Using public transport in a foreign country can be daunting, however for foreign visitors in Japan, it has been made as easy as possible. Signs are written in both Japanese and English, and announcements at transport hubs are also given in both languages. In addition, whilst on the train the next station is often also displayed on electronic boards in the carriages in both languages. Carriages are often marked on station platforms and clear signage indicates what is and isn’t allowed within the carriage in regard to smoking, use of telephone’s, eating and accessibility.
When using the train, each train line can be easily identified on the route map as they are all marked in a different colour. To help guide you to the relevant departure platform at the station, coloured lines that correspond with the coloured route map lines are often painted on the station floor. Simply follow the coloured line that corresponds to your route to find the correct departure platform. Please also note that standing on escalators in Japan is on the left and walking is on the right.
Often, trains have some carriages dedicated to reserved seats ('shitei-seki'), whilst others are dedicated to unreserved seats ('jiyu-seki'). This is the case for Shinkansen trains.
However, most local trains don't have reserved seats, whereas other trains like the Narita Express only have reserved seats. (This does not mean that you will need to book in advance but only that, when you buy your ticket, you will be assigned a seat number).
Subway and Metro
Japan’s subway and metro system is known worldwide for its efficiency. Allowing rapid movement around inner urban areas of the country, most subway systems in Japan start at around 0500 hours and last trains depart at around midnight. Services are less frequent on weekends and during public holidays.
Some subway lines in Japan have women-only carriages running in the rush hour period, normally between 0800 hours and 0900 hours. Look out for the pink sign on the platform and train carriage. Please also be aware that during rush hour/busy periods, public transport staff known as ‘pushers’ are employed to push people into carriages to help decongest busy platforms. It is probably sensible to avoid public transport during these busy periods, unless necessary.
Tokyo Subway Navigation is a free app available from your mobile app store that provides information on the Tokyo Subway network and is available in English. Google maps makes getting around Tokyo much easier however as with all apps, use of these will eat into your phone data allowance.
IC Cards – Suica and Pasmo
IC cards are pre-paid smart cards that can be used to conveniently pay for public transport fares and to make payments at a rapidly increasing number of vending machines, shops and restaurants by simply touching the card on a reader (similar to an Oyster card used on London public transport). The most popular pre-paid cards in Tokyo are Suica and Pasmo.
For most purposes, Suica and Pasmo cards are interchangeable. Both cards can be used for all trains (apart from the Shinkansen bullet train), subways and buses in and around Tokyo. They can also be used at many shops, especially convenience stores. Suica/Pasmo can be used in other parts of Japan too, however cannot be used to travel out of the Tokyo train system into another region's train system. For example, you cannot use these cards to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto by train, but once you arrive, you can use the card there. Pasmo cards can be purchased from vending machines at subway stations in Tokyo, while Suica cards can be purchased from vending machines at Japan Rail stations in Tokyo. You can also buy either card at Narita and Haneda airports.
The Suica card does not work on express trains, Shinkansen, long distance buses (highway buses) or airport shuttles, but it can be used to pay for taxis and lockers at stations.
For more information on Suica cards, please click here