Terrific Train Transit in Tokyo

About 75% of my transportation in Tokyo was on the train, so I got a pretty good feel for the local train options that they had. I didn’t get to ride any of the intercity rail lines such as the “bullet train” so no observations on those, but overall I was rather impressed by the local options that I had.

Getting from the airport to the city is surprisingly slow. Yes, the airport is ridiculously far from town (~80Km) so I wasn’t expecting it to be a 10 minute ride like from National to downtown DC, but the 60-80 minute ride on the train was pretty slow. It didn’t help that I was pretty tired from the flying and had my headphones on and missed my stop on the train, adding an extra 30 minutes to the trip. The extra bit also introduced me to an even more local train than the one I started on, so that was nice.

The trains in Tokyo are operated by three different companies, which also adds to the confusion of the system. Ultimately I chose to pay a bit extra for my rides and have the flexibility of riding any line at any time, but I’m not entirely sure that was necessary. I used a lot of the information from this site for helping plan my trip, and he’s got a bunch of useful information on there. I highly recommend it if you are planning a trip. I ended up with the Pasmo card, basically a stored-value card that works on all the systems in town. A typical ride is somewhere between ¥150-¥250 ($1.50-$2.50), on top of a ¥500 deposit for the card. Supposedly you can get the deposit refunded if you return the card but I kept mine as a souvenir. The daily unlimited cards cost around ¥700 so my two days for ¥1500 (plus the deposit) were about the same price and I didn’t have to worry about which line I was riding. If you’re riding more then a daily might be a better deal, but I was happier not worrying about which train station I had to find, as I was pretty lost throughout the trip.

A few things that struck me as particularly impressive about the train network. First is that the stations are all numbered using the Arabic Latin alphabet and numerals. That was VERY useful for me. Second, the map that they have is very busy because of the number of different routes. And it doesn’t have any landmarks on it. That’s generally not a problem, but there are also some quirks with the spacing of the stations such that some appear to be very close when they are, in reality, not. I ended up about a half mile out of the way – in the pouring rain – thanks to my inability to figure out the map so well. Oopsie. The good news is that there are street maps just about everywhere at street level – officially for evacuation purposes but they are a boon for tourists – so figuring out where you are and how to get to the next place isn’t so hard.

There are displays on every platform that list the details of the next train, including destination and when it will depart the station. I never waited more than 4 minutes for a subway in town and only about 10 minutes at either end for my airport transfers. I’m pretty happy with those timings.

My biggest gripe about the system is that it shuts down overnight. I know that most metro systems do and that New York is actually an exception more than a rule, but I’m still so used to always having it available that when it isn’t I’m surprised. It cost me a pretty penny (¥3000) for the taxi to Tsukiji as the subway wasn’t running in the early morning, and I could see it being a problem if I were out drinking late one night, but in the end that is a small complaint about an otherwise ridiculously efficient and well run system.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Really? Arabic letters? (numbers I understand) To me that wouldn’t be very helpful. Do they have Latin alphabet signs, too? 🙂

    Thanks for the tip with the train info site.

Comments are closed.