Getting there & around
Tokyo’s world-class, public-transport system will get you anywhere you need to go. Most places worth visiting are conveniently close to a subway or Japan Railways (JR) station. Where the rail network lets you down (though it really shouldn’t), there are usually bus services – although using these can be challenging if you can’t read kanji.
Most residents and visitors use the railway system far more than any other means of transport. It is reasonably priced and frequent (generally five minutes at most between trains on major lines in central Tokyo), and stations have conveniences such as left-luggage lockers for baggage storage. The only drawback is that the system shuts down at midnight or 1am and doesn’t start up again until 5am or 6am.
Subway trains have a tendency to stop halfway along their route when closing time arrives. People who are stranded face an expensive taxi ride home or have to wait for the first morning train. Check schedules posted on platforms for the last train on the line if you plan to be out late.
Avoiding Tokyo’s rush hour is a good idea, but might be impossible if you’re on a tight schedule. Commuter congestion tends to ease between 10am and 4pm, when travelling around Tokyo – especially on the JR Yamanote Line – can actually be quite pleasant. Before 9.30am and from about 4.30pm onward there’ll be cheek-to-jowl crowds on all major train and bus lines.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Generally speaking, taxis are very expensive, and you should only use them when you have no alternative, such as returning to your hotel or apartment late at night. Rates start at ¥710, which buys you 2km (after 11pm it’s 1.5km), then the meter rises by ¥80 every 275m (every 220m or so after 11pm). You also click up about ¥80 every two minutes while you relax in a typical Tokyo traffic jam. Taxi vacancy is indicated by a red light in the corner of the front window; a green light means there’s a night-time surcharge; and a yellow light means that the cab is on call.
If you have to get a taxi late on a Friday or Saturday night, be prepared for delays and higher prices. The same applies any day of the week for the first hour or so after the last trains run. At these times, most stranded commuters stand in long queues in order to get a taxi home.
Tokyo taxi drivers rarely speak any English – if you don’t speak Japanese, it’s a good idea to have your destination written down in Japanese. Even if your destination has an English name, it is unlikely the driver will understand your pronunciation.
Oh, and by the way, don’t slam the door shut when you get in or leave. In Japan, taxi doors magically open and close themselves.
The vast majority of Tokyoites and resident expats never set foot on a bus as the rail and subway system is convenient and incredibly comprehensive. However, on rare occasions, it can sometimes be quicker to get between two destinations on a bus.
Bus fares are ¥200 for Tokyo Metropolitan (Toei) buses; you can pick up a copy of the Toei Bus Route Guide, including a route map and timetable, at any Toei subway station. Children’s rates are half those of adult fares. Deposit your fare into the box next to the driver as you enter the bus; you can get change for ¥1000 notes and coins. A tape recording announces the name of each stop as it is reached, so listen carefully and press the button next to your seat when yours is announced.
The one-day Tokyo Combination Ticket can be used on Toei buses as well as the subway and JR railway lines.
International flights from all over the world land in Japan, most of them arriving in Tokyo. Tokyo is also the hub of air travel within Japan, which is extensive, reliable and safe. In many cases, flying can be faster – and not significantly more expensive – than riding the shinkansen (bullet train). Flying can also help you get from Japan’s main hubs, such as Tokyo and Osaka, to some of the country’s most far-flung destinations, such as Okinawa and Hokkaido.
Customs and immigration procedures are usually straightforward, although they’re more time-consuming for gaijin (foreigners) than for Japanese. Note that as of 20 November 2007, non-Japanese have been fingerprinted and photographed on arrival, and are subject to intense questioning. A neat appearance will speed your passage through passport control and customs, though you can expect delays if you’ve entered Japan multiple times as a tourist.
Everything at Narita Airport is clearly signposted in English and you can change money in the customs halls of either terminal or in the arrival halls. The rates will be the same as those offered in town.
Tokyo has two airports: Narita, which handles most international traffic, and Haneda, which is used primarily for domestic flights.
Narita Airport (flight information 0476-34-5000, general information 0476-32-2802) is 66km east of Tokyo, but aside from its inconvenient location, it’s an excellent, modern airport with a plethora of services. It is divided into two terminals, which are connected by a free shuttle-bus service. From Terminal 1 board this bus at stop 0, and from Terminal 2 board at stops 8 and 18. Note that some of the airport’s services are available only in the newer Terminal 2.
At both terminals there are post offices, currency-exchange counters and lots of restaurants and duty-free shops. Both terminals also offer left-luggage services and efficient baggage-courier services.
In both Terminals 1 and 2, the travel-weary (and -dirty) will find showers and day-rooms for napping, and free children’s playrooms available to departing passengers who have completed emigration formalities. Both playrooms include computer games and well-designed play areas.
There are several information counters in both terminals, and the staff speak English; the main counter for foreign visitors is the Terminal 2 information counter (0476-34-6251; 9am-8pm), on the 1st floor.
The airport Tourist Information Center (TIC; 0476-34-6251; 9am-8pm) is a key stop if you haven’t yet booked any accommodation. While you’re there, pick up a subway map and the Tourist Map of Tokyo. There’s a TIC on the 1st floor in each terminal. Narita airport also has a JR office where you can make bookings and exchange your Japan Rail Pass voucher for a pass, if you’re planning to start travelling straight away.
Check-in procedures are usually very efficient at Narita, but you should arrive at the airport at least two hours before your departure time. Passport control and security procedures are similarly efficient (bring your embarkation card, which you should have received upon arrival; if you don’t have one, you can get a blank form before going through passport control).
Haneda Airport (information 5757-8111) is the airport seasoned Tokyo expats wish was still Tokyo’s main air hub. Unfortunately, all international traffic now goes via Narita airport, and only domestic flyers and charter flights can make use of this conveniently located airport.
Haneda doesn’t have Narita’s services infrastructure, but there are post offices, banks, left-luggage services and baggage-shipping companies. Nor does Haneda have a dedicated English-language information counter, although there is usually someone who can answer your questions in English.
Baggage couriers provide next-day delivery of your large luggage from Narita and Haneda Airports to any address in Tokyo (costs around ¥2000 per large bag). They can also deliver luggage to points beyond Tokyo so you don’t have to haul it through trains and stations all over the countryside. Couriers can also pick up luggage for delivery to the airport, but be sure to call two days before your flight to arrange a pick-up. The companies listed here have some operators who speak English:
NPS Skyporter (3590-1919)
Getting into town from Narita can take anything from 50 minutes to two hours, depending on your mode of transport. Because the two terminals at Narita are fairly distant from one another, be sure to get off at the correct terminal – all airport transport prominently displays lists of airlines and the terminal they use.
On the private Keisei Line (0476-32-8501; www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.html), two services run between Narita airport and Tokyo: the comfortable, fast Skyliner service (¥1920, 56 minutes), which runs nonstop to Nippori and Ueno Stations; and thetokkyū (premium train) service (limited express; ¥1000, 75 minutes). The Keisei Stations in Terminals 1 and 2 are clearly signposted in English. From Nippori or Ueno (the final stop), you can change to the JR Yamanote Line. Ueno Station is on both the JR Yamanote Line and the Hibiya and Ginza subway lines. If you’re travelling to Ikebukuro or Shinjuku, it’s more convenient to get off one stop before Ueno at Nippori Station, also on the JR Yamanote Line.
Going to the airport from Ueno, the Keisei Ueno Station is right next to the JR Ueno Station. You can buy advance tickets here for the Skyliner service, or purchase tickets for the Keisei tokkyū service from the ticket machines. JR Nippori Station has a clearly signposted walkway to the Keisei Nippori Station.
Japan Railways (JR East; 3423-0111; www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html) runs Narita Express (N’EX; ¥2940, 53 minutes) and JR kaisoku (rapid express; ¥1280, 85 minutes) services into Tokyo Station, from where you can change for almost anywhere. N’EX is swift, smooth and comfortable, but it doesn’t run as frequently as the private Keisei Line. N’EX trains leave Narita approximately every half-hour between 7am and 10pm for Tokyo Station, and they also run less frequently into Shinjuku (¥3110) and Ikebukuro (¥3110), or to Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama (¥4180). All seats are reserved, but tickets can usually be bought just before departure; if the train is already full, you can buy a standing ticket for the same price.
The JR kaisoku service is part of the local transit network and so stops at many local stations. This service is the slowest and cheapest into Tokyo Station, leaving about once an hour.
Friendly Airport Limousine buses (3665-7220; www.limousinebus.co.jp/e) can be found in both wings of the arrival building of Narita airport. Don’t get too excited about the name – they’re ordinary buses. They take 1½ to two hours (depending on traffic) to travel between Narita airport and a number of major hotels around Tokyo. Check departure times before buying your ticket; buses depart every 15 to 30 minutes.
The fare to hotels in Ikebukuro, Akasaka, Ginza, Shibuya or Shinjuku is ¥3000. You can also go straight to Tokyo Station (one hour 20 minutes) or to Shinjuku Station (one hour 25 minutes) for ¥3000. Those transferring to domestic flights departing from Haneda Airport can take a limousine bus direct (¥3000, 75 minutes) from Narita. Allow plenty of extra time as traffic conditions in Tokyo are seldom ideal. Limousine buses also offer services between Narita and Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT; 045-459-4800) at Yokohama Station. Buses from YCAT, departing every 20 minutes or so, take around 90 minutes and cost ¥3500.
In case you’re wondering, a taxi to Narita Airport from Tokyo will cost more than ¥30, 000 and, battling traffic all the way, will usually take longer than the train.
The simplest, cheapest way to get from Haneda into Tokyo is to hop on the JR monorail to Hamamatsuchō Station on the JR Yamanote Line. Trains (¥470, 20 minutes) leave every 10 minutes. Limousine buses (direct; ¥900, 30 minutes) also connect Haneda with Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT) and hotels around central Tokyo; buses to Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, for example, cost ¥1200 and take about one hour. Of course you could shell out around ¥7000 for a taxi if you prefer.
Car-rental agencies in Tokyo will hire you one of their vehicles upon presentation of an international driving licence. Small cars average ¥8000 per day. Some rental agencies that usually have English-speaking staff on hand:
Dollar Rent-a-Car (3567-2818)
Nippon Rent-a-Car (3485-7196)
Toyota Rent-a-Car (5954-8008)
Water taxis are one of the most dramatic ways to take in the city.
The Tokyo train system can be a bit daunting at first, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Much initial confusion arises from the fact that Tokyo is serviced by a combination of train lines, private and municipal inner-city subway lines and private suburban lines. This sometimes means switching between different train and subway systems, though it’s not as bad as it sounds since the lines are well integrated.
When determining where to get off the train, look for station names clearly marked in both Japanese and English on platform signs and/or posts. These may sometimes be difficult to see, but inside the trains there are electronic signs indicating the next station in Japanese and English. Additionally, automated announcements are made both inside the trains, as well as at the station when the doors open.
Always watch out for express services. As a general rule, the longer the route, the more likely you are to find faster train services. The fastest ‘regular’ trains (ie slower than the bullet trains) are the tokkyū (; limited express services) and the kyūkō (; ordinary express), which usually stop at only a limited number of stations. The slowest trains, which stop at all stations, are called futsū ().
Since the faster trains do not stop at all stations, you must determine whether your destination is serviced by an express train before boarding it. However, there is usually a board on the platform indicating exactly which trains stop where, in both English and Japanese.
Most of Tokyo’s train lines now reserve women-only carriages at weekday rush hours and on weekend nights. The carriages are marked with signs (usually pink) in both Japanese and English, or in some cases by illustrations showing the silhouette of a man standing outside of a women-only carriage. Boys older than 12 are not allowed on women-only carriages.
Making a 35km loop around central Tokyo, the Japan Railways (JR) Yamanote Line is a mostly above-ground circuit that makes a great introduction to the city. Buy the cheapest fare (¥130), disembarking at the same station where you start, and you’ll get a solid, one-hour overview of Tokyo’s main areas of interest. Most fares within the Yamanote loop are either ¥160 or ¥190. JR Yamanote Line trains are silver with a green stripe.
The JR Chūō Line cuts its way through the centre of the JR Yamanote Line between Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations. Trains on this line are coloured orange. This line is continuous with the JR Sōbu Line until Ochanomizu Station where the lines split – the Chūō heading down to Tokyo Station and the Sōbu heading out to the eastern suburbs. Trains on the JR Sōbu Line are yellow, so telling them apart is easy. The JR Chūō Line is about the fastest route between Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations (only rivalled by the Marunouchi subway line).
The JR Yokosuka Line runs south to Kamakura from Tokyo Station via Shimbashi and Shinagawa Stations. The JR Tōkaidō Line also travels in the same direction from Tokyo Station, providing access to Izu-hantō.
The privately owned Yurikamome Line, which services Odaiba, is a driverless, elevated train that departs from Shimbashi, just south of Ginza, crosses the Rainbow Bridge, and terminates in Ariake, on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. The Shimbashi terminal is above ground and on the eastern side of JR Shimbashi Station.
Most of the private lines service suburban areas outside Tokyo, but some of them also connect with popular sightseeing areas. The private lines almost always represent better value for money than the JR lines. The ones you are most likely to use are Shibuya’s Tōkyū Tōyoko Line, which runs south to Yokohama; Shinjuku’s Odakyū Line, which runs southwest out to Hakone; and Asakusa’s Tōbu Nikkō Line, which goes north to Nikkō.
Tokyo is also home to no less than 13 subway lines, of which eight areTokyo Metro Company lines and four are Toei lines. It is not particularly important to remember this distinction as the services are essentially the same and have good connections from one to the other, although they do operate under separate ticketing systems.
The colour-coding and regular English signposting make the system easy to use. For instance, you’ll quickly learn that the Ginza Line is orange and that the Marunouchi Line is red. Perhaps the most confusing part is figuring out where to surface when you have reached your destination – there is almost always a large number of subway exits. Fortunately, the exits are numbered and maps are posted, usually close to the ticket turnstiles.
Generally, the subway system is indispensable for getting to areas that lie inside the loop traced by the JR Yamanote Line. The central Tokyo area is served by a large number of lines that intersect at Nihombashi, Ōtemachi and Ginza, making it possible to get to this part of town from almost anywhere.
For all local journeys, tickets are sold by vending machines called kippu jidō hanbaiki. Above the vending machines are rail maps with fares indicated next to the station names. Unfortunately for visitors, the names on the map are often in kanji only. The best way around this problem is to put your money in the machine and push the lowest fare button (¥130 on JR, ¥160 to ¥170 on subway lines). When you get to your destination, you can correct the fare at an attended ticket gate or at a fare-adjustment machine.
All vending machines for all lines accept ¥1000 notes and most accept ¥10, 000 (there are pictures of the bills accepted on the machines). Don’t forget to pick up the bills you get in change.
Two buttons on the machine could come in handy if you completely bungle the operation. First is the tori-keshi (; cancel) button, which is usually marked in English. The second is the yobidashi (; call) button, which will alert a staff member that you need assistance (staff sometimes pop out from a hidden door between the machines – it can be surprising).
Of course, many travellers and even long-term residents never bother to figure out the appropriate fare when buying tickets, particularly for short inner-city hops. They just grab the cheapest ticket and are on their way. If you choose to do this, you have two choices upon arrival at your destination: an attended ticket gate or the fare-adjustment machine.
At an attended gate, simply hand over your ticket and the attendant will inform you of the additional fare. A fare-adjustment machine is just as simple and saves time if the gate is congested. Look for fare-adjustment machines, usually lit up with yellow signs, near the exit turnstiles. Insert your ticket into the slot near the top of the machine. The screen will tell you how much to pay, then spit out your change (if any) and a new ticket. Insert this ticket into the exit turnstiles, and off you go. Fare-adjustment machines usually have English instructions, and they are sited slightly apart from the ticket machines to avoid congestion.
You’ll need different tickets for the two subway systems, but the automated ticket machines sell transfer tickets (¥70), which allow you to transfer from one system to another for without buying another full-price ticket. The button for this ticket is usually marked only in Japanese (; norikae). To save yourself time and hassle, don’t bother with transfer tickets – buy a Pasmo card or Tokyo Combination Ticket instead.
In the case of JR stations, there will be signs (sometimes but not always in both English and Japanese) indicating the Midori-no-Madoguchi (; Green Window) ticket counter, which is usually posted with a green sign. Here you can buy bullet train tickets, make reservations and buy special passes; in smaller stations this is where you ask for information as well.
If plan to travel on JR lines for more than a few days, consider buying a prepaid JR IO card, which can be found in most JR subway stations. IO cards come in denominations of ¥1000, ¥3000 and ¥5000 and can be purchased from some JR ticket machines. Insert the card into the automated turnstiles as you would a normal ticket, but don’t forget to grab it as you exit the turnstile! The turnstiles will automatically deduct the minimum fare as you enter the train system, and then any amount above that figure, if necessary, as you transfer and/or exit. If you have less than ¥160 left on the card, you will not be able to enter the subway system. Take the card to a ticket machine, then insert the card and whatever amount is necessary to bring the total on the card to ¥160. The machine will then spit out a new ticket and the now worthless JR IO card.
Much like the JR IO card, the Passnet card is a boon for anyone travelling the Tokyo subways. Passnet cards are sold by Tokyo Metro (SF Metro Card) or the Toei subway system (T-Card). These prepaid cards are valid for all the different subway lines and eliminate the need to buy several tickets for one journey. Purchase Passnet cards from ordinary automated ticket machines with a ‘Passnet’ logo (look for an orange-and-white running figure – presumably zipping through turnstiles). Cards are sold in denominations of ¥1000, ¥3000 and ¥5000. Insert the amount, push the Passnet button, then the cash amount button.
A Tokyo Combination Ticket (¥1580) is a day pass that can be used on all JR, subway and bus lines within the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is available at most Green Window ticket counters.
If you’re planning on hopping on and off the Yurikamome, a day pass (¥800) is a good deal. These should be purchased from the ticket machines in Shimbashi prior to departing for Odaiba.
Those planning to spend an extended period of time in Tokyo should strongly consider getting either a Suica or a Pasmo smart card. In the past, the Suica card was solely reserved for JR lines, and the Pasmo card for the Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro subway lines. However, following the 2007 collaboration between all of the Tokyo transportation systems including the private lines, either card now works on any line. This is an incredible convenience as you can effortless move between systems with a swipe of a card.
The Suica Card (¥2000, including a ¥500 deposit) is the one that most commuters used to use for daily rides on the JR system, while the Pasmo Card (¥2000, including a ¥500 deposit) is the one that most commuter used to use for daily rides on the subway. These days however, both cards are essentially one and the same, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Fares are automatically deducted at the end of a journey and you can replenish the value of the card as needed.
Purchase Suica cards at vending machines or at ticket counters in JR stations and Pasco cards at vending machine or at ticket counters in Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro stations. Conveniently, the Suica and Pasmo cards can be swiped over the wicket without being removed from a wallet or bag. You can even use it to pay for items in stores, vending machines and baggage lockers in stations. When you return your Suica or Pasmo card at a station office, you’ll be refunded the ¥500 deposit that was included with the initial ¥2000 purchase.
Another pass offered by JR is the Japan Rail Pass (www.japanrailpass.net), allowing for unrestricted travel on JR trains throughout Japan. A seven-day pass costs ¥28, 300 and must be purchased before arriving in Japan; 14-day and 21-day passes are also available, though if you’re planning on spending most of your time in Tokyo, this pass will not be of benefit to you. On the other hand, if you are planning on visiting other cities or on making some short day trips, the seven-day pass could save you a little money.
Navigating your way around train stations in Tokyo can be confusing, particularly at some of the more gigantic and complex stations such as Shinjuku Station. The key is to know where you’re going before you get to the station. Most stations have adequate English signposting, with large yellow signs on the platforms posting exit numbers and often including local destinations, such as large hotels, department stores and embassies. When possible, find out which exit to use when you get directions to a destination. Street maps of the area are usually posted near each exit.
Many stations simply have four main exits: north, south, east and west. Since one station will usually have several different exits, you should get your bearings and decide where to exit while still on the platform. If you have your destination written down, you can go to an attended gate and ask the station attendant to direct you to the correct exit. To help you along we’ve included in this guidebook exit details for each listing where possible.
Modern Japanese spend a good part of their lives on trains, a fact that is reflected in the wide range of services available at most stations. Most stations have left-luggage lockers, which can hold medium-sized bags (backpacks won’t usually fit). These lockers often come in several sizes and cost from ¥200 to ¥600. Storage is good for 24 hours, after which your bags will be removed and taken to the station office.
All train stations have toilets, almost all of which are free of charge. Bring toilet paper though as it is not always provided (this is why advertising in the form of tissue packets handed out on street corners is big business). It’s also a good idea to pick up a handkerchief at the ¥100 shops as paper towels and hand driers are also not always available.
At the vast majority of stations, you can also find several options for food. The smallest of these are kiosks, which sell snacks, drinks, magazines, newspapers etc. Next up are stores selling ekiben (train-station boxed lunches), which are obligatory if you truly want to experience the sophistication of Japanese long-distance rail travel, and tachi-kui, which are stand-and-eat noodle restaurants. Most of these places require that you purchase a food ticket from a vending machine, which you hand to an attendant upon entry (most machines have pictures on the buttons to help you order). Finally, large stations might also have a choice of several sit-down places, most of which will have plastic food models displayed in the front window.
If you’re planning on booking domestic flights in Japan, you’ll find a number of travel agencies in Tokyo where English is spoken. Note that prices fluctuate wildly depending on season, availability and fuel prices.
Across Traveller’s Bureau (www.across-travel.com); Ikebukuro (5391-3227; 3rd fl, 1-11-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku); Shibuya (5467-0077; 3rd fl, 1-14-14 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku); Shinjuku (3340-6745; 2nd fl, 1-19-6 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku)
No 1 Travel (www.no1-travel.com); Ikebukuro (3986-4690; 4th fl, 1-16-10 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku); Shibuya (3770-1381; 7th fl, 1-11-1 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku); Shinjuku (3200-8871; 7th fl, 1-16-5 Kabukichō, Shinjuku-ku)
STA Travel (5391-2922; www.statravel.co.jp/english/index.html; 7th fl, 1-16-20 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku)
Despite the tangled traffic and often narrow roads, bicycles are still one of the most common forms of transport in Tokyo. Theft does happen, especially of cheap bicycles, so go ahead and lock up your bike. Ride with your bag or pack on your person, as opportunists on motorbikes do swipe stuff from those front-mounted baskets.
Some ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and inns rent bicycles to their guests, but if your lodgings don’t, you can rent a bicycle in Asakusa for ¥200 per day. There’s a bicycle-rental lot on the Sumida-gawa bank near Azumabashi (the bridge just outside Asakusa Station).