Tokyo Transportation Tips 01: Tokyo Transportation Overview. Never get lost in Tokyo!

Whether you have visited Tokyo or not, you will be amazed by this map of Tokyo’s transportation routes.

Image source: Metropolitan Area Railroad Line Chart – Tokyo Metoro

Don’t worry! We’re going to give you an in-depth explanation of Tokyo’s transportation routes in this series on Tokyo Transportation, so you won’t panic the next time you come to Japan!
As the first article, we will give a general introduction to Tokyo’s transportation network and explain the related terms. So here we go!

Tokyo Tram Network

At first glance, Tokyo’s train network looks like a spider’s web that hasn’t been cleaned for years, but if you break it down, it can actually be divided into three components. These are the JR (Japan Railway), the Tokyo Metro (Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway), and the private railroads (private railroads). Generally speaking, the JR is a railroad centered on the Yamanote Line and spreads out in all directions; the private railroads are basically located in the outer 23 districts and suburbs of Tokyo, while the rest of the dense and irregular system is basically the Tokyo Metro. Here is a brief introduction of the system separately.

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JR is Japan’s largest railroad group, known as Japan Railways. Shinkansen, as we know it, is part of the JR Group. However, the JR Group was privatized in 1987 due to poor management and became the current JR Group. Currently, there are six companies: JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR West, JR Tokai, JR Shikoku, and JR Kyushu, as well as JR Cargo, which is not often seen as a national rail freight company.

JR Tokyo belongs to JR East, and the following lines are frequently used.

  • JR Yamanote Line
  • JR Keihin Tohoku-Negishi Line
  • JR Saito-Kyoto Line
  • JR Chuo Line
  • JR Sobu Line
  • JR Joban Line
  • JR Keiyo Line
  • Ueno-Tokyo Line
  • Shonan-Shinjuku Line

And so on.

Among them, the Yamanote Line is a loop line that stops at every station, and there is a lot of overlap with other lines on both the left and right halves. The Saito-Kyoto Line and the Keihin-Tohoku-Negishi Line cross Tokyo from north to south along the left and right halves of the Yamanote Line, respectively, while the Chuo Line and the Sobu Line cross the Yamanote Loop from east to west. If you’ve ever traveled from Tokyo to Tokyo Disney in Maihama, Chiba Prefecture, you’ve taken this line.

Tokyo Subway System

Generally speaking, there is only one subway company in a city, such as Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, etc. But unlike Tokyo, there are two subway companies in Tokyo.

One of them is a public subway operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Transportation Bureau, called the Toei Subway.
The other is a private subway company, Tokyo Metro, which is jointly funded and operated by the Japanese government in Tokyo.
Although they are both subways, they are operated by two separate companies, so sometimes you may find that the two subways do not interchange directly, but you have to exit and enter the station first, and the fares are not inherited from each other.

There are four regular lines: the Toei Oedo Line, Toei Shinjuku Line, Toei Mita Line and Toei Asakusa Line, and two special lines: the Toei Arakawa Line and the Nippori-Seren Line.
Tokyo Metro has nine lines: Marunouchi Line, Ginza Line, Chiyoda Line, Yurakucho Line, Hibiya Line, Hanzomon Line, Tozai Line, Nanboku Line, and fukutoshin Line.

For example, the Toei Mita Line has three stations that are shared with the Metro’s Nanboku Line.

In addition, the Tokyo Subway Ticket 24/48/72 hour pass, which is commonly used by foreign travelers visiting Japan, is a joint initiative of Toei Subway and Tokyo Metro. With this pass, you can take unlimited rides on the four Toei subway lines and nine Tokyo Metro lines mentioned above, for a total of 13 subway lines within a specified period of time. If your future travel plans include more attractions on these 13 lines, then consider purchasing this CP pass based on the length of your visit.

Private Rail

There are several private railroads in the suburbs of Tokyo, usually connecting major stations in Tokyo with famous suburban attractions.

For example, if you’re going to Odaiba, you might take the Lily Seagull line; if you’re going to Kamakura or Hakone, you might take the Odakyu line (which also has the Kotobuki Underground Kitazawa).

The Keio Line passes through the Ghibli Museum of Art in Mitaka no Mori and Yomiuri Land, where the night scenery and lights are amazing, as well as the Tobu Railway, which passes through Kinugawa Onsen and Nikko, and the Seibu Railway, which leads to Seibu Dome.

Although these private railroads do not pass through Tokyo city, many of them have direct connections to trains in the city, which means that you can go directly to the private railways without changing trains. If you get on the Chiyoda Line at Nishi-Higurashi Station and are going to Shimokitazawa Station on the Odakyu Line, you should get off the train at Yoyogi-Uehara Station and transfer to the Odakyu Line. However, if you are taking the Chiyoda Line and Odakyu Line, you can get off the train and go straight to the station. We will explain more about direct transfers later in the terminology section.

Transfers (tram transfers)

Often our destination cannot be reached by a single train, which means we need to go through at least one transfer in between.

Generally speaking, there are several types of transfers.

Different routes within the same company: same platform transfers, inter-platform transfers

A “same-platform transfer” means that after getting off the train at the station where you want to transfer, you don’t need to go through the overpass or underpass, but just walk to the other side of the platform where you are now and you can successfully transfer. For example, at Ueno Station, you can transfer from the JR Yamanote Line to the JR Keihin-Tohoku-Negishi Line.

Cross-platform transfer means that after getting off the train, you need to transfer to another platform via an overpass or an underground passage, which is usually the case at larger stations. For example, at Shinjuku Station, you can transfer from the JR Yamanote Line to the JR Chuo Line. Be aware that large stations often have many platforms (JR Shinjuku Station has 8 island platforms with 16 lines), so it is important to know which line you will be taking next.

However, since lines of the same company transfer to each other, there is usually no need to exit or re-enter the station. However, there is an exception for the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Fukutoshin Line at Shinjuku-Sanchome Station during the morning rush hour, which we will explain in detail in the Tokyo Metro section.

Transfers between companies

For example, at Ueno Station, there are both Tokyo Metro Ueno Station (Hibiya Line, Ginza Line) and JR Ueno Station (Yamanote Line, Keihin Tohoku-Negishi Line, Takasaki Line, Utsunomiya Line, Shinkansen, etc.), while at Shinjuku Station, there are JR Shinjuku Station, Toei Subway Shinjuku Line Shinjuku Station, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line Shinjuku Station, private railways The Odakyu and Keio lines also have Shinjuku stations.

To transfer between these stations, you must first swipe your card to exit the station, then find the next station on the line and swipe your card to enter the station. Of course, since there is an exit and entry process, the fares for each stage are calculated separately. If the shortest distance to your destination requires you to transfer to several companies, sometimes you prefer to take a little detour to reduce the frequency of transfers.

Straight transfers

As we mentioned earlier, there will be many private rail lines and metro lines in the city with “through transfers”.

Originally, each company’s car would only run on its own track, but it would be inconvenient for passengers to change trains frequently, and it would not be economical for the company to run each car for a short distance. So the major companies began to cooperate, for example, you can let some trains of company A run to the track of company B, and relatively also let some trains of company B run to the track of company A. In this way, the distance of each car increased, the company’s economic benefits also increased, to the passengers also more convenient, is a triple whammy.

The fare calculation has not changed. That is to say, the total fare you need to pay before the direct transit = Company A section fare + Company B section fare, and after the direct transit, you still need to pay the same amount of fare. Although the fare has not changed, there are fewer transfers, and if you have a seat on the train, you can also sit in the end, which is actually quite convenient.

The following companies and routes are commonly used in the Tokyo area.

  • Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line – [Kitasenju Station] – Tobu SkyTree Line – Nikko Line
  • Central Line (stop at each station) – [Nakano Station] – Tokyo Metro Tozai Line – [Nishi-Funabashi Station] – JR Sobu Line (stop at each station)
  • Tama Line – Odawara Line [Yoyogi Uehara Station] – Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line – [Ayase Station] – JR Joban Line (stop at each station)
  • Tobu Tojo Line – [Wako-shi Station] – Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line and Sub-Toshin Line – [Shibuya Station (Sub-Toshin Line)] – Tokyu Toyoko Line (continues on to the Yokohama Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture, which leads all the way to the Minato Mirai Line, ending at Motomachi-Chinatown Station, where Yokohama Chinatown is located)
  • Tokyu Tanen City Line – [Shibuya Station] – Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line – [Oshigami Station] – Tobu SkyTree Line – Tobu Isezaki Line / Nikko Line
  • Tokyu Meguro Line – [Meguro Station] – Tokyo Metro North-South Line / Toei Mita Line

And so on.

However, as we said earlier, only “some trains” can run through, not all. If you need to take a through train, be sure to check where the train ends and whether it is a through train or not.

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