The world’s most populous city, Tokyohas ametropolitan area that sprawls over more than 5000 sq miles. Fortunately, thanks to a public transport system that’s efficient, reliable, clean and generally safe, getting around the regionis easy.
Of most use to travelers is the train and subway system, which is simple to navigate thanks to English signage and color-coded lines – even if some large stations, most notably Shinjuku, can be a maze for the uninitiated.
But don’t feel obliged to use trains for every journey. In spite of unpredictable traffic patterns, buses tend to be equally punctual and can be useful for short journeys in quieter suburbs. Tokyo’s relatively flat topography also means cycling and walking don’t require too much of a sweat and allow you to explore neighborhoods you’d otherwise bypass on the underground. And if you want to combine your commute with sightseeing, take to the river on one of Tokyo’s beetle-like water buses, which travel between mainland Tokyo and the reclaimed islands of Tokyo Bay.
Here is all you need to know about getting around Tokyo.
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Tokyo’s extensive rail network includes Japan Railways (JR) lines, a subway system and private commuter lines that depart in every direction for the suburbs like spokes on a wheel. Journeys that require transfers between lines run by different operators cost more than journeys that use a single operator’s lines.
Major transit hubs include Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Ueno stations — all connected via the JR Yamanote Line that circles the Imperial Palace, Tokyo’s central point. Trains arrive and depart precisely on time and are generally clean and pleasant, though they get uncomfortably crowded during rush hours and late at night. (For a short window in the morning and early evenings, many trains have women-only carriages.)
A local's tips for getting home after midnight
Tokyo’s trains stop running between midnight and 5am (give or take an hour, depending on the line) while many bars, clubs, karaoke rooms and izakaya (gastro pubs) remain in business until the wee hours or even 24/7. So keep an eye on your watch, or be prepared to find another means of transport home.
The JR network covers the whole country and includes the shinkansen (bullet train). In Tokyo, the above-ground Yamanote (loop) and the Chūō–Sōbu (central) lines are the most useful. Tickets start at ¥133 ($1.20) and go up depending on how far you travel.
Tokyo has 13 subway lines, nine of which are operated by Tokyo Metroand four by Toei. The lines are color-coded, making navigation fairly simple – although a transfer ticket is required to change between the two networks.APasmo or Suica card makes this process seamless, but either way a journey involving more than one operator comes out costing slightly more. Fares depend on the distance traveled.
When to go to Tokyo
Grab a transport pass for seamless travel in Tokyo
Referred to generally as IC cards or IC passes, prepaid rechargeable Suica and Pasmo cards work on all city trains, subways and buses (you can also use passes purchased in other regions of Japan, such as the Icoca from western Japan or the Kitaka from Hokkaidō). Buy these from any touch-screen ticket vending machine in Tokyo (including those at Haneda and Narita airports); most have an English option and the cards are interchangeable. JR stations sell Suica; subway and independent lines sell Pasmo.
Both require a ¥500 ($4.55) deposit, which is refunded (along with any remaining balance) when you return the pass to any ticket window. Passes can be topped up at any touch-screen ticket-vending machine (not just, for example, at JR stations for Suica passes) in increments of ¥1000 ($9.10).
If you’re planning a packed day, you might consider getting an unlimited-ride ticket. The Tokyo Subway Ticket allows unlimited rides on both Tokyo Metro and Toei subway lines, with 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour options available. This pass is only available to foreign travelers on a tourist visa; you’ll need to determine whether the trains you plan to use will be largely JR or metro to get your money’s worth.
Using IC cards is simple: just run them over the card readers at the ticket gates upon entering and exiting. Fares for pass users are slightly less (a few yen per journey) than for paper-ticket holders.
20 best free things to do in Tokyo
Toei runs an extensive bus network in Tokyo, though it’s only more convenient than the subway when you’re in the outer suburbs or making short inner city jaunts. A particularly useful bus, the number 06, connects Shibuya, Hiroo and Azabujuban – three popular cosmopolitan neighborhoods.
Fares are ¥210 ($1.90) for adults; there are no transfer tickets. Pay by IC pass or deposit your fare into the box as you enter the bus; if your pass is out of credit, you can charge it at the front of the bus (the word for “charge” is cha-ji). There’s also a change machine by the driver’s seat that accepts ¥1000 notes. Most buses have digital signage that switches between Japanese and English; otherwise, listen for your stop. Signal the bus to stop in advance of the approaching stop by pushing one of the buttons near the seats.
Travel sustainably on hydrogen-fuel-cell buses
Japan is a global leader in hydrogen energy, one of the world’s cleanest energy sources, which emits only waste water (even if some question the technology’s cost-effectiveness). Some 85 hydrogen fuel cell buses have been in operation since March 2021, traveling primarily between Tokyo Station and the Tokyo Big Sight convention center in Ariake, while passing through the popular Yurakucho, Ginza and Tsukiji neighborhoods. The local government is aiming to have more than 300 hydrogen buses in operation by 2030.
Tokyo’s “water buses” look like robotic beetles skimming across the placid waters of its eastern river networks. Thanks to their glass-walled exteriors, they’re a great option for taking in the sights of Tokyo Bay while traveling between Asakusa and the likes of Odaiba, Toyosu and Hama-rikyū Gardens. Journeys will cost between ¥460 and ¥1720 yen ($3.90–14.50), depending on distance, and are generally more comfortable than their terrestrial public transport counterparts.
Getting a taxi in Tokyo only makes economic sense for short distances or when in groups of four –unless you’re stranded during the lull in nightly train operations. All cabs run by the meter, with fares starting at ¥410 ($3.75) for the first 1km (0.6 miles) and then rising by ¥80 (75 cents) for every 237m (777ft) you travel or for every 90 seconds spent in traffic. When traveling longer distances, this starts to add up at a rather alarming rate, especially when you factor in nighttime surcharges of 20-30% between 10pm and 5am, and potential highway tolls.
Drivers rarely speak English, though most taxis have navigation systems. Have your destination written down in Japanese – or, better yet, a business card with an address. Most taxis now also take credit cards and IC passes; since the pandemic began many have introduced automated payment systems attached to screens on the back of the main passenger seat.
Train stations and hotels have designated taxi stands. In the absence of a stand, you can hail a cab from the street by standing on the curb and sticking your arm out; there are typically far more taxis roaming the streets than punters hailing them down.
Local tips for using cabs and finding addresses
Japanese cab doors are automatic, and even after years of residence in the city, many foreigners find themselves struggling to open self-opening doors. Exercise patience!
Once in the taxi, you’ll notice how difficult Tokyo’s streets are to navigate, even for locals. Only the biggest streets have official names, and they don’t figure into addresses. Instead, addresses are derived from districts, blocks and building numbers. Central Tokyo is divided first into ku (wards; Tokyo has 23 of them), which in turn are divided into chō or machi (towns) and then into numbered districts called chōme (pronounced “cho-may”). Subsequent numbers in an address refer to blocks within the chōme and buildings within each block.
Since it’s near impossible to find your destination using the address alone, smartphones with navigation apps have been a real boon. Many restaurants and venues also have useful maps on their websites. If you get lost, police officers at kōban (police boxes) have maps and can help with directions, though few speak English. At the very least, they should be able to steer you back to the nearest train station from where you can try again. Many businesses have also started using the What3Words app, which has divided the world into 3m-square grids to help users pinpoint a specific location.
Uber arrived in Tokyo in May 2018, though its boutique chauffeur service, Uber Black, dates back to 2015. The ride-share company has partnered with three local taxi operators to provide rides in Tokyo’s central business district and other busy areas. Even though Tokyo strictly regulates ride-sharing apps, other competitors are entering the market, such as the city’s premier taxi app, JapanTaxi (which isn’t particularly tourist-friendly). Given Uber’s unpredictable availability and a pricing structure to similar to that of street cabs, there are few occasions where using the app is merited.
Cycling in Tokyo
At first glance, Tokyo doesn’t seem like a bicycle-friendly city: dedicated lanes are almost nonexistent on major thoroughfares, cyclists often come up against pedestrian overpasses that need to be scaled (though a few have ramps for walking bikes up and down), and you’ll see no-parking signs for bicycles everywhere.
Despite all this, you’ll also see plenty of pedaling locals. This is because Tokyo is a largely flat city, and much bike-friendlier if you’re cycling through city parks, in residential neighborhoods, along the river promenades near Tokyo Bay or around the maze of backstreets. Cogi Cogi is a bike-sharing system with ports around the city, including some hostels. Despite instructions in English, the system is a little complicated to use: you’ll need to download an app, register a credit card and have wi-fi connection on the go to sync with the ports.
Considering the traffic, the confusing and often excruciatingly narrow roads, and the ridiculous cost of parking, it’s best not to use a car for getting around Tokyo; even most Tokyoties don’t bother owning a vehicle. Day trips can easily be done by public transport, though renting a car will expand your options and allow you to explore regions rarely visited by the touring masses.
For rentals, you will need an International Driving Permit, which must be arranged in your own country before you leave; certain conditions must be met (see the Japan Automobile Federation website for further information). Rental companies with branches around the city include Nippon Rent-a-Car and Toyota Rent-a-Car.
Local tips for car rentals in Tokyo
Rental cars are generally affordable, especially when the cost is split among passengers, and are economical with respect to gas mileage. That said, highway tolls in Japan can be exorbitant – driving to Osaka and back, for example, would cost over $200 in toll fees, mitigating some of the money saved on skipping the bullet train.
Also be sure to pay the extra fee for damage insurance. In the event that you are in an accident, no matter how small, you must first call the police to record the incident before the vehicle is returned to the shop, or you’ll risk incurring hair-raising financial penalties. Rental operators are fairly unsympathetic to those who don’t follow these rules; it’s worth bringing a translator to go through the small print to avoid any such mishaps.
Top 5 day trips from Tokyo
Accessible transportation in Tokyo
Tokyo is making steps to improve universal access – or bariafurī (“barrier free”; バリアフリー) in Japanese. It’s a slow process, though it received a boost from preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. It’sestimated that at least 95% of Tokyo’s approximately 700 train stations have non-step facilities and accessible toilets, while 94% of buses were also wheelchair accessible.
Newer buildings have wheelchair-access ramps, more and more subway stations are introducing elevators (look for signs on the platform as not all exits have them), and yellow braille lines direct visually impaired passengers through major stations and guide them safely along platforms. Train-station staff will also help wheelchair-using passengers on and off trains with a temporary slope.
A fair number of hotels, from the higher end of midrange and up, offer a barrier-free room or two (be sure to book well in advance). Note that what constitutes “barrier-free” is not always consistent, so check the details carefully. Larger attractions, department stores and shopping malls tend to have wheelchair-accessible restrooms. If you need a wheelchair (車いす; “kuruma isu”) while in Tokyo, hotel staff can help you rent one.
Accessible Japan is the best resource for accessible travel. It also produces an ebook with lots of detail.Click here to download Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Travel guide.
The Tokyo taxi with a difference
What is the best way to get around Tokyo? ›
Subways and trains are the best way to get around Tokyo. A prepaid Suica or Pasmo card is the BEST way to pay for transport. You can buy a Suica card online for pickup at the airport. Taxis are excellent but rather expensive.Is it hard to get around Tokyo? ›
With a peerless public transportation network and an increasing number of multi lingual signage, getting around Tokyo is becoming relatively stress-free. With a JR Rail Pass or travel card, you can navigate stations, hop on and off buses and even take waterbuses with ease.Can you use Uber in Tokyo? ›
Tokyo: Get a ride. Travel. Explore. Planning a trip is easy with Uber.How do tourists get around in Japan? ›
Trains are the most popular way for travelers to explore Japan, and arguably the best. They are fast, efficient, and extremely reliable, and though they are not the cheapest form of transport available, they can get you just about anywhere in the country with minimal stress.Is Tokyo a walkable city? ›
Tokyo, although vast and essentially unknowable, can be a walkable city. Not all of it of course. If you walked from Koiwa to Ome, for example, it would probably take a few days. But central Tokyo is explorable and the things you find out when walking in the world's biggest city are profound and unforgettable.Is Uber or taxi cheaper in Tokyo? ›
Taxi usually offers better prices than Uber, but during late nights when taxi rides have an extra fee, that is when Uber becomes a good alternative. I hope this article was helpful to you. Transportation from the airport to your final destination in Tokyo is a thing some people tend to forget.Is it easy for Americans to visit Tokyo? ›
Currently, tourists with U.S. passports do not need visas for short-term visits (up to three months). Passengers who have been fully vaccinated and boosted with vaccines approved by the Japanese government and who are arriving in Japan after October 11, 2022, will not require a pre-travel COVID-19 test.How many days in Tokyo is enough? ›
If you had the time and money, you could spend a month in Tokyo and not feel that you were wasting your time. But, for most mortals with jobs and limited budgets, I'd suggest spending three or four days in Tokyo. For example, if you have a week to spend in Japan, I'd recommend three days in Tokyo and four in Kyoto.Is Japan friendly to tourists? ›
Japan is a safe and welcoming destination for American tourists. There are many English-speaking locals who can help you if you ever find yourself in need of assistance or advice while traveling in Japan.Is it disrespectful to tip in Japan? ›
Tipping in Japan is not customary. It is in the Japanese culture to take pride in your work. As such, employees have the highest standards when supplying a service and don't feel the need to accept tips to feel appreciated. Indeed, as stated in many Japan travel guide, attempting to tip staff can be offensive.
Is Japan cash or cashless? ›
For years, Japan was primarily a cash economy. People preferred physical banknotes over cashless transactions. In fact, back in 2021 cashless payments were just 15.1% of total transactions and only rising slowly1.Is it better to rent a car or take the train in Japan? ›
When traveling to and within major cities, trains are the way to go, but you need a car to access some of the most beautiful — and less-touristy — places. Renting a car in Japan is the best way to make the most of your visit.Is English widely spoken in Japan? ›
Do Japanese People Speak English? Japanese is the main language spoken in Japan. However, according to studies somewhere between 13 and 30 per cent of Japanese people also speak some level of English. although only around 9 per cent say they feel confident using English.Can I use Uber in Japan? ›
In short, yes, you can use Uber in Tokyo, but mostly to hail a taxi. But, more often than not, stopping a random taxi on the street might be faster (and cheaper) than requesting a taxi via the ubiquitous app. Uber is relatively new to Japan, and as a result, its network isn't the largest.How much money do you need per day in Japan? ›
According to some, a low daily budget for Japanese travel is about $26.00 to $69.00 USD, a mid-range daily budget is about $69.00 to $140.00 USD, and a high daily budget is anything above this.How do tourists travel in Tokyo? ›
Getting around. Tokyo is covered by a dense network of train, subway and bus lines, which are operated by about a dozen different companies. The train lines operated by JR East and the subway lines are most convenient for moving around central Tokyo.Is Tokyo cheap for tourists? ›
Japan actually has an undeserved reputation for being an expensive place to travel in. While you'll have no trouble finding plenty of high-end splurges, you don't need to spend a fortune to have an enjoyable visit to Japan. In fact, Tokyo is less expensive than most major US cities.Do you tip taxi drivers in Japan? ›
Not Tipping Taxi Drivers
The same can be said for taxi drivers, it is not expected to tip your chauffeurs in Japan. While in other countries, especially the USA and the UK, tipping is not only appreciated but expected – in Japan the opposite is true. A polite thank you will do just fine.
Taxis accept both cash and credit cards, and some also accept Suica and Pasmo cards (just be sure it's charged up beforehand). You will always get a receipt and it's advisable to keep it in case of any lost property – it makes the search a lot easier.How much is a taxi from Tokyo airport to city? ›
Taxis at Haneda Airport (HND) charge a flat-rate fare, however, they vary during the time of day. A one-way taxi fare from Haneda airport to Tokyo city centre costs €45 (¥5,600) during the day and €54.50 (¥6,800) during the night (22:00 to 05:00).
Are Americans welcome in Japan? ›
Japan is currently one of the most pro-American countries in the world, with 67% of Japanese viewing the United States favorably, according to a 2018 Pew survey; and 75% saying they trust the United States as opposed to 7% for China.Is Japan still closed to American tourists? ›
Yes, visa free tourism resumed October 11, 2022.
Individual tourists may visit Japan starting October 11, 2022, subject to vaccine or testing requirements as further described in the U.S. Embassy's “Information for U.S. Citizens Traveling to Japan” webpage.
- You can visit Tokyo at any time of year because the weather is temperate.
- The best times to visit Tokyo are fall (late September to November) and spring (March/April/May)
- Summer (late June to the end of August) in Tokyo is hot and humid.
The estimated total cost for 2 weeks in Japan is ¥790,000 ($5450) for 2 people. This works out to ¥28,300 ($195) per person per day, and it includes flights, accommodation, transportation, food, activities, souvenirs, and other small expenses.What is the best month to go to Japan? ›
The best time to visit Japan is during spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). This is when Japan is at its most vibrant, with delicate cherry blossom or bright red leaves adding contrast to the scenery.Can people speak English in Tokyo? ›
Many people remark that it sounds nice and is fun to try! English is in common use in Japan with Chinese and Korean also becoming more common meaning that you can certainly get around without using Japanese. This is most true in the big cities and in areas frequented by foreign visitors.What is the most common crime in Tokyo? ›
The majority of crimes recorded in Japan are theft offenses. Among violent crimes, the most reported offenses are assaults and bodily injuries followed by rapes and homicides. Approximately 21.9 cases of assault and 0.7 cases of murder were recorded per 100,000 Japanese inhabitants in 2020.What is the cheapest way to travel in Tokyo? ›
Walking. No really, not only is this the most cheapo friendly option but it's actually a great way to see the city. Central Tokyo is quite compact and as you can see from our walking map of the Tokyo subway system it won't take you too long to walk from one station to another.What is the most common form of transport in Tokyo? ›
Rail is the primary mode of transport in Tokyo. Greater Tokyo has the most extensive urban railway network and the most used in the world with 40 million passengers (transfers between networks tallied twice) in the metro area daily, out of a metro population of 36 million.Can you get around Tokyo with English? ›
English is in common use in Japan with Chinese and Korean also becoming more common meaning that you can certainly get around without using Japanese. This is most true in the big cities and in areas frequented by foreign visitors.
Are taxis expensive in Tokyo? ›
Taxis in Japan are often considered an expensive and inconvenient alternative to the superb public transport that is on offer in the big cities.How much is Uber in Tokyo? ›
The minimum booking fare for Uber Black is ¥823 per ride plus an additional surcharge of ¥72 per minute and ¥304 per kilometre.What is the cheapest month to go to Tokyo? ›
High season is considered to be November and December. The cheapest month to fly to Japan is March. Enter your preferred departure airport and travel dates into the search form above to unlock the latest Japan flight deals.Is Tokyo budget friendly? ›
Tokyo: Not As Expensive as you Think
That being said, while the Japanese capital most certainly isn't cheap, its costs are often exaggerated. In fact, I find them comparable to those of Paris or London and it is possible to travel to Tokyo on a Budget.
You board the bus at the front of the bus near the driver. If you are using cash, you pay the fare into the fare machine. Some machines automatically make change, while in others, you have to change Y500 coins and bills first and then deposit the correct amount in the fare box.Do I need a visa to go to Japan? ›
Currently, tourists with U.S. passports do not need visas for short-term visits (up to three months). Passengers who have been fully vaccinated and boosted with vaccines approved by the Japanese government and who are arriving in Japan after October 11, 2022, will not require a pre-travel COVID-19 test.Is public transport in Tokyo expensive? ›
Within Tokyo or the largest cities of Japan, assuming you aren't going on day trips, you typically don't spend more than 1000 to 1500 Yen daily on transport. If you travel more than that as a visitor to the city, you are likely trying to hit too many places in one day.Is it safe for Americans to travel to Japan? ›
Individual tourists may visit Japan starting October 11, 2022, subject to vaccine or testing requirements as further described in the U.S. Embassy's “Information for U.S. Citizens Traveling to Japan” webpage. Tourists with U.S. passports no longer need a visa to stay up to three months.Are Americans welcomed in Japan? ›
Japan is open! Visa-free, independent travel is now possible for most nationalities. If you are boosted with a Covid vaccine, you do not need a negative Covid test before flying to Japan. If you are unvaccinated or not boosted, you need a negative Covid test.Is Tokyo friendly to tourists? ›
Tokyo is an exciting, must-visit destination for anybody traveling in Japan. It's widely regarded as a tourist-friendly city.
Do you tip in Japan? ›
Tipping in Japan is not expected, and attempts to leave a tip will almost certainly be turned down (a potentially awkward moment). In Japan, it's thought that by dining out or drinking at a bar, you are already paying the establishment for good service.Do you tip taxi drivers in Tokyo? ›
DON'T: PAY TIPS
Japan does not have a tipping culture and drivers neither expect nor accept money in excess of the fare displayed on the meter. They will not accept haggling either. Cash is the safest way to pay, though an increasing number of taxis now also take IC cards like Pasmo and Suica as well as credit cards.