General Tokyo &
Maps & Guidebooks
Tokyo is huge. The complexity of its subway and train systems is legendary. Should I panic?
Nope. Get the Tokyo City Atlas recommended in the Maps & Guidebooks page. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with it.
Take a look at the Japan Railway (JR) Tokyo map here:
And the Tokyo Metro subway map:
And you can peruse the multi-lingual Tokyo Metro Guide:
Done all that? Good. Now feel free to panic. :)
[NOTE: For reasons I cannot understand, Tokyo Metro reorganizes the links on its website periodically, constantly breaking the above-listed links. Please contact me if any of the links fail to work!]
The Tokyo transit system is a marvel, a universe of its own, and a system that even the Tokyo residents don't pretend to completely understand. Subway and train geeks create whole websites devoted to its intricacies. Most commuters learn the oddities of their local, commonly-used lines, and then just figure the rest out as needed. There are usually at least two (and often more) ways to get between any two places in the system; how you go is a matter of personal preference, time available and local knowledge. There's a fun website, for instance, at http://www.tokyo-subway.net/english/ that lets you enter your starting and ending station stops, and then presents you with all the possible routes between them, including travel times and transfer instructions!
There are two main systems: the subways and the Japan Railway (JR) lines. (The JR also operates the inter-city rail system, in addition to the Tokyo-area trains.) The subways are technically run by two entities, Toei and Tokyo Metro. Mostly, particularly for cash fares, you don't need to worry much about which is which, and you can get between the lines easily. Fare cards are getting increasingly simple to use, and now work on all the subway lines, as well as JR commuter lines within the city.
There is, also, a surface bus system. If you don't speak or read Japanese, though, it can be quite confusing, and is subject to the vagueries of Tokyo traffic. So I generally recommend the train/subway unless you're accompanied by a local who knows the system, or you have some specific instructions to use a particular bus.
Fares & Payment:
Ideally, payment for fares works like this: you go up to the bank of ticket machines, look at the system/fare map (in Japanese, sometimes also in English) mounted on the wall above them, and figure out how much it will cost to go to your destination. You buy a ticket worth at least the system minimum (depends on the system) and preferably the right amount for your destination, and put the ticket into the turnstile, pass through, and then take your ticket with you. (This is really important!) When you get to your destination, you put your ticket into the turnstile, and, if there's enough money on it for the trip you took, it lets you through, and retains your (now useless) ticket.
If you didn't put in enough money when you bought it, the gate will refuse to open, and you'll have to go to a Fare Adjustment Machine, stick in the ticket, and add the amount it tells you to the ticket.
However, life can, occasionally, get odd; there are several different companies running subway lines, and the interchanges can be confusing - sometimes you have to buy a new ticket at an interchange; sometimes you have to go through the right turnstile to get the system to notice the change; and sometimes you just go between trains. It depends. If you get to your destination, and the gate won't let you out, and the fare adjustment machine won't let you add money, your only option is to go to the manned ticket window and ask for help. When this happens to me, I usually say something like:
Sumimasen. [Shinkjuku] kara kimashita. Do shimasu ka?
You can add "Nihongo ga wakarimasen" ("I don't speak Japanese") after the "Sumimasen" bit, and they'll probably just write down an amount in Yen that you should pay to make it all work, you pay them, and they'll take your ticket and wave you through the open gate. Bow and say "sumimasen deshita. arigato gozaimasu" ("I'm sorry, and thank you!) for their trouble, and everyone will be satisfied.
You can also buy multiple-use farecards and add money as you go.
A PDF map of the Tokyo-area system, as mentioned above, is at:
The main JR line you'll interact with, bopping around central Tokyo, is the Yamanote ("yah-mah-no-tey") line. This line runs in a circle, more or less, around central Tokyo. There are branching lines heading out to the suburbs from major stations along the way, and a line or two that crosses the circle (in case you want to go to the center, of course, or get to the other side in a more straightforward path.) JR ticket machines, gates, tracks and trains are completely separate from the subway system ones, so make sure you're doing the right thing when you're in a station that serves both JR and subway lines.
As mentioned above, there's a great PDF format (in English) subway map at:
The Japanese version of the map (useful for figuring out the kanji for the various station names, when compared to the English) is:
http://www.tokyometro.jp/station/index.html (interactive Japanese map)
Getting to/from GOH and the convention, you'll usually be using the Mita line, of the Toei company (the line is called "Toei Mita sen" in Japanese.)
For Palm and PocketPC users, a very handy tool is Metro http://nanika.net/Metro . It's a free guide to public transport systems worldwide (more than 250 cities covered now). Tokyo is covered as are a number of other Japanese cities. Select a start point and an end point, and it will plot a route for you (your choice of fastest route or fewest changes). The Tokyo version is in English, so it's easy to use even if you can't read Japanese.
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copyright 2014 Anne R. LaVin