Rail - Metro - Subway, Tokyo
The Narita Express, operated by East Japan Railway Company (aka JR East), has direct trains from central Tokyo to the airport for just 2,940 Yen ($40 USD)... similar to the cost of a taxi to the airport in many other cities.
You can purchase your tickets at Narita, and just jump on the train that conveniently stops right under the terminal. The only problem is you have to buy tickets for a specific train, so don't buy them until after you land and you are ready to board. They will sell tickets for a particular departure right up until the minute it is ready to depart.
The train itself is very nice. Comfortable seats, big windows with blinds, a drink cart that goes up and down the aisle with slightly overpriced beverages, even a place to lock up your large luggage. Your smaller bags can fit over the seat or under the seat in front of you.
The NEX trains stops at Terminal 2, then Terminal 1.
The competitor train, called the Kaisei SkyLiner, is less expensive than the NEX, slightly faster than the NEX, but its stops in Tokyo (Ueno and Nippori Station) are a bit less convenient, possibly meaning additional train transfers to get to your final destination in Tokyo.
Inside Japan, our tour company, supplied us with preloaded Manaca cards which we found easy to use as the system is the same as the Oyster one we are so used to in London - you put the card flat on the reader as you go through the gate to catch your train, and do the same as you leave the station, and the fare is deducted from the total on your card. When you need to you can top up the funds via machines in every station.
If you are used to an urban transport system in another city (the London Underground, the New York subway, the Paris Metro) you will have little trouble in planning your route here nor in following it. Determine which line you need to catch (all are colour-coded) and in which direction, and follow the signs - which are helpfully in English as well as Japanese. Stations also each have a code number which consists of the initial letter of the line and their number on it - Tawaramachi, for example, is G!* - the 18th stop (reading left to right) on the Ginza line. This makes it very easy to spot and follow signs.
On the train you will find that the next station is clearly announced each time and displayed above all the doors, so you shouldn't miss your stop. One thing to be aware of though is that changing lines at a transfer station may involve exiting the station and walking a little way at street level to re-enter for the other line (Kuramai is one example of those we used, on the Oedo (station E11) and Asakusa (station A17) lines). And even when you can connect below ground you may have to walk some distance. This useful map of the entire system shows several stations which straddle a lot of lines in this way.
Next tip: our hotel in Asakusa
Upon arriving in Tokyo get a Suica Pass, it makes it much easier to get around the city, no need to continually having to buy tickets. The initial cost is 2000 Yen, but you get back 500 Yen upon return of the plastic pass. The one drawback is that you can not pay for it with a credit card. When your balance is close to zero, just go to one of the green ticket machines and reload the card.
It's always a little frightening for a stranger to descend underground...to try to get from pillar to post in a foreign language. Fortunately, the Japanese Metro system is almost fool-proof. There are lots of visual cues (with station names and other information given in English spelling as well as the Japanese characters, so you aren't left trying to puzzle out whether you've reached Omotesando or not). For the mobility challenged, there are elevators; but most stations are more easily accessed by stairways and some require a good deal of walking to make transfers, etc. The cost is very reasonable and the subways are very clean.
I had the most marvelous sense of accomplishment when I navigated from Aoyama to Akasuka to visit Senso-ji. The hardest part was finding the temple after I emerged from the underground!
Ok, the first thing that freaks you out about Tokyo is it size and the confusing maps of all the trains... but once you do it, you realize it's a simple as any other train system around the world... All the signs are all in English...don't let it intimidate you !!!! It's not as cheap as other subways and metro but Tokyo is sooo big that the options aren't very many so the metro is the way to go !!!!
I was really worried about using the underground/subway when i came as I looked at the map and it looked like a picture my nephew had drawn....a load of coloured lines!
But it was actually quite easy to navigate. It is also now in English so that helps!
The trains are very clean and safe to use.
If you do get lost just ask a local they are more than happy to lend a hand getting you back on track so to speak!
Getting around Tokyo Subway isn't all that difficult after all.
I would, the night before, determine the route and cropped the acrobat copy of the subway map (available on japan metro website) to show only the relevant sections on store it on my PDA and can view it the next day even when I'm on the move.
Further to that, I would ask the station master which platform to my next destination. Their answers are very good and gives the shortest possible route.
They have a subway map and not all subway metro are owned by the Tokyo Metro, only those listed on the legend section under Tokyo Metro Line are covered under the Tokyo Metro pass. The Tokyo metro pass is a 1 or 2 day pass that you can purchase at Narita Airport near the Information Counter.
A 2 days subway metro pass would be 980 Yen while a single day metro pass is 600 Yen.
A single trip (one way) without pass would be about 200 Yen. Would be worthwhile if you are moving around using the subway. Remember, not all lines are owned by Tokyo Metro and you may still need to pay for those rides that aren't owned by Tokyo Metro.
what a pleasure to use the metro in Tokyo
no people talking on the phone or making any loud noise
they sleep, play or sms on the phone or read a book or just stay quiet
and it's clean, on time and fast
Traveling in Tokyo is no problem. The metro stations have numbers and inside the metro cars there are maps that light up to show the next station.
Everyone involved in the tourist infrastructure speaks English.
All other Japanese people read English.
I found carrying a small notebook in my shirt pocket so that I could write my question (printing, not cursive) worked just fine.
You could set your watch to the trains in Tokyo it's truly amazing for the amount of trains they run.
At the train stations if you look at the floor you will notice an area that is painted. This is where the doors of the train will stop and you can get on.
When I was there we didn't know this and just stood at the platform while a large line of people stood behind us thinking we were standing where the door would open. Oops.
It's fairly straightforward, not too much to worry about:
The crowds aren't always bad. Mostly during peak hours.
If you want to navigate easily, you'll probably want to switch metros a few times. Two pieces of advice for this.
1. At the stations, there don't seem to be metro-maps in english that you can take with you, so you might want to print one out before you go. There's one at www.tokyometro.jp/rosen/rosenzu/pdf/rosen_eng.pdf
2. Sometimes it appears like two lines are crossing at one station, but you might find out that the other line's station is actually 500 metres away. There are generally easy-access tunnels conencting the various cities.
I must confess I was scared when I say a map of Tokyo subway when I tried to find Shibuya station, but I had a great experience using it. You pay for the distance you go, if you go farther you have to pay more when you get out from it.
It is safe, clean and confortable, way better than Mexico City's subway!!
I used it from Ginza to Shibuya and the price was 190 yens. I had to ask for help when buying my ticket because the ticket machine can be very hard to understand.
Several points to take note of when using the JR lines + subways, which are a great way to travel but come along with their fair share of frustrations. I was in Tokyo with my wife and young kid for 7 days and relied mainly on subways for travel to Shinjuku, Harajuku, Otomesanto, Asakusa, Disneyland etc. Our kid was largely in the pram.
(1) The stations have many exits - Always observe which exit to use for your destination as that can save you lots of trouble. A wrong exit means lots of walking.
(2) Lots of frustration if you intend to bring along your kid(s) in prams!!! Most of the exits do NOT have escalators or lifts, which means climbing up the staircases, which can be awfully long. This is especially problematic if your kid(s) is/are asleep in the pram(s). Solution is to look for exit with escalator or lift - which is oftentime located far away from your intended exit/destination. By the way, we discovered to our horror that there are some stations with no escalators/lifts at the exits at all!
(3) Make sure you get a map of the subways + JR lines which include BOTH English and Japanese names for the stations from your hotels. Believe it or not - Maps at the ticket booths often do not have English names! This means you need to compare Japanese names on both maps to know where you are headed.
(4) There have been suggestions on buying Passnet - For us, we find the Toyo Metro single day pass which cost Yen710 very useful if you intend to keep using the subways. Note however that it cannot be used for JR lines or other metro lines. We made the mistake of trying to travel on the Asakusa line - not realising that it was by a different operator from the Tokyo Metro subway line and had to use the Ginza line instead.
The Subway in Tokyo is operated by two Separate companies.
Tokyo Metro, who operate the Ginza, Marunouchi, Tozai, Yurakucho, Hibiya, Chiyoda, Nanboku, Hanzomon and New Line, and Toei Metro who operate the Oedo, Asakusa, Mita and Shinjuku lines.
Tokyo Metro's day pass is 710 yen, and Toei Metro's day pass is 500 yen. Alternatively you can buy a 1000 yen pass which covers both systems.
The metro of Tokyo seems to be like other famous ones in London and Paris; but it ISN'T.
After 10 days of traveling with this metro I finally managed to see through the way how to change over on another line without losing your ticket resulting in buying a new one.
Most people sleep in the metro. The ones who doesn't, they play with their mobile phone. Girls sitting in front of you thinking that they look good don't even look up from their phonescreen till their station finally is there.
It's amazing to see how people rarely talk with each other in the metro. Good point is the order to switch off your mobile phone sound when entering the metro. For the rest; the metro is very efficient; people stand in a row before the trains arrive.