As Japan’s bustling capital city, Tokyo is a must-visit destination for many travellers.
Its 24-hour nature, bright lights and interesting customs will take your breath away, but it can also be quite daunting to navigate Tokyo transport if you’re new to the city - particularly with the language barrier.
Luckily, Tokyo has a vast and incredibly efficient transport network, including the subway, bullet trains and buses. This guide will help you get to grips with the best ways to get around Tokyo.
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Tokyo has two airports – Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo International Airport, also known as Haneda (HND).
While the latter is closer to the city centre, Narita actually deals with more long-haul flights so it’s likely you will arrive there.
Either way, both airports have great transport links into central Tokyo. Public transport is the best option as it’s both cheaper and faster than getting in a taxi.
From Narita Airport, you can catch the JR Narita Express that will cost ¥3,000 (around $40) and takes about an hour. You can also buy a return ticket for around ¥4,000 ($55), while the JR Pass is also accepted - so that could be worth looking into (keep reading to find out more on that below!).
The JR Sobu Line, also included on the JR Pass, is cheaper but takes longer. There is only one departure per hour.
The quickest route into Tokyo is via the Skyliner, which takes 35 to 40 minutes, depending on which station you need to get to. It costs around ¥2,500 ($34), but is not included on the JR Pass.
Meanwhile, a taxi could set you back in excess of ¥20,000 ($270), and traffic can get quite hectic as you approach the city so taxis are not an ideal option.
From Haneda Airport, you can reach central Tokyo in just 20 minutes via the Tokyo Monorail, costing just ¥500 (around $7).
Other options include the Keikyu Airport Line into Shinagawa Station, taking around 20 minutes and costing ¥300 ($4).
Taxis are another option, however they are much more expensive at over ¥10,000 ($135). The car ride is likely to take 40 minutes or so, depending on traffic.
Trains and subways are the top transport options in Tokyo, as they are the easiest and quickest ways to get around.
Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway are the two underground services, which are the easiest ways to explore the city. They are marked at street level by a blue and white ‘M’ logo, and a green fan logo respectively.
Japanese Rail (JR) lines include the JR Yamanote Line and the Chuo Line, which both go through many of the main neighbourhoods and to most major tourist attractions.
Also, there are other regional trains that can take you further afield if you’re planning a day trip or two. Different companies own these lines and will require different tickets.
Top tip: try to avoid trains and subways during rush hour, or prepare to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other passengers as the carriages fill up quickly.
Bullet trains, or Shinkansen, are a tourist attraction in their own right as they can reach speeds of 320km/h. This network of trains connects Kagoshima (on Kyushu) in the south of Japan with Hokuto (on Hokkaido) in the north, while expansion up to Sapporo is also planned.
From Tokyo, you can travel directly to destinations such as Kyoto and Osaka. On each of the nine Shinkansen lines, there are fast, semi-fast and local services - so be sure to get on the right train or it could be a long ride!
Shinkansen services will depart from their own platform at stations, which are indicated by bilingual signs, so you won’t get confused with the regular trains.
You can either use a JR Pass for the bullet trains or buy individual tickets. The price is dependent on distance, seat reservation and class of ticket.
While Shinkansen is a useful way of travelling around Japan, it is worth noting that there are luggage limitations (two pieces), with size and weight restrictions to keep in mind.
The JR Pass can be convenient and cost-effective if you’re planning to travel on JR trains a lot throughout your trip in Japan - particularly if you want to experience a bullet train.
It is worth noting the JR Pass can only be purchased in 7, 14 or 21-day increments and must be purchased before you leave your home country (and don’t forget to factor in delivery time, too!).
However, if you only plan to stay within central Tokyo, the JR Pass is unlikely to offer any real savings. A prepaid SUICA card or the Tokyo Subway Pass may be better options.
Taxis are an expensive way to get around Tokyo. With such good public transport options, it’s not a typical form of transport for locals or visitors. But, if you do find you want to jump in a taxi, they are usually widely available at stands around tourist attractions, with official cabs having green licence plates.
A red light or no light at all indicates that the taxi is able to stop and pick you up, while a green light means it is already occupied. As a rough guide, you will pay around ¥700 ($10) for the first two kilometres, and then every additional 300m will add another ¥90 (~$1.25) to the price.
Uber is also available in the city can be a much cheaper option.
Buses in Tokyo can be tricky to navigate, but most charge a flat fare of ¥200 (~$3), which is handy to know. This will need to be paid in change, as notes are not accepted.
Buses are boarded via the rear door, while you exit via the front door.
Be sure to check the destination on the front or side of the bus, or remember the number of the bus you need to catch.
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