The Tokyo Commute

The most convenient method for you to get around Tokyo is through the metro subways and railways. Buses tend to be more expensive and slower than trains. Taxis can get very expensive— minimum charge is around ¥ 730.

Tokyo is a dense network of subways, trains, and bus lines operated by several companies. The trains operated by JR East are convenient for central Tokyo. The city’s most famous train line is the JR Yamanote Line that connects the city’s centers. Tokyo has 13 subway lines operated by two companies. These lines run around the Yamanote circle and areas around Shitamachi and Ginza. Many of the suburban train lines commence at Yamanote Line which is made up of six major stations—Ueno, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shinagawa, and Shibuya.

The Subways

The city’s subway network is managed by two companies—Tokyo Metro with nine lines and Toei Subways with four. Together, these subways cover central Tokyo and are concentrated on the Yamanote circle, Ginza, and Shitamachi. At terminal stations, trains of other subway lines still operate on the tracks run by other companies on train lines. For instance, you may see trains on the Hibiya Subway Line that run on the tracks of the Toyoko Line in the Nakameguro Station.

Other Railways

Aside from JR East and the two subway companies, several railways connect Tokyo with the outer towns and prefectures. Their lines usually begin at the JR Yamamote Line. Most of the private railway firms also manage department stores at their major train stations.

  • Tokyo Railways—Kanagawa and Southwestern Tokyo
  • Tobu Railways—Tochigi and Saitama
  • Seibu Railways—Saitama and Tokyo Tama Region
  • Keisei Railways—Chibba
  • Odakyu Railways—Kanagawa
  • Tsukuba Railways—Ibaraki
  • Keio Railways—Tokyo Tama Region

There are a lot of railways and transfer is complicated for the first time. You can look up in advance how to get to your destination by visiting Japan Transit Planner.

The Ticket System

Ticket fares usually start at ¥ 140 for the JR East Lines, ¥ 170 for Tokyo Metro, and ¥ 180 for the Toei Train Lines. Tickets may only be used for one company, except for the prepaid Passnet that you can use for Toei, Tokyo Metro and other private lines. Some of the private lines that are connected to Metro lines share the same trains as well. For instance, Toei’s Asakusa Line is connected to the Kekyu and Narita Lines, so it would be possible for you to go from Narita to Yokohama without even changing trains.

You can purchase train tickets at the ticket machines in every station. Tickets for more than ¥ 1620, reserved tickets, and limited express tickets are usually sold at the “View Plazas” or “Ticket Offices” that also sell tickets for ships, long distance buses, flights, and even art museums.

People who cannot read or understand Japanese may purchase their pass through touch screen ticket machines with an English display option. Most machines usually accept ¥-1000 notes, and a few accept ¥-5000 and ¥-10,000 notes. No coins less than ¥ 10 are accepted at these machines. Ticket machines are next to wickets (gates). Make sure you confirm your destination’s fare on the route chart posted above the machine. Put the money inside the machine and press the appropriate button. Some machines don’t accept wrinkled bills, so make sure you use ones in good condition. As soon as you have your change and ticket, go to the wickets. Find out more about the purchasing a train ticket here.

Most train stations in the city feature automatic gates. Tickets with brown or black magnetic surfaces on the back need to be slid on the right hand side of the wicket for you to go through. As soon as you pass the gate, your ticket automatically comes out on the other side for you to pull out. Take care of your ticket, since you will need this when you reach your destination.

Upon arrival, insert the ticket into the gate. The gate should keep the ticket. If you insert the ticket outside the area covered by the fare on your ticket, you will not be able to go through. You need to pay the difference at the fare adjustment machines and go through the gate again. There is also a manned wicket beside the gates for you to pay the difference.

Purchasing Commuter Tickets

Commuter tickets are helpful if you frequently travel between two stations (like lodging and school). Season tickets for underground lines are not very common in Japan. Every train company has their own ticket. To purchase one, try to find a big station with a commuter ticket office. Fill out the application form. Don’t forget to include which stations you plan to commute between and the length of use. This ticket should let you use any station on the same train line between the two train stations that you have selected. Students who will be picked up at the airport will receive commute information from KCP staff.

Useful words for Commuting

切符 (kippu) = (train or subway) ticket
電車 (densha) = train
地下鉄 (chikatetsu) = Subway, Underground, Metro
定期券 (teikiken) = commuter ticket
乗り換え (norikae) = transfer


Related posts from KCP Window on Japan:

How to buy a ticket in a Tokyo train station