Japan Daily Life: Tokyo Densha 東京電車

Useful Japanese words:

Densha / 電車 / でんしゃ (Train)
Basu / バス (Bus)
Eki / 駅 / えき (Station)
Doko / どこ (Where)

Upon arriving in Tokyo, one of the first things I needed to do was figure out the train system and public transportation options. Now that I’ve had a little time to figure things out, I want to share what I’ve learned, so if you ever decide to visit Tokyo, you hopefully won’t be too lost about how to get around.

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The first thing you have to figure out is where you are going and which train(s) you will need to get there. Find out the name of the station nearest the place you want to go, whether that’s a hotel or other site of interest. There are A LOT of different train systems in Tokyo, even looking at a map of the train lines can seem daunting and intimidating. If you are not sure which train line(s) will get you to the station you need, don’t hesitate to ask someone. There are information counters at the airports, or if nothing else, even random people on the street are helpful and can usually guide you, since they use the transportation all the time. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can simply say the name of the station you want, and then say, “dore densha wa…?” and they will likely understand what you need (although it is an incomplete sentence). If you’d prefer a full sentence, you can say, “(Station Name) eki ni iku tame ni, dore densha wo tsukawararemasuka?
Once you know which train line(s) you need to get where you need to go, find the nearest station offering the lines you want. You can identify stations by the following symbols:

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Frequently there will be several entrances (入口) and exits (出口) for the same station from different points on the street or intersection. If you need to memorize which entrance you use so that you can find the same point again, there should be a number on the side of the station sign or on the wall nearby somewhere that labels that particular entrance/exit. The station entry below is exit/entrance #3, seen in the upper right corner.

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There are some trains above ground. The Yurikamome line runs above the street, maybe about halfway up the height of many buildings, and provides a great view of the city as you ride it. It runs along the waterfront and also gives a nice view of the bay. However, most of the trains are subway lines and run underground. There is a vast network of underground trains, and in some areas, even a series of shops and malls exist underground near the train lines. To get to the line you want, simply follow the signs on the walls and ceiling as you walk through the station tunnels. Each train line has its own mark. It usually consists of a letter corresponding to the name of the train line in a colored circle. For example, the Tozai line is a T inside a light blue circle. In some cases lines start with the same letter, like the Toei Oedo line, and so they may use an alternate letter to represent that line. The Toei Oedo line is marked with an E inside of a red circle. The number underneath the letter corresponds to the number of the particular station you are at. Each station is numbered according to it’s location along the train route, so Monzen-Nakacho is the 12th station on the Tozai line and the 15th station on the Toei Oedo line.

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When you find the line you want, you have to enter through the train gateway, which is where you process your tickets to ride the train or scan your train pass. There are kiosks near these gates where you can purchase tickets, or if you know you are going to be riding frequently over an extended period of time, you can also use the kiosks to buy a transit card called, “Pasmo.” A Pasmo card is a card you can pre-load with a certain amount of money and simply scan the card at every gate you enter and exit and it will automatically deduct the amount of your trip from the balance on the card. Be careful not to choose the wrong train line, I’m pretty sure they charge and extra fee if you go through the gate and come back out without using the train. This is based on an experience I had where I entered the wrong gate once, and when I tried to go back out, the gate attendant took my Pasmo card and when I got it back, I had lost 1,000円 from my card (about $10). If you are not sure how to buy tickets or a Pasmo card, you can tell the gate attendant the station you want to go to and they will help direct you to the right ticket to purchase, or help you buy a card.

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When you enter the gate with a ticket, you insert the ticket in one end, it opens the gate and the ticket is returned to you at the other end or the gate. Don’t forget to pick up your ticket as you go through, because you will need it again to exit the train station at your destination. If you are using the Pasmo card, simply scan the card on the card reader on the gate, the gate will open, and the balance remaining on your card can be read on the screen at the other end of the gateway. I recommend not letting it get below 500円 to make sure you have enough to cover your trip. You can reload funds on the card at the ticket kiosks, which must be paid with cash. On that note, also generally make sure you carry enough cash with you everywhere, as Japan is still a very cash-oriented society and there is no guarantee that your card will be accepted every place, especially not foreign cards. Some places will accept cards just fine, but it is safest to use cash.

Once through the gate, the train line usually has 2 directions it could go. Google maps is great for figuring out which way to go to get to your destination, but when in doubt, just ask the attendant. If all else fails, check the walls or columns near the tracks because they usually have a chart of the train’s stops in the order that they will be visited. Check for your stop and go to the track under which it appears. On the train, each stop is announced in Japanese and usually followed by an announcement in English as well. There are also usually screens over the doors that indicate the stop that is coming up next. If not, there should at least be a chart to look at on the train.

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The small colored icons above certain station names indicate the various train lines that go to that station and are available to transfer to if you need to. Another helpful hint is there is usually a sign above the tracks on the opposite wall that indicates which station you are at and which station the train on these particular tracks will be going to next. Sometimes it also indicates which stop the train came from as well. In the case of this sign below, it shows that you are at the Monzen-Nakacho station, and on these specific tracks the next stop for the train will be Kayabacho. The arrow affirms which way the train is heading.

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During busy times of day, the trains can get pretty crowded, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a lot of personal space during your travel. It is a crowded city and there is limited space, so people have to get pretty close together and share. Also, be aware of signs like this:

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Some cars are designated for women and children only, but this is usually during certain times. Men can use these cars at other times also, but if you’re not sure if it is a designated time for it to be a women only car, then either go to a different car, or watch the crowd to see if everyone is using the same cars and follow their lead.

If there are elderly, mothers with infants, or handicapped people getting on the train, please offer them your seat and be courteous. They have priority for seats on the trains.

If you only need to use a bus to get somewhere, this is a bus stop:

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Check to see if it is the right bus stop for the bus you need. There should be a list at the stop of bus lines that use it. If it is not correct, check the map near the stop for other stops in the area, it should indicate which bus lines go to which stops. Buses run on a flat fee and you can pay in cash (please use exact change), or you can use a Pasmo card to scan on the card reader at the front of the bus. You do not need to scan it again when you get off the bus.

I hope this helps you get around! Please feel free to comment with other questions or tips and let me know if this was helpful for you. Now that you can get around, let’s go see the rest of Tokyo! In future posts, I will be introducing you to some Japanese cultural events and some more insight into daily life in Tokyo! If you haven’t already, please subscribe so that you don’t miss out!

Here’s a link to a walk through video snapshot of walking through a subway station in Tokyo. I didn’t linger long at signs, kiosks or gates because I didn’t want to make people upset for taking too long or looking like I’m recording everything, but it will give you a little peak inside a station.

Station Video

Yurikamome Line

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