Transportation in Tokyo: Getting Around

Trains & Subway

Tokyo’s railway and subway network is world-class—efficient, punctual, clean. So reliable, in fact, are the trains that at some Japanese companies if you are late for work and dare blame the train for your tardiness then you will be expected to also hand in a “Delay Certificate” from the station to convince your boss that you are telling the truth.

But as convenient as it is, the railway network can be confusing to visitors, not least because different companies operate different lines. This means that if you need to make a journey from A to C with a change at B, you will need to exit and re-enter ticket gates at B if A-B and B-C happen to be on lines run by different companies. The biggest operator is the East Japan Railway Company (“JR East” or “JR”) which runs the famous Yamanote Line. This 35km track has been looping the capital and connecting all the major stations since 1925 and is used by about 4 million people every day. The two subway companies are Toei Subways and Tokyo Metro, which between them cover the area inside the Yamanote Line (so most of central Tokyo). In addition, there are several private railway companies which operate lines that connect the outer areas of Tokyo with one of the major stations.

The famous Yamanote Line passes Ebisu station at night

There are several day-passes available, but these either don’t make economic sense, can’t be used on JR lines, or both. Instead you should get a Suica or Pasmo card at one of the stations (pre-charged cards like the Oyster card in London). They won’t save you money but they will save you time as the pre-charge is valid on the JR lines, underground, and bus network. You can also use the card to pay for small items at convenience stores. The card itself is free.

The Yamanote Line is often the most convenient way to get around the capital

The Tokyo Metro map and JR East Railway train map can be downloaded via the links.


Tokyo Toei buses cover most of the area lying within the loop of the Yamanote Line. The fare is a flat ¥210 (¥110 for children). Unless you are staying some distance from a station, you will probably not need to use the buses in Tokyo. The network and routes are not easily to follow and the timetables at the bus stops are all in Japanese.


Tokyo is one of the easiest cities in which to hail a taxi. There are approximately 50,000 operating in Tokyo (versus about 23,000 black cabs in London and about 10,000 yellow cabs in New York). Fares within the 23 special wards are fixed: ¥730 up to 2km and then ¥90 for every 280 meters thereafter. During the night these prices rise by 20%.

The taxi drivers usually speak little to no English so it’s best to have the address written down on a piece of paper (there is no need to worry about them taking you round the houses—they are unfailingly honest and will always calculate the fare using the meter). Remember that left rear passenger doors is automatic, and the rear right doors do not open (to stop passengers walking out into traffic).