thing.  Almost all forms of transit in and around Tokyo accept Suica, Pasmo or both. Usually both.  So one could buy a Suica or Pasmo and not really know the difference.  There’s 30 million Suica cards in circulation and 10 million Pasmo cards so take your pick.

I chose to go the paper tickets route – which was a mistake. My guidebook told me it wasn’t worth it to get a card unless you were staying for more than a week and that you would have to choose the card that best suits your travel habits.

I disagree, calculating the fares in Tokyo is a massive pain that can be complicated and requires you to always have change.  Additionally, as I mentioned before, it makes almost zero difference which card you have. The first thing you should upon arrival in Tokyo is buy a Suica card, load it up at one of the machines and rest easy.

Having said that figuring out the fares in Tokyo can be a fun little challenge, especially if you’re transferring lines or going a longer route.  If you’re not up to it then the machines can do it for you – by typing in your destination station.

Here are the machines typical of almost all stations:

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Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

Looks a little scary, but there is an English language options so it’s fine.

Most of the time I just gave up on figuring what my fare would be and just paid the minimum (usually ¥150) then using the ‘fare difference machines” at the end of your journey which calculate how much you owe. If you go a longer route or end up at a different station you would have to use the machines as well.

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Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

I used these fare adjustment machines a lot!

RATINGS:

It’s a little tough for me to give ratings to the Tokyo transit system considering I only used like 2% of the whole system, but I’ll give it a shot anyway!

Ease of use: 6.5/10

Good: Almost all trips can be accomplished by using the subway, stops are announced and shown in English, stations are clearly marked, there’s signs all over the streets pointing towards subway stations, a Suica or Pasmo card makes things easy.

Bad: Fare system is complicated, transfers are complicated, I got lost in some stations a few times (they are complicated), certain train lines do NOT have English signage, and maps are just complicated due to the sheer amount of transit available.

Frequency: 9.7/10

Good: Almost all trains and buses are extremely frequent, throughout the entire city and suburbs.  Trains are never more than 10 seconds late or early.

Bad: After an earthquake the frequency drops considerably… but only for a day or two!

Cost: 8.9/10

The typical fare in Tokyo is 1.12 times more expensive than typical fare in NYC, when adjusted for salary difference. Actually, this needs a huge * next to it.  The prices are based on distances and transfers and can be much more expensive than the number I used (¥220), but I think that ¥220 is reasonable.

Elegance: 9.7/10

Good: Stations and trains are immaculate, there’s every type of transit ever, one of the most extensive rail systems in the world, monorails, buses, and everything is Japanese which makes it so much cooler.

Bad: I have to say that some (most) Japanese graphic design for posters, maps etc. is very… bad.

Overall Tokyo is truly remarkable place for transit, and to visit.  I would recommend to anyone to come visit the most populous city on Earth and enjoy some of the most efficient and frequent transit on the planet!

Overall rating 8.7/10

Thanks for reading!

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