Getting Around the City - General Info, Tokyo
As you can see on photo #1 the info board in Tokyo station is misleading. Surest way to get on the local train for Sendagaya is to change trains at Ochanomizu or Yotsuya. Then pick a yellow train bound for Mitaka. Sendagaya station is the station with a drinking fountain with shogi-piece shaped monument. After getting off from the station, go up the road beside the huge gym. After climbing up the slope you will find the Shrine with Fujizuka mound. Walk alongside the shrine and you will find the Shogi Kaikan. Shogi dojo is on the second floor of the building.
Shogi Kaikan in Sendagaya is the headquarter of Japan Shogi Association where major pro matches are played. It also has a dojo for visitors and a shop to buy a wooden boards, pieces and even English books on Shogi, Japanese variant of chess. To get to Sendagaya station from Tokyo station, however, is really complicated. The first step is to find Chuo Line. It is one of the JR local lines. Follow the signs in orange line which lead to platform #1-2 where Chuo line starts. When you get on Chuo Line be sure to change trains to local train at Ochanomizu. It is the only way you can get on local train to Sendagaya. (No direct line to Sendagaya from Tokyo). To be continued to Part 2.
The Toden Arakawa line doesn't really connect any notable places, but it is the only tram line in Tokyo, and so makes for an interesting trip if you get the chance, meandering through areas of Tokyo that few tourists really get to.
The Narita express is a great way to get from Tokyo station to Narita airport. It costs about 2700 yen and departures are frequent.
One of the advantages of the Narita express is that some services go to destinations such as Yokohama, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Shinagawa and Omiya amongst others.
Please do not take any of the train lines during their peak hours. The Tokyoites are used to cramming into crowded trains and squeezing out when they reach their destination but this could prove to be a traumatic experience for foreigners.
Packed like sardines is an understatement to describe the state of train commuters during the rush hours!
Plan your itinerary such that you avoid the morning and evening rush hours.
On New Years Eve, the subway and most train stations are open 24 hours. Although most people are probably at home, you can use this opportunity to go partying all night without worrying about getting a taxi.
For all the traveller like me, please make sure you get the correct train to your destination. Those JR Tokyo route map are available almost in every JR station. Refer to the sign board on the wall before to get up the train. Once you are inside the coach, basically all the route map are in Japanese. In order for you to know where is the next stop, you have to either listen carefully to the speakers or look outside to the next station sign board. Else you have to regconize the Japanese character.
The rail system in Tokyo is extensive and fairly easy to master though the scale may be overwhelming at first. The system consists of JR (Japan Rail), subways and private railways. However they are all integrated and fairly easy to navigate. When in doubt, buy the lowest fare and pay the difference at the other end. Note also that train (& buses too) stop operating around midnight and start again around 4:30am. These sites might help:
Note that JR has an english information line where you can get fare and schedule information. I believe they provide information about non-JR rail as well.
Also, look into getting a JR Rail Pass which is only available to tourists. It is generally worthwhile if you intend to take at least one long-distance trip during your stay. (Note: The Rail Pass voucher must be purchased outside of Japan, in advance of your trip.)
Always carry two maps. One in your language (probably English) and one in JAPANESE. Find your destination on your map, check the letter and number (For example: E01) and point to it on the Japanese map. Japanese people tend to get shell shock when someone speaks English to them. Having a Japanese map can help them relax. If they speak great English, there is no need to show the Japanese map.
To get around Tokyo efficiently, subsurface transportation is the only way. Traffic can be unpredictable and keep you stalled for hours, while the trains always run on time. They are numerous and between the JR lines and the metro, go pretty much everywhere in the greater Tokyo area that you would want to visit. However, to increase your efficiency, I recommend getting a Suica or Pasmo card, which will save you the inconvenience of buying tickets. You can buy one at any JR ticket window and you put a few thousand yen on the card and you get automatic entry until you exhaust the money. Updating the money on your card is easy. You'llnever regret a Suica card.
Don't worry if you are lost or make a mistake re tickets fares, etc. There is always help available as mentioned. That is even when you are using a ticket machine (for buying tickets or fare adjustment).
Once we thought we made a mistake getting off in an unfamiliar station and had to go and make fare adjustments. So we went to the machine (our tickets were not accepted in the exit gates machines so we couldn't get out of the station) for fare adjustment but to our dismay, the machine just "swallowed" it.
A more surprising thing happened, as we were frantically pressing cancel, a human head suddenly popped out of the little window near the machine! He told us no need to pay and pointed to the far end of the exit gates where another train staffer was manning them so he could let us out!
Another problem averted!
So when in Tokyo, no worries, there is always someone to help!
As previously noted, Tokyo (and Japan in general) seem to have a very efficient and oganised transport system. Whatever mode of transport we used was always clean, on time and user-friendly. The tickets are also cheap, especially if you get a Day's pass which cost about 730 yen and you can ride in any of the trains around the pink area in the Tokyo map you get from the info tourism desk at any station.
I recommend this or get the SUICA card which you can always replenish/recharge so you don't have to keep buying tickets every time you want to go out. With my young family we usually go to one to two areas as the places cover a wide are of walking ground!
There are maps, signs and numerous ways to help the average traveller get around the city.
However, it can still be tricky as it has a complicated system of subway, monorail, train and buses network. The best thing to know is there is always help at hand. One must not hesitate to approach a transport staff for help.Even ordinary Japanese commuter/s are willing to help even if they cannot speak English well! They are very polite and helpful people!
English is not widely spoken but most staff know a little English enough for you to get by. I shall have a separate post about commonly used Japanese/Nihongo for the average tourist with little or no grasp of the Japanese language.
The best way to get around Tokyo is to use the train and subway system. However you have to familiarise yourself with the different train lines servicing the city. Most of the attraction are serviced by the JR line.
Make sure you get a TOKYO HANDY GUIDE to tell you where to get on and off and where to exit as the stations are huge and crowds go past the trains the whole day. There is really no off peak hours in Tokyo as we experienced. The trains are always full but not unpleasant as Japanese people are courteous and do not push in! They are also mostly quiet inside the trains and are contented to stand or give way for you. Also the use of mobile phones are common but the sound is turned off so it never annoyed us and the Japanese rarely speak loud in trains as we observed!
Don't worry if you get lost, there is always help at the exit gates. A train staff is always present near the exit where the machines are for the tickets put in before leaving the station.
If you are spending a few days in Tokyo, you must must buy the Suica!
It's seriously a lifesaver. You don't have to hassle with fare changes and top-ups.
Just tap and go.
The Suica is only valid on all JR train lines, Toei Subway lines, Tokyo Metro subway lines.
Not valid on Private railways.
Plus there's a packaged deal.
for 3500yen, you can get a one N'Ex ticket to Tokyo and a 2000yen Suica with 500yen refundable deposit value and 1500yen actual traveling value.
Getting around the subway in Tokyo can be confusing, since the rate depends on the destination, there are several lines with different operators etc, the solution = the Suica Card. The SUICA card, is an electronic cash card that can be used in Tokyo subway system. You can get the card in almost all of the Cashier counters in the subway station. The card is cost 500 yen, and you can charge it once you have it, over and over again.
Once you have the card, no need to pounder on how much is the fare, or anything like that, you just put your card on the gate, and go on through... Make sure you charged it with enough money though...
Highly recommended, very handy, and makes life in Japan much easier, since to get around Tokyo, the easiest way is to use the subway...