Tokyo is by no means a bicycle-friendly city. Bike lanes are almost nonexistent and you’ll see no-parking signs for bicycles everywhere (ignore these at your peril: your bike could get impounded, requiring a half-day excursion to the pound and a ¥3000 fee). Still, you’ll see people cycling everywhere and it can be a really fun way to get around the city. Some hostels and ryokan have bikes to lend. See Rentabike(http://rentabike.jp) for places around town that rent bicycles.
Cogi Cogi is a bike-sharing system with a growing number of ports around the city. There are instructions in English, but it’s a little complicated to use and requires that you sign up in advance online and have wi-fi connection to sync with the ports.
Toei (www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/eng/services/bus.html) runs an extensive bus network, though in most cases it’s easier to get around by subway.
- Fares are ¥210/110 per adult/child; there are no transfer tickets. Deposit your fare into the box as you enter the bus; there’s a change machine at the front of the bus that accepts ¥1000 notes.
- Most buses have digital signage that switches between Japanese and English. A recording announces the name of each stop as it is reached, so listen carefully and press the button next to your seat when your stop is announced.
Tokyo Cruise water buses run up and down the Sumida-gawa (Sumida River), roughly twice an hour between 10am and 6pm, connecting Asakusa with Hama-rikyū Onshi-teien (¥980, 35 minutes) and Odaiba (¥1260, 70 minutes). Tickets can be purchased immediately before departure, if available, at any pier; advanced bookings are not required but are possible, up to one month in advance, online.
Tokyo Mizube Cruising Line water buses head down the Sumida-gawa from Asakusa to Ryōgoku (¥310), Hama-rikyū Onshi-teien (¥620) and Odaiba (¥1130), and then back up again. Schedules are seasonal, and infrequent in winter. Tickets don’t have to be reserved in advance but can be purchased just before departure.
Car & Motorcycle
Considering the traffic, the confusing roads and the ridiculous cost of parking, the only reason you’d want a car in Tokyo is to get out of the city.
You will need an International Driving Permit, which must be arranged in your own country before you leave. It’s also wise to get a copy of Rules of the Road (digital/print ¥864/1404) published by the Japan Automobile Federation.
Rental companies with branches around the city include Nippon Rent-a-Car (www.nipponrentacar.co.jp/english) and Toyota Rent-a-Car(https://rent.toyota.co.jp/eng/). Expect to pay ¥8000 per day for a smallish rental car.
Taxis in Tokyo feature white-gloved drivers, seats covered with lace doilies and doors that magically open and close – an experience in itself. They rarely make economic sense though, unless you have a group of four.
- Fares start at ¥730 for the first 2km, then rise by ¥90 for every 280m you travel (or for every 105 seconds spent in traffic).
- There’s a surcharge of 20% between 10pm and 5am.
- Drivers rarely speak English, though fortunately most taxis now have navigation systems. It’s a good idea to have your destination written down in Japanese, or better yet, a business card with an address.
- Most (but not all) taxis take credit cards.
Tickets & Passes
Prepaid re-chargeable Suica and Pasmo cards work on all city trains, subways and buses. With either (they’re essentially the same), you’ll be able to breeze through the ticket gates of any station without having to work out fares or transfer tickets. Fares for pass users are also slightly less (a few yen per journey) than for paper-ticket holders.
The only reason not to go with a Suica or Pasmo is to take advantage of Tokyo Metro’s 24-hour unlimited-ride pass (adult/child ¥600/300). Note that this is only good on the nine subway lines operated by Tokyo Metro. There are other (more expensive) passes that include rides on Toei subway and Tokyo-area JR lines, but the Tokyo Metro pass is the best deal.
Tokyo’s extensive rail network includes JR lines, a subway system and private commuter lines that depart in every direction for the suburbs, like spokes on a wheel. Trains arrive and depart precisely on time. Journeys that require transfers between lines run by different operators cost more than journeys that use only one operator’s lines. Major transit hubs include Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Ueno stations.
Japan Railways (JR) Lines
The JR network covers the whole country and includes the shinkansen(bullet train). In Tokyo, the above-ground Yamanote (loop) and the Chūō–Sōbu (central) lines are the most useful. Tickets start at ¥133 and go up depending on how far you travel.
Tokyo has 13 subway lines, nine of which are operated by Tokyo Metro(www.tokyometro.jp/en) and four by Toei(www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/eng). The lines are colour-coded, making navigation fairly simple. Unfortunately a transfer ticket is required to change between the two; a Pasmo or Suica card makes this process seamless, but either way a journey involving more than one operator comes out costing more. Rides on Tokyo Metro cost ¥170 to ¥240 (¥90 to ¥120 for children) and on Toei ¥180 to ¥320 (¥90 to ¥160 for children), depending on how far you travel.
Private Commuter Lines
Private commuter lines service some of the hipper residential neighbourhoods. Useful trains:
Keiō Inokashira line (from Shibuya for Shimo-Kitazawa and Kichijōji)
Odakyū line (from Shinjuku for Shimo-Kitazawa)
Tōkyū-Tōyoko line (from Shibuya for Daikanyama and Naka-Meguro)
Note that the commuter lines run tokkyū (特急; limited-express services), kyūkō (急行; express) and futsū (普通; local) trains; when in doubt, take a local.
- Purchase paper tickets or top up train passes at the touch-screen ticket-vending machines outside station ticket gates. These have an English function. (Older push-button machines do still exist in some stations and sell only paper tickets.)
- To purchase a paper ticket, you’ll need to work out the correct fare from the chart above the machines. If you can’t work it out, just buy a ticket for the cheapest fare.
- All ticket gates have card readers for Suica and Pasmo train passes; simply wave your card over the reader.
- If you’re using a paper ticket or a one-day pass, you’ll need to use a ticket gate with a slot for inserting a ticket. Make sure to pick it up when it pops out again.
- You’ll need your ticket or pass to exit the station as well. If your ticket or pass does not have sufficient charge to cover your journey, insert it into one of the ‘fare adjustment’ machines near the exit gates.
Groping male hands have long been a problem for women when trains are packed. Most Tokyo train lines have women-only carriages at peak times. The carriages are marked with signs (usually pink) in Japanese and English. Children can ride in them, too.
Lockers & Toilets
Hub stations have lockers 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 and have toilet paper (though not always soap and towels).
Lost & Found
Larger stations have dedicated lost-and-found windows (labelled in English); otherwise lost items are left with the station attendant. Items not claimed on the same day will be handed over to the operator’s lost-and-found centre. Items not claimed after several days are turned over to the police.
Tokyo Metro Lost & Found Office located inside Iidabashi Station on the Namboku line.
If you’re planning a packed day, you might consider getting an unlimited-ride ticket. For details and information on other passes, see www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/info/profit/index.html.
- Tokyo Metro One-Day Open Ticket (adult/child ¥600/300) Unlimited rides over a 24-hour period on Tokyo Metro subway lines only. Purchase at Tokyo Metro stations.
- Common One-Day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway Lines (adult/child ¥1000/500) Unlimited rides for one calendar day on all 13 lines operating underground in Tokyo. Purchase at Tokyo Metro or Toei stations.
- Tokyo Combination Ticket (adult/child ¥1590/800) Unlimited rides for one calendar day on Tokyo Metro, Toei and JR lines operating in Tokyo. Purchase at stations serviced by any of these lines.
The following passes are fantastic if you plan to travel outside Tokyo, however, they are only available for foreign-passport holders on a tourist visa. The latter two options can be purchased at JR East Travel Service Centers in either airport or at Tokyo Station. Tickets for children are half-price. For details and information on other passes, see www.japanrailpass.net/en.
- Japan Rail Pass Covers travel on JR trains throughout the nation. A seven-day pass costs ¥29,110 and must be purchased before arriving in Japan; 14-day and 21-day passes are also available.
- JR East Nagano & Niigata Area Pass Covers bullet trains between Tokyo, Nagano and Niigata (good for skiing, hiking and onsen) and limited-express trains to Izu and Narita Airport. Costs ¥18,000 for unlimited travel on five days of your choosing within a 14-day period.
- JR Kantō Area Pass Three consecutive days of unlimited rides on all Kanto-area JR East lines, including limited-express trains and shinkansen (but not the Tōkaidō shinkansen) for ¥10,000. This is good for travellers wanting to visit the Nikkō and Mt Fuji areas.
Chikatetsu (地下鉄) Japanese for subway.
JR Short for Japan Rail, the once national and now private train operator.
Midori-no-madoguchi (緑の窓口; green window) Found in larger JR train stations, these are ticket counters for purchasing long-distance (including bullet-train) tickets. Credit cards accepted.
Pasmo (パスモ) Pre-paid rechargeable train pass, good on all city subways, trains and buses. Also works on vending machines and kiosks in stations and at some convenience stores. Sold at subway and commuter line stations.
Suica (スイカ) Interchangeable with Pasmo, but sold at JR train stations.
Ginza subway line Shibuya to Asakusa, via Ginza and Ueno. Colour-coded orange.
Hibiya subway line Naka-Meguro to Ebisu, Roppongi, Ginza, Akihabara and Ueno. Colour-coded grey.
JR Yamanote line Loop line stopping at many sightseeing destinations, such as Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo and Ueno. Colour-coded light green.
JR Chūō line Tokyo Station to points in west Tokyo, via Shinjuku. Colour-coded reddish-orange.
JR Sōbu line Runs across the city centre, connecting Shinjuku with Iidabashi, Ryōgoku and Akihabara. Colour-coded yellow.
Yurikamome line Elevated train running from Shimbashi to points around Tokyo Bay.
How to Hail a Taxi
- Train stations and hotels have taxi stands where you are expected to queue.
- In the absence of a stand, you can hail a cab from the street, by standing on the curb and sticking your arm out.
- A red light means the taxi is free and a green light means it’s taken.
- All cabs run by the meter.
- Figure out the best route to your destination with the Japan Travel app (https://navitimejapan.com); you can download routes to be used offline, too.
- Most train and subway stations have several different exits. Try to get your bearings and decide where to exit while still on the platform; look for the yellow signs that indicate which stairs lead to which exits.
- If you’re not sure which exit to take, look for street maps of the area usually posted near the ticket gates, which show the locations of the exits.
When to Travel
- Trains and subways run 5am to midnight.
- The morning rush (7am to 9.30am) for trains going towards central Tokyo (from all directions) is the worst, when ‘packed in like sardines’ is an understatement.
- Until 9.30am women (and children) can ride in women-only cars, which tend to be less crowded.
- The evening rush (around 5pm to 8pm) hits trains going out of central Tokyo – though as many work late or stay out, it’s not as bad as the morning commute.
- The last train of the night heading out of the city (around midnight) is also usually packed – with drunk people. Friday night is the worst.
- Trains going the opposite directions during peak hours (towards central Tokyo in the evening, for example) are uncrowded, as are trains in the middle of the day.
- Have your train pass or ticket in hand when approaching the ticket gates, especially during rush hour, to avoid creating a jam.
- You will get dirty looks for getting on rush-hour trains with large luggage.
- When the platform is crowded, Tokyoites will form neat lines on either side of where the doors will be when the train pulls up. Once on the train, all’s fair when it comes to grabbing a seat.
- It’s considered bad form to eat or drink on the train (long-distance trains are an exception). Talking on the phone or having a loud conversation is also frowned upon.
- Stand to the left on escalators.
- Seats at the end of train cars are set aside as ‘priority seats’ for elderly, disabled or pregnant passengers (though Tokyoites often ignore this).
How to Buy a Train Pass
Suica or Pasmo cards can be purchased from any touch-screen ticket-vending machine in Tokyo (including those at Haneda and Narita Airports). Suica (available at JR stations) requires a minimum initial charge of ¥2000 (which includes a ¥500 deposit). Pasmo (available at subway and commuter line stations) requires a minimum initial charge of ¥1000 (which includes a ¥500 deposit). The deposit (along with any remaining charge) is refunded when you return the pass to any ticket window.
Both passes can be topped-up at any touch-screen ticket-vending machine (not just, for example, at JR stations for Suica passes) in increments of ¥1000. Ticket-vending machines have an English option so all of this is actually quite easy.
Thanks to Lonely Planet for information about Japan