Tokyo transportation guide
The whole of Tokyo's public transport system is efficient, clean and safe, but as a visitor you'll probably find the trains and subways the best way of getting around; the simple colour-coding on trains and maps, as well as clear signposts (many in English) and directional arrows, make this by far the most gaijin -friendly form of transport. And, while during rush hour (7.30-9am & 5.30-7.30pm) you may find yourself crushed between someone's armpit and another person's back, only rarely do the infamous white-gloved platform attendants shove commuters into carriages.
Lack of any signs in English makes the bus system a lot more challenging. However, once you've got a feel for the city, buses can be a good way of cutting across the few areas of Tokyo not served by a subway or train line and, as long as you have a map, fellow passengers should be able to help you get to where you want to be. For short, cross-town journeys, taxis are handy and, if shared by a group of people, not that expensive.
Once you've chosen the area you wish to explore, walking is the best way to get yourself from one sight to another; you're almost guaranteed to see something interesting on the way. Cycling , if you stick to the quietback streets, can also be a good way of zipping around .
Given the excellent public transport facilities, the often appalling road traffic, the high cost of parking (if you're lucky enough to find a space) and Tokyo's confusing street layout, you'd need a very good reason to want to rent a car to get around the city .
Its colourful map may look like a messy plate of yakisoba (fried noodles), but Tokyo's subway is relatively easy to negotiate. There are two systems, the eight-line TRTA (which stands for "Teito Rapid Transit Authority", but is also referred to as the Eidan) and the four-line Toei, run by the city authority, which also manages the buses and the tram line. The systems share some of the same stations, but unless you buy a special ticket from the vending machines that specifies your route from one system to the other, you cannot switch mid-journey between the two sets of lines without paying extra at the ticket barrier. Subways have connecting passageways to overland train lines, such as the Yamanote.
You'll generally pay for your ticket at the vending machines beside the electronic ticket gates - apart from major stations (marked with a triangle on the subway map), there are no ticket sales windows. If fazed by the wide range of price buttons you can choose from, buy the cheapest ticket and sort out the difference with the gatekeeper at the other end. You must always buy separate tickets for subways and overland trains, unless you're using an SF Metro or Pasunetto card .
Trains run daily from around 5am to just after midnight, and during peak daytime hours as frequently as every five minutes. Leaving a station can be complicated by the number of exits (sixty in Shinjuku, for example), but there are maps close to the ticket barriers and on the platforms indicating where the exits emerge, and strips of yellow tiles on the floor mark the routes to the ticket barriers.
The cheapest subway ticket is Ã‚Â¥160 and, since most journeys across central Tokyo cost no more than Ã‚Â¥190, few of the travel passes on offer are good value for short-stay visitors. However, if you're going to be travelling around a lot, it makes sense to buy kaisuken , carnet-type tickets where you get eleven tickets for the price of ten - look for the special buttons on the automated ticket machines at the stations. Off-peak tickets give you twelve tickets for the price of ten, but can only be used 10am to 4pm weekdays, while Saturday/holiday tickets give you fourteen tickets for the price of ten. Handiest of all is the SF Metro Card , or Pasunetto Card , which saves you no money, but can be used on both Eidan and Toei subways and all the private railways (but not JR) in the Tokyo area. As you go through a ticket barrier, the appropriate fare is deducted from the card's stored value; these cards can be bought from ticket offices and machines, and also used in machines to pay for tickets. If you're here for a month or more and will be travelling the same route most days, you might buy a teiki season ticket, which runs for one, three or six months, and covers your specified route and stations in between.
Taxis are pricey, but may be a value for groups of three compared to the subway. Fares generally start at about Ã‚Â¥660 for the first two kilometers and can add up rapidly. Do not count on your taxi driver knowing more than the best-known locations, though many taxis now have GPS "car navi" systems installed. If possible, get a business card, or print out the address in Japanese of any specific places you wish to go. Also, note that taxis can get caught in traffic jams.
The few areas within Tokyo that aren't easily accessible by train are served by various bus companies. Buses have a fixed fare regardless of distance (typically Ã‚Â¥200), and fares are not transferrable. Compared to the trains, the buses run much less frequently, carry fewer passengers, and are much slower. This makes them amenable to the elderly residents of Tokyo, but rather inconvenient for travelers, who will also have to deal with complicated routes and lack of information in English.
Click on the map for an enlargement.