Navigating Tokyo‘s transit system can be a daunting task for first-time visitors, with multiple lines operated by different companies, significant crowds, and a number of similar-sounding stops – but with the right knowledge and tools, you too can get around like a pro. In this blog, we’ll review the various ways to get in & around Tokyo as well as the pros & cons of each method.

  1. Travel Passes
  2. Tokyo Trains & Subways
  3. IC Cards (Suica & Plasmo)
  4. Taxis
  5. City Buses
  6. Airport Transportation

1. Travel Passes

Tokyo offers several travel passes that can save you money and make your transit experience more convenient. Here’s an overview of the different options:

JR Pass

The JR Pass is a cost-effective option for those planning to travel extensively throughout Japan, including Tokyo. It provides unlimited rides on all JR trains, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), making it an excellent choice for long-distance travel or longer stays. 

Tokyo Subway Pass

If you plan to fully explore Tokyo, the Tokyo Subway Pass is a great option to get you where you need to go. It offers unlimited rides on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines, making it convenient for navigating even the further reaches of the city.

Preloaded IC Cards

IC cards, such as Suica and Pasmo, are reloadable smart cards that can be used on all major transit systems in Tokyo. They offer a hassle-free way to pay for your rides and can also be used for purchases at convenience stores and vending machines. However, due to the ongoing chip shortage across Japan, sale of these passes may be limited. Your best bet to to try to buy them at the airport or download the suica app for iOS devices. Suica cards can also be refunded for any remaining balance when you leave the country. 

Which pass is right for me?

When choosing a travel pass, you should consider both the length of your stay and the areas you plan to visit. If you’re sticking to mainly central Tokyo, an unlimited JR Pass will likely suffice and may even be more handy if you plan to take bullet trains to explore other cities in Japan. If you plan to stay in the city for just a few days or a long weekend, but want to see the breadth of the city – the Tokyo Subway Pass or Tokyo Skytree Enjoy Pack may be a better option. 


2. Tokyo Trains and Subways

Tokyo’s public transportation operates daily from 5 am to midnight, and is typically incredibly quiet. Even during busy times, it is often so quiet you could hear a pin drop from the other side of the car! Google Maps or the Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists app will be your best friends during your stay – Not only do they help to map routes to your destination across the various subway lines but they also provide useful transfer, fare, and crowd-level information. However, it’s crucial to avoid rush hour at all costs as the trains and stations can become incredibly crowded and overwhelming.

Tokyo’s rail network is operated by several major operators, including:

  1. Japan Rail (JR)
  2. Tokyo Metro
  3. Toei Subway

Google Maps is an excellent tool for planning your routes and finding the most efficient way to get around. You can pay for single rides with cash (yen) by purchasing physical tickets or using a reloadable IC card.


3. IC Cards (Suica and Pasmo)

 

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IC cards, such as Suica and Pasmo, are reloadable smart cards that offer numerous benefits for navigating Tokyo’s transit system. Here’s what you need to know:

  • What are IC cards and their benefits? IC cards are contactless smart cards that can be used to pay for transit fares, as well as purchases at convenience stores, vending machines, and some shops. They eliminate the need to carry exact change and offer a seamless experience.
  • How to purchase and reload IC cards: You can purchase IC cards at the airport after immigration, at major subway stations, or at designated kiosks. They typically require a refundable deposit, and you can reload them at ticket machines or convenience stores.
  • Using IC cards for transit and other purchases: Simply tap your IC card on the reader when entering and exiting the transit system. The fare will be automatically deducted from your card balance. You can also use your IC card for purchases at participating retailers by tapping it on the payment terminal.
  • Suica vs Pasmo: The main difference between Suica and Pasmo is the company that issues them: Suica cards are issued by JR East (East Japan Railway Company), which operates JR lines, while Pasmo cards are issued by private railway operators (think Tokyo Metro & Toei). However, both Suica and Pasmo can be used interchangeably on almost all rail lines and buses. There is also a minor difference in the refund policies when returning the cards. Where Suica charges a ¥220 handling fee when refunding any remaining balance beyond the deposit, Pasmo companies refund the full remaining balance with no fees.

4. Taxis

 

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Taxis in Tokyo offer convenience and comfort, but they can be expensive, especially for longer distances. Tokyo host many ride-hailing services like Uber, Go Taxi, and DiDi, that may be familiar to travelers and can make the experience much more seamless. Here are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Readily available and easy to hail
  • Comfortable and air-conditioned
  • Ideal for short distances or when carrying heavy luggage

Cons:

  • Expensive, especially during rush hour or for long distances
  • Language barriers can be an issue if the driver doesn’t speak English

5. City Buses

While Tokyo’s bus system is extensive, it’s generally not recommended for visitors due to the complexity of routes and the language barrier. However, if you’re comfortable navigating the system in Japanese, buses can be a cost-effective option for shorter distances.


6. Airport Transportation

Getting to and from Tokyo’s airports can be a hassle, but there are several convenient options available:

From Narita Airport

  • Narita Express (N’EX): This direct train service connects Narita Airport to major stations in Tokyo, including Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station.
  • Keisei Skyliner: A faster and more affordable alternative to the N’EX, the Keisei Skyliner connects to Ueno and Nippori stations.
  • Airport Limousine Bus: These buses offer direct service from Narita Airport to major hotels and destinations in Tokyo. If they operate to a stop near your destination, it’s likely the easiest way there! 

From Haneda Airport


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We hope this guide has helped you understand the various transit options and passes available in Tokyo! Now with just a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to navigate Tokyo’s transit system like a pro! To discover more of the best things to do in Japan, visit Trazy.comYour Travel Shop for Asia!

[Photo Credit]

  • Tokyo Metro Official Site
  • The Japan Times

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