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Taking the Subway in Tokyo – The Basics

April 4, 2008

Taking the train in and around Tokyo can be a bit intimidating at first but it’s really not that difficult. First thing first, if you are doing some advance planning take a moment to download and print the English Route Map from Tokyo Metro. Don’t worry if you didn’t do this as the front desk of most hotels catering to tourists and tourist information desks located throughout the city at major train stations and tourist areas should have one that you can pick up for free.

Once you have determined where you are an where you want to go here are six steps that will make it easy.

Step 1 – Determine the Fare to Your Destination. There are a few options:

Many stations now offer Fare Charts in English near the ticket vending machines. This is the easiest and quickest way to determine your fare. Locate the name of your destination and the number off to the right is the fare.

If you don’t see the English Fare Chart you will need to find your destination on the maps above the ticket vending machines at each station (photo below). Note that the map is in Kanji, so you will have to match the locations and Kanji from your English Route Map to the map in the stations. Newer maps assign each subway station a letter (usually the first letter of the line) and a number (the stop number) which make this a whole lot easier but as you can tell by the photo below all of the maps have not been updated yet. The number below or off to the side is the fare to your destination. At this point you should also make a note of the end station in the direction that you will be traveling.

If you have access to a computer you can do all of this online at Tokyo Transfer Guide. Follow the on screen directions and this site will tell you the fare to your destination, and transfer points along the way and the total travel time.

Next you have to buy your ticket and find the right track, it’s not as easy as it sounds so

Step 2 – Purchase a Ticket.

Approach the ticket vending machine and insert your Yen. Correct change is not required and you may pay with bills or coin (credit cards are not accepted). Some stations cannot change bills larger that Y1,000. Once you have inserted your Yen the various fares will be on the screen in little boxes. Touch the box that corresponds to your train fare with your finger and a ticket will be printed. Pick up our ticket and any change.

Step 3 – Proceed through the Fare Gate.

Insert your ticket into slot located above the green arrow on the fare gate. Don’t forget to retrieve your ticket as you pass through the gate as you will need to use it to exit at your destination.

Step 4 – Locate your Track.

There are a minimum of two lines in each station and each line often has it’s own platform. In order to determine which platform you need to be on look for the overhead signs after you pass through the fare gate. These signs will indicate where the train on each platform is headed and will usually list a couple of significant stops along the way and the end point of the line in both English & Kanji (if the sign is electronic and you only see Kanji wait a moment – it will switch to English) . Select your track and follow the arrows to the correct platform. Remember I told you to note the end station on your map – this is why.

If by chance you head in the wrong direction simply get off at the next stop and switch platforms to head the other way.

Step 5 – Exit at your Destination.

Exit the fare gates in the same manner as you entered them only this time the machine will keep your ticket.

Step 6 – Locate the correct Station Exit. You made it!

This is not a big issue in smaller stations but in larger stations there may be exits located blocks apart that are not easily accessible without backtracking through the station itself. Most destination guides (including this one) will mention an exit name or number when it is applicable. Just follow the arrows to the correct exit.

Tokyo Metro provides an online guide titled Using the Subway and also reminds users of train etiquette. The guidelines are basic, don’t sit in seats dedicated to the handicapped, aged or pregnant and silence your cell phone. Women only cars are available late at night and during the morning rush hour. To get on or avoid (if you are a man) a Women only car look for the pink signs on the platform.

One last piece of advice that I will offer is to avoid taking the train during rush hour if at all possible as the trains are jammed packed with people and it’s not a lot of fun – trust me!

Tomorrow I will offer some tips and tricks that make this whole process a lot easier.

Photo Credit: Personal Collection