Metropolitan Tokyo’s Rail Network And The Best Way To Use It

Japan’s Innovative Transportation System

Given how large Tokyo is and how many beautiful sights there are to see, Japan has made it a high priority to make their transportation system as innovative and widespread as possible.

As such, Japan has been known to have one of the safest and most high-functioning transportation systems in the world. 

Trains are a very large aspect of Japan’s transportation system. Even within Tokyo, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of transportation options available. 

Japan Railways Group

Often referred to as JR or JR Group, the Japan Railways Group is responsible for the majority of transportation options within Japan. There are other transportation companies within Japan that are smaller that make up the rest.

This transportation company also offers what’s known as the JR Pass, which may be something to explore depending on how long you’ll be in Tokyo. 

The pass can be valid for either seven days, fourteen days, or twenty-one days, depending on your purchase. It will allow you to ride the majority of trains by using the pass, and you can use it an unlimited amount of times during that period.

If your stay will be around that amount of time and you will be using trains frequently during your trip, you can save some money with the JR Pass.

These passes can be bought at certain airports and train stations, so be sure to check availability around where you’re flying into or where you’re staying. They can also be bought online in advance.

Buy Your JR Pass Online

First Class And Normal Class Cars 

There are two different types of cars on most Japanese trains. The normal class is still beautiful and spacious, with places for your luggage or shopping bags.

First class is also called Green Car, and they have a little more leg room and space for storage. You can purchase your tickets at your closest train station, either at a ticket booth or using an electronic kiosk. 

There are a few trains you may stumble upon that offer a third class, known as gran class. This is a relatively new addition to a few trains that offer more luxurious accommodations during your train ride.

You can also enjoy some delicious sake and sashimi while relaxing under a fluffy blanket or enjoying the massage function on your leather chair. 

Train Speeds 

The majority of train lines will be offered at varying speeds. For instance, regular local trains are the slowest as they stop at each stop along the route.

There are also rapid trains and express trains that will pass along the route faster since they skip some stops along the way. 

Chuo Line Limited Express

You’ll also occasionally see limited express trains that are faster, but you pay a premium to ride these trains. 

Japan’s Subway System 

Japan also has a plethora of subways that run along many different routes, including in Tokyo. When you can’t get somewhere on a train – though unlikely – or are looking at all of your options for transportation, subways can help.

Tokyo Subway Map

You cannot use your JR Pass on subways, but you can buy passes at subway stations if you find it’s more cost-effective. 

The SUICA passes that you can buy work like a card and can also be used at some convenience stores, taxis, and vending machines in Japan.

Our Guide To Using A Taxi In Japan

The money you put on the card stays on the card for ten years, so don’t be concerned if you don’t use it all. 

Purchase A Suica Card Online

Bullet Trains 

You’ve likely heard of the shinkansen, also known as the bullet train system in Japan. The bullet train system in Japan is extremely innovative and is named as such for its ability to travel far distances in shorter amounts of time. The train lines for the shinkansen are separate from other lines. 

If you’re planning on riding on one of the bullet trains, be advised that you will want to have some extra time to walk to the platform from the station.

There aren’t shinkansen that run everywhere in Japan, but routes are slowly expanding. 

How To Find Schedules And Routes 

Your best bet for keeping on top of schedules and routes for public transport is having Google Maps and HyperDia on your phone. HyperDia is an English app that will show you schedules for trains in Japan.

You can also find paper copies of maps at all public transportation stations, which there are a lot of. Until you become more accustomed to Japan, Google Maps is probably the easiest thing to use as it’ll show you all of your options to get to your intended destination. 

The Main Train Routes Running Through Tokyo 

The amount of train and subway lines that can take you to, from, and throughout Tokyo can be very overwhelming. There are a few key lines to familiarize yourself with that will take you pretty much anywhere you might want to go in and around Tokyo. 

The Yamanote Line is one of the most frequented lines, as it connects to a large number of train stations with routes in all directions.

From Tokyo Station, you can get to many popular areas and pockets of Tokyo, including Nippori, Harajuku, and Shibuya, for example. 

The Chuo Line is another one that travels throughout Tokyo, and it also offers some rapid service trains. It best serves commuters looking to travel between the east of Tokyo and the west of Tokyo.

There’s also the Chuo Line- Sobu Line that runs from west to east but doesn’t make the same stops as the Chuo Line. 

The Tokyo Monorail is an option you might want to consider if you’re flying into Haneda International Airport, as it connects the airport to various destinations in Tokyo.

Tokyo Monorail

There are a few other main lines to travel around Tokyo, including the Joban Line, the Keihin-Tohoku Line, and the Shonan Shinjuku Line. 

Subway Lines To Know In Tokyo 

If you’re looking to use the subway, there are a few main lines to get around Tokyo. The Odakyu Railway line is a popular one that can also take you outside of Tokyo if you’re looking to expand your horizons, stopping in destinations such as Hakone and Lake Kawaguchi. 

Odakyu Rail Official Website

The Keio Railway is another frequented subway line in Tokyo, a good option if you’re looking to see Mount Takao in Tokyo.

Keio Railway Official Website

The Tobu Railway takes you to various areas just outside of Tokyo’s metropolis on the northeast side. 

Tobu Railway Official Website

Other subway lines of note include the Keisei Electric Railway, the Seibu Railway, as well as the various Tokyo Metro Lines, and the Toei Subway lines

Tips For Riding On Tokyo’s Rail Network 

Tokyo is a very busy city, and its array of transportation methods to get to and from destinations is no exception. On subways and some trains, don’t be surprised if they are packed.

Long-distance trains where you purchase seats on different cars aren’t as packed as there are limited seats on each train. 

If you can, try to avoid getting on trains in Tokyo during rush hour. In Japan, rush hour falls from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., then again from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Friday evenings and Sundays can also be pretty busy on the trains. People in Japan will pack trains full and leave very little wiggle room on board. 

If you’re a woman, look out for pink train cars. These train cars are for women only and were a response to public safety concerns about people taking advantage of being packed so close in public transport. 

Our Article On Chikan (Unwanted Touching On Trains)

Train Etiquette In Japan 

When you’re riding a train or subway in Japan, there are certain unspoken rules that you should follow as a guest in the country. You shouldn’t take up too much space, especially if you’re sitting. Resting your shopping bags or luggage on an empty seat when others are standing is considered very rude. 

It’s also considered rude to create a lot of noise on the train. Avoid having long phone calls or your music playing on external speakers.

People are often on public transport for their work commute and would prefer to ride in relative silence. 

If you are not feeling well and need to get on the train, you should wear a face mask.

You’ll notice a lot of people continue to wear face masks (no matter of the pandemic status) on trains in Japan, and it is as a courtesy to other passengers so they don’t spread illness. 

Tokyo Subway App Via Apple App Store

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.