How to Get Around Tokyo

April 26, 2012 by

Local Recommendations, Sightseeing, Travel Tips

Tokyo Train

Tokyo Train. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) via Flickr.

The best way to get around Tokyo is via the very efficient train and subway system. The train station signage is bewildering at first but can actually be quite simply understood when armed with a few fundamental pieces of information.

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The JR (Japan Railway) train lines

The green-colored JR Yamanote line is a circle/loop line that links all of Tokyo’s major districts. It’s probably the most useful line for visitors. The red-colored JR Chuo line takes you through the center of Tokyo, cutting through Shinjuku and Tokyo Station. The yellow JR Sobu line is useful for Akihabara and Ryogoku.

The TRTA subway lines are Ginza (gold), Hibiya (grey) and Marunouchi (red). Ginza will, of course, take you to Ginza but also to Asakusa, Shibuya, Omotesando, Nihombashi and Ueno. The Hibiya line serves Tokyo Tower, Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market, Akihabara and Ueno. Marunouchi covers Shinjuku, Ginza (again!), Ochanomizu and Ikebukero.


Tickets can be purchased from vending machines inside the train stations. You’ll need to purchase from a JR ticket machine or a TRTA vending machine (or another company) depending on which train company you are using. It is typical of Japanese ingenuity that, to save you working out your fare, it is possible to buy the cheapest available ticket and pay the balance of your fare before you exit at your final destination in the yellow ‘Fare Adjustment’ machines.

If you are using a Japan Rail pass (highly recommended and purchasable before you leave your home country) you can simply show your pass at the exit gates if you travel on a JR line.

There are a number of discount tickets available for use on the TRTA subway lines. Just simply inquire at the subway info desks at Ginza, Shinjuku or Nihombashi.


For a flat fare of 200 yen you can travel between railway stations and to other destinations in central Tokyo on the bus. Destinations are clearly marked on the front of the bus and timetables are available at Shinjuku Station’s basement bus station.


You’ll need to have your destination written down in Kanji (Japanese) for most taxi drivers. Taxis start at 660 yen and a red light on top indicates that they are vacant. A green light indicates a nighttime surcharge is in operation.

- Emma McMahon

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