Tokyo Trains

If you are coming to Tokyo or if you are newly living in Tokyo here's a few tips for dealing with the trains and subway in here.

One of the biggest issues is there are about 10 different train companies in Tokyo. Off the top of my head, JR (Japan Rail), Eidan, Toei, Keio, Odakyu, Keikyu, Seibu, Tokyu, are all different train companies.

JR being the biggest is the one most people just coming to Tokyo read about. If you buy a Japan Rail Pass your are buying just that a JR Pass which is only useful on JR trains, not any of those other train companies. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy one but you should be aware what it's good for.

A JR Pass lets you ride JR trains including the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). If you are going to take the Shinkansen to a couple of other places like Kyoto or Osaka then yes, you should get a JR Pass. (at the time of this writing, Sept 2006, it's about $250 round trip to Kyoto from Tokyo) But, if you are going to spend most of your time in and around Tokyo a JR Pass isn't that useful because the majority if trains in Tokyo are not JR trains and you probably won't spend an enter pass worth of money. JR passes cost around $400.

Another confusing issue is that JR doesn't show any of the other trains on their maps. If you get a JR map or if you are on a JR train this is what you'll see

click here for a PDF version

That small circular area near the center is actually full of trains from other companies. Here's a map with the some of the rest of the Tokyo train lines with the same circular area marked.

click here for a PDF version

To give you an example of the problems this causes, when I first came to Japan I lived near Musashi-Shinjo (#1 on the map below)

Musashi-Shinjo is a JR only stop so I'd get on the train and look at the JR provided map not knowing that there were more trains. According to that map to get to Shibuya I needed to take the yellow line (Nambu line) to Kawasaki, switch to the blue or orange line (blue = Keihin Tohoku line) and then switch to the green line (Yamanote line). I did that for the first 6 months I was here. It took about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

After about 6 months I finally found out there was a train from Musashi-Kosugi (2 stops from Musashi-Shinjo) that went directly to Shibuya. It's called the Toyoko line. It was maybe 6 minutes to Musashi-Kosugi and 30 minutes to Shibuya.

It gets better though. 2 months after that I found out there was a train directly from Musashi-Mizonokuchi to Shibuya. I actually lived almost exactly half way between Musashi-Shinjo and Musashi-Mizonokuchi but looking at the JR map I thought I never had a reason to go in that direction so I never did. From Musashi-Mizonokuchi to Shibuya was only 20 minutes! That's the Den-en-toshi line. It pays to learn about the non-JR trains!

Other tips:

If you are a tourist and you decide you are going to stay in and around the Tokyo area it's probably better to get a Suika card.

They cost 500yen (about $4.50) and you put money on them and then you can just walk through the gates, slap the card down and it will deduct the money. This will save you from having to buy a ticket at each station and from having to figure what price of ticket to buy. Most stations sell them in special ticket machines.

Machine to buy a card

Machine to add money

Both machines have an English button on the screen so just press it and follow the instructions. The machine on the left (blue) is for buying a new card. You put in 2000yen and you get 1 card and 1500yen credit on the card. The machine on the right is for added more money to your card. Put your card in and it will tell you how much is left on it and give you the option to add more.

The Suika cards are neat in that you don't put them in the ticket slot like regular tickets when you go in the gates. Instead you just touch them to the suika spot on the gate.

suika enabled gate suika spot. Touch your suika card here

It would really rock if the Suica card worked everywhere. Unfortunately Suica is JR only and rumor has it that JR is an evil company and so none of the other train companies are willing to put up with their bad terms. So,….all the other trains companies use a different and older standard.

The other 10+ Tokyo train companies use a system called Passnet. Here's a typical passnet card.

Passnet cards come in 1000, 3000 and 5000yen versions. While you use it the gate will print on the back of the card the name of the station you used it at and how much money is left on the card.

close up of back of passnet card

If you look at the close up image, on the left are the dates I used the card (9/29, 9/30, 9/30) and on the right is the amount of money left on the card except they don't print the last zero so 111, 92, 73 becomes 1110yen, 920yen and 730yen respectively.

If your curious the first line says on the 29th I went from Aoyama (where I work) to Yurakucho where I had dinner with a friend. Then we went from Yurakucho to Shinkiba where I clubbed all night at Ageha, the largest club in Tokyo. On the 30th I went from Nakanoshimbashi where I live to Yotuya where I went to a join birthday party.

One nice thing about passnet cards is they come in many styles almost like postage stamps. People even collect them. Here's a few from Sept 2006.

The important part about Passnet cards is the Logo.

Like I mentioned, you can use a passnet card on nearly all the other trains in Tokyo. That includes all the subways as well as the trains like the Keikyu line (the line that goes to Hanada airport) as well as the Toyoko line (the line that goes from Tokyo directly to Minato Mirai, the most popular destination in Yokohama) and the Yurikamome line that goes to Odiaba. So, even if you have a JR pass it's still a good card to have.

You can get them at any station on a line that excepts them. Just look for the symbol on the machine.

ticket machine passnet button
menu for amount

Having both a Suika card and a Passnet card and be quite a life saver. If you are running to catch the train you can just run to the gate and use your card. If you don't have one you'll have to run over and buy a ticket, try to figure out the price of the ticket to buy, fumble around for money and change and possibly miss your train.

Some other random trivia. Some Tokyo trains have many of the same names you'd expect for a trains in any large city they're just in Japanese. Examples.

The Nanboku line = the South<->North line
  (南 nan = south, 北 boku = north)
The Tozai line = the East<->West line
  (東 to = east, 西 zai = west)
The Chou line = the Central line
  (中央 = central)

Some other trains are named after the areas they connect

The Toyoko line = Tokyo Yokohama Line
The Saikyo line = the Saitama Tokyo line

Japanese having multiple pronunciations per character some lines aren't as clear.

The Keiyo line (not to be confused with the Keio line). 京葉 = keiyou where 京 is from Tokyo (東京) and 葉 is from Chiba (千葉). In other words the Keiyo line is the Tokyo<->Chiba line but because Japanese kanji have different pronunciations it's pronounced Keiyo. Another example is the Keihin Tohoku line

京浜東北 (Keihin Tohoku) =
 東 (east)
 北 (north)

The Tokyo<->Yokohama North East Line.

  • A couple more useful tickets

    for people just staying in the Tokyo area.

    Tokyo Free Pass

    Unlimited use of Toei Toei Buses and Subways, Tokyo Metro and JR East lines within the Tokyo wards for one day.

    Adult: 1,580 yen / Child: 790 yen

    Subway One-day Ticket (Toei + Metro)

    Unlimited use of the Toei Subway and Tokyo Metro Lines for one day.

    Adult: 1,000 yen / Child: 500 yen

    Note: One-day pass for just Metro or Toei subway is approx 700 yen.

  • Day Passes

    I’ve never bought one of those all day passes. They are priced such that you really have to know what you are doing to make them worth while. For example, to go from my place west of Shinjuku, all the way to the an east location like Asakusa costs me 230 yen so on a pretty typical day out might take make 3 trips, noon place, the evening place and back home. At 230 yen a pop that’s only 690 yen, cheaper than the day pass.

    Even if I switch companies like say I go to Akihabara which for me the fastest way is Maronouchi line (Tokyo Metro) to Chou line (JR) to Sobu line (JR). Since I use two train companies it’s 170 for the first company and 160 for the second. If do my typical 3 trip day that’s still only 990yen, cheaper than the pass (plus there is no pass that covers both JR and Tokyo Metro)

    I’m sure there are cases where they are worth it but you really have no know that you are either going to take a route that’s expensive (like switching between Toei and Tokyo Metro a lot) or you have to know that you are going to be stopping at each stop for a only a short while and taking lots of trains and you have to know that all the trains you are going to take are covered by the pass.

  • MangoFraise
    This May help

    Gregg, do you know this?

    the site can find the best ways (time or money depending of criterion) to go from a station to another (Tokyo Area)

    Still for the non japanese readers it may be difficult to use…even if you can enter the information in romaji (Arrival and departure station), the results are all in japanese…..

  • Here’s one in English

    I know there are a few other English based ones

  • wow

    You’re a wonderful and considerate guy to put together something like this. The blinking bit for the loop line on those two graphics is just a little too hypnotic for me, but I get dazed by screensavers…

  • Very handy, going to keep this

    Thank you for putting this together. Info like this is darn handy when your navigating through a big city like Tokyo. I wish I would have had some insight like then when I visited Japan in ’02. I figured out how to get from point A to point F with relative ease but I’m sure it could have been smoother. This goes into my packet of trip intel for my next visit. I absolutely love Japan, for me it’s like one huge Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more of it.

  • Posted too fast

    Oh yeah, I wanted to add that I was in Isogo-ku for my visit and I was pretty much right across from the Keikyu line station at Byobugaura. It threw me for a loop that Isogo was on the JR maps but not Byobugaura. I then realized that there was more than one train company. D’oh! After that it was cake.

  • anonymouse
    Suica card, additional information

    You mention that the Suica card costs you 500 Yen. This is not exactly true. The 500 Yen is a deposit. If you decide that you do not need the card anymore, you can go to a JR counter (not a machine) and return the card. JR is obliged to give you back the 500 Yen. But the trick is: they charge you then 210 Yen as “handling fee”. They only charge that if the card still holds 210 Yen or more. So for example, if the card holds 490 Yen, you will receiver 500 Yen (deposit) plus 280 Yen. If your card holds 150 Yen, you will receive 500 Yen (deposit) and JR will keep the 150 Yen as handling fee.

    According to a brochure I saw you can use the Suica card also in Sendai and some other places. And besides using it to pay for train tickets, also some vending machines in stations allow payments with the card.

  • DMA

    John, the other train companies put JR connections on their maps but JR doesn’t. Hmm, I wonder why. Generally getting anywhere around Tokyo costs more and takes longer by JR than by subway.

    If you visit Tokyo with a JR Pass you can get to Kyoto and back and more than make your money back. It’s just not that useful in Tokyo itself.

    More and more places take Suica as a payment method. I wonder what JR is doing with all that mined data…

  • JR bad, other good – example

    One example of JR being bad is JR’s attitude it costs 130yen to ENTER THE STATION.  In other words, if you walk through the turnstyles and then realise you either went the wrong way or changed your mind JR will not refund your money. The cheapest ticket in is 130yen but actually they don’t care how much you paid. If you just bought a 2000yen ticket you lose.

    Eiden (aka, Tokyometro) will generally refund your money if you make a mistake or change your mind.

  • Thanks for all the great information, though I have to say I am feeling pretty intimidated! I am going to Tokyo in 2 weeks and am a little freaked. I wanted to ask about efficient and cheap ways to call the US. When I visited Japan about 5 years ago I bought a phone card here though or something. It was supposed to work in Japan, but it didn’t.

  • You can buy phone cards in Japan at 7/11 and most other major convienence stores. If you are going to be living here then my suggestions is sign up for YahooBB for your internet service and phone service. It’s only 1.5cents a minute to the USA.  Of course things like MSN messenger are Skype are semi free but YahooBB doesn’t require a computer.

  • Randomperson

    When it comes to getting around Tokyo by train I’ve found hyperdia to be pretty useful :

  • MetrO

    This app saved me when visiting NYC, but it’s got coverage for >350 cities now including Tokyo.  Would be interested to know if it’s as useful there.  It’s at


  • jr
    KEIO map

    KEIO RAILWAY MAP for Shinjuku, Shibuya, Kichijoji, Chofu, Hashimoto, Takaosanguchi

  • may

    Hi, greggman. I’m may.

    It’s really interesting blog and very usful blog !

    JR line is very complicated, in particular, people from abord, I think.

    And your Japanese is very good.

    I’m studying English, but your Japanese skill is beyond my English skill.

    I’ll be back to check for your updates ! 


  • ken

    This might make things a little smoother:

    It says that the JR Suica and current Passnet will be compatible.

  • dad
    Glad to have you as guide

    Hi Gregg,

    After reading your blog I’m so glad that Linda and I had you for a guide. I didn’t realize that there were so many train choices and that only long term study and actual usage would get you through this maze of intertwined trains and schedule,

    Thanks again


  • 42ongo

    Hi Gregg

    great advise…..if you can use the train system efficiently you can save so much time in Japan

    I work for a Japanese company go to Japan 4 or 5 times per year and no-one ever explained to me about the usage of a SUICA I m going to get one next time thanks to your info

    another tip for your blogg readers is the use of the Narita Express (the train for Narita from  Shinagawa /Tokyo Sation and Ueno I think it is

    I use to queue at Shinagawa for the return ticket Shinagawa to Narita for up to 45 mins some times and miss the next Narita Express into the bargain (great fun in summer when you have 2 suitcases I can assure you!!)  

    I work near Kamata a few stops on the blue JR from Shinagawa and in the JR ticket office at Kamata you can get your Narita Express ticket in advance and choose your seat the machine is available to use in English and you can use credit cards no problem I think they have a similar machine at Shinagawa but the crowds of people at the JR office in Shinagawa is enough to intimidate anybody

    Also some people told me if you dont catch the Narita Express at the time shown on the ticket they  charge you again

    This is not true if you get an earlier Narita Express train or miss the train wait until the train leaves Tokyo station and then find a seat in the worst case there are no seats left you can stand

    keep up the good work !



  • fred
    Suica is working now on all Tokyo metro lines !!!!!
  • As of March 18, 2007, JR East Suica interoperable with new private Pasmo

    The two are now accepted by JR East, dozens of private railway companies, hundreds of restaurants, kiosks, and convenience stores in or near stations, and increasing numbers of bus lines.

  • Ford Ranger Forum

    I see good and bad behavior on the trains in Tokyo all the time. Even my little kid has experienced this, but she deals with it by throwing her cookies at the bad guys. Anyway, I suppose observing a healthy mix of good and bad is normal whenever you are exposed to large numbers of people filtering through relatively narrow arteries anywhere in the world on any form of transportation. In fact, I have some pretty obnoxious stories from commuting to work on the Long Island Expressway in New York, Rt. 128 in Boston, and Rt. 101 in Silicon Valley. People can be quite aggressive in their cars back in the U.S., but I no longer have to deal with that. So, here’s my good/bad commute story for the day right here in Tokyo this morning …

  • lu2

    Ken pointed me to your post randomly, think he was poking around train sites.

    Always used my phone to look up train routes, both those and some online sites will get you the best possible route using both subway/JR etc.

    If you enter by mistake, it’s the same here, they charge you a lot esp on BART. Even if you tell them, it’s considered an “excursion fee” since some ppl apparently ride BART for fun. Only if you need to be let out temporarily will they leave the ticket alone, and just wave you past when you come in. In Japan, if you tell them you make a mistake, they *will refund you*. I did this in the beginning when I didn’t realize you couldn’t buy more than you needed on a regular ticket, and wasted a 1/2 my ticket price.


  • Rail & Subway Map of Central Tokyo

    Do you now about our project?

    We developed a Rail & Subway Map of Central Tokyo with all lines and routes in a smart and clear design. The Map provides quick access to this complex city, and is of particular use to short-term visitors.

    If you are interest, please visit us at

  • Amy

    OMG THANKYOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    dude u wouldnt believe how long it took me to find these answers thankyou so much man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Amz xoxoxoxoxx

  • Emma

    Very useful information thank you!