Before traveling to Tokyo, I had read lots about the train travel within the city of Tokyo and the kaos, the crowds and somewhat confusion of travelling on trains kinda worried me. Without much sense of direction or lack of speaking/ understanding Japanese I was worried I would have no idea of where I was going and end up lost or traveling on some train out to woop woop!
I needn’t have been worried.
There are a few companies that operated the rail within Tokyo. There’s the JR line, Metro and Toei lines. We had a JR pass for the time we were in Japan as we were catching the Shinkansen (bullet) trains between destinations. This pass also allows you to travel on all JR lines within Tokyo as much as you want. Make sure you exchange your voucher (prepurchased before you leave home) at a JR ticket booth (found at Airports and major train stations) then you just show it to the staff at the booths beside the station exit gates. The other lines (Tokyo metro etc) work on a card system which you top up at machines on the stations or you can buy point to point tickets or an all day pass. We used these for point to point buying a ticket to the station we were heading to as we didn’t travel on them much. The machines have a language button which converts all text to English and we just put in the station we wanted and deposited the corresponding money. My suggestion is to work out how much you will be using the lines in the day, you might find the day trip ticket more beneficial. The trick is learning which line is which. Look for the symbols related to the train company’s and also look for the lines name, colour and definitely get your hands on a map of the rail system. Also take your time to read which direction the train is going on the line and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most staff at the stations speak some English and most are quiet helpful!
Trains run continuously in Tokyo, so there is no need to worry about timetables. If you miss the train, another will be there in a matter of minutes. The trains majority of the time stop at all stations along that line, so yet again you don’t have to be concerned if it will stop at the station you are after.
When on the platforms wait in line at the marked spots and move to the side when the train comes in, allowing the passengers on the train to exit before you board. Carry any backpacks on the front of you so you don’t knock into others and hang onto the handholds or rails.
While on the train you will find information on where the train is headed both in Japanese and English as well as announcements on the loudspeaker. If you happen to get on the wrong train just get of at the next station and catch one back to your starting point. The announcements also state which side the doors open so you can be prepared to get off.
There are a few social etiquettes to be aware of when riding the trains in Tokyo. While traveling on the station escalators stand on the left hand side so others can walk up if they want and also follow direction signs for going up and down the stairs. Loud talking is not socially acceptable behaviour, in fact most people don’t seem to talk at all on the trains. It isn’t also acceptable to talk loudly on your phone, play music or games. There are areas that are predominantly reserved for the elderly, pregnant and disabled, it’s best to offer these to others, or don’t sit in them in the first place. At some point the trains may be so busy that you have to step out onto the platform to let others out of the train, just stand to the side, let them out before stepping back in, and be prepared to keep squishing in until everyone can get on board. And lastly it is socially acceptable to sleep on the train, most people do!
Please note I’m not an expert in the train system in Tokyo, in fact I only spent 8 days there. In those 8 days we traveled everyday on the trains and we got a lot better at it and didn’t get as lost as much as we did when we first arrived!
So give train travel ago while you are in Tokyo, don’t be afraid of the somewhat organised kaos, and soon you will find yourself becoming an expert!
Have you been to Tokyo Station?
What did you think!?!
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