Rail - Metro - Subway, Tokyo
If you're new to Tokyo and don't speak the language, the first thing to know about getting around is DON'T PANIC. The Tokyo transportation system is extremely navigatable, in fact many signs are listed in English in addition to Japanese (of course). Most stations offer tiny maps you can pick up for free that show the layout of the routes.
Next, learn where the destination points are for the trains/subways. Once you leave the main Tokyo subway zone, the trains may differ in destination even though you're using the same line (for instance the Hibiya-sen). If you're traveling slightly on the outskirts of Tokyo, you might accidentally board an express train that completely skips your stop. There's a little rotating banner above the doors that tells you where the destination is and generally what type of car it is (e.g. express, limited, normal).
Some people take the first train they see. But that can sometimes be fatal to the novice (and the experienced resident like yours truly). So take a moment to get your bearings before boarding a train if you're unfamiliar with your route.
The Tokyo Subway system is the best way of getting around Tokyo, and the cheapest. It can be tricky though, as there are many different subway lines, and the writing is not always in English.
The first thing to know about the subway system is how to get on and off it. The subway opens around 5am and stays open until midnight. Starting around 6 am and going until 9 am, and also 4 pm to about 7 pm are the busiest times. Things are easier if you just avoid Shibuya and Shinjuku stations at those times. You will have to wait in line for a trian, they do fill up, and you will get pushed into a car. Once the school and business rush is over though, it is really convenient. The hardest thing is figuring out where you are going.
That is easy if you have a copy of the map with you. Most all of the cars on the lines have english signs and announcements for the stations. All you have to do is know which one you are looking for. Switching stations is easy, you just need to know which train to get on. Trains go in the direction of their farthest point, look at you map. If you are on the Ginza line wanting to go to Roppongi, but the train says Ueno, you are looking at the wrong direction, turn around and take the other train.
Getting on the train is easy too. Have some money ready and buy one of those cute little plastic paper cards. Slide them into the gate, walk through and pick up your card on the other side (You will need it to switch lines and get out of the station.) If you get stuck, there are information booths at most all of the stations. Just be sure to have taxi money handy though if you plan to be out later than midnight, or be prepared to sleep wherever you are.
The coverage of the subway in Tokyo is mainly at the Central Metropolitan Area. This Subway service is equally convenience with JR. Make sure your direction is clear then decide using JR or the subway.
I use the subway almost everyday.
Getting around Tokyo on the subway was not that difficult. I suggest that you get an English subway map from the information booth inside the airport. I had difficulty locating them at other subway stops.
I would also get a 1000 yen or 3000 yen subway pass. I took this advise from a Japanese man that was sitting next to me on the flight to Tokyo. It saved me the hassle of calculating the fare and purchasing a ticket every time I used the subway. If you go over what is allotted on the card you can pay the difference at machines that are located near the exit turnstyles.
Before you go, see if you can get a subway map that has the stops in whatever language you dig. Almost all of the subways only have the large maps on the wall in characters, so if you don't read them, you might have major issues with figuring out where you're going. Still, if you do have a translation, the subways are really easy. There are usually two maps on the wall, one with the station names in characters, and one with yen at the stops. All you have to do is look at the stop you are going to, see how much it is, drop your yen into one of the machines below the signs and push the cost of the ticket you are buying on the screen. A side note on the subways, when you are going in, stick your ticket into the gate with the arrow going forward (like any non-idiot would do). If you put it in backwards, these gates will fly out, and you might look like an idiot. Also, if you get to a stop, and you've gone somewhere other than what you bought the ticket for, I hear the gates will fly out again, but they'll trap you inside, and you'll look like an even bigger tool than I did when I put my ticket in backwards. If you know you've gone over the cost of your ticket, just go to a fare adjustment machine (labeled in English) and stick in your ticket. It'll tell you how much more to put in so the gates don't fly out. Point of this, though, was get a subway map without characters, and the subway will be a breeze.
There are countless tips on Tokyo's metros and subways. While more well traveled people may not be intimidated by Tokyo's subways, many people will be.
If you wish to find instructions and connections between any two stations in Tokyo metropolitan area, the link below will help.
You can also enter either your preferred departure time or your preferred arrival time to calculate total travel between the two.
As you become more familiar with Tokyo's subways, you will learn while there are multiple ways to navigate them, that this link may give the simplest, it may not give the most timely.
Only available at the airport, it's your best friend when travelling around Tokyo on the Metro (subway). Cost 980Yen for adults, 490Yen for child. Good for 2 consecutive days of UNLIMITED travel on Tokyo Metro lines (not on Toei lines). Very convenient and invaluable for me as I keep getting on the wrong lines and had to alight and cross to the opposite tracks. The date of purchase is printed on the envelope and the date of your 1st day of use will be printed on the back of the ticket. After use, you get to keep it as a souvenir.
The Tokyo subway system is great, but it can be a bit confusing because there are two different subway operators and the tickets aren't interchangeable! This can be really tricky when in stations like Shibuya, where both operators' lines are accessible. You have to make sure you buy the right ticket as well as go through the right gate!
We messed up a couple of times, but the station agent was pretty good natured about it. I'm sure it happens all the time, so don't get stressed.
the website below has some more info...
Now that I have used the Tokyo rail, it is actually not that confusing - SERIOUS!
The key factor that one has to remember is that the Tokyo rail and metro system is run by various providers. Hence the very dense but yet thoughtfully planned out system that allows commuters to jump from rail to Metro.
Just a tip - the rail network is an neverending LOOP that connects Tokyo to the key stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku etc but if you want to go into certain areas, then the metro need to be taken.
The train lines operated by JR East and the subway lines are most convenient for moving around central Tokyo.
The most prominent line is the JR Yamanote Line which as I mentioned before is a loop that connects Tokyo's multiple city centers.
Tokyo has one of the most advanced metro network in the world. You can go wherever you want in/around the city. However, keep in mind that there are 2 major, different companies running their own rail networks, which means different stations and of course different fares. Bear in mind that if you want to hop on/off different companies you have to pay different ticket. Attendants are everywhere and can give you advice; however, they hardly speak English.
Also, you have to get familiar with the fact that different style of coaches run by the same company, which makes quite hard to rememeber which one you have to get.
You have to be also careful in getting the right coach, as it is usual for many different trains passing from the same platform. Check the board - if it's in English! - and get sure that you get the right train!
A strange but efficient system works in the platforms while you wait for the train. You have to queue in specific places of the platform, depending on the style and length of the coach! The platforms are signed with symbols like "o", "Ä" or "x"; check on the board the kind/style of the train that you get and stand at the right place! Quite confusing but this is how the whole system achieves to be accurate.
Tokyo's 'chikatetsu' (lit: underground iron) may look like a mess of spaghetti at first, but it is the best way to get around Tokyo. There is also the 'above ground' JR line.
The bus services are good but you will need to have a reasonably competent level of Japanese. The bus driver does not talk to passengers - he's hidden away behind a huge perspex barrier. When you board the bus you need to be able to read the signboard, pick out your destination, and feed the appropriate coins / notes into the machine near the obscured bus driver.
If you're intending on staying in Tokyo for an extended period of time, I would suggest you buy a bicycle. I bought this Sushi deliverers bicycle for around A$60. Just ensure you get the registration papers as bike theft is a common problem in Tokyo.
The local police tend to also get around on bicycles and they WILL check your bicycle registration papers, so make sure you get them when you buy the bike and keep it with you at all times.
Tokyo has one of the most extensive metro network that I've ever seen. It makes sense to use this as taxis are terribly expensive here so don't even think about it.
The first thing to do is to get a Tokyo Metro Guide in English and this is available in major stations. You may also download from website. From here, your JR pass cannot be used on Metro.
Things get a little tricky with an English map as some smaller stations show destinations in Japanese. Pay attention to the station number and colour of the lines to get around.
Keep some coins for the ticket vending machine. If you plan to use the Metro a lot, it's more convenient to purchase the One-day Open Ticket or the Passnet available at the machines.
Learn to use the Tokyo subway, it's fun, easy and cheap. Most signs are written both in English and Japanese and if you get confused don't hesitate to ask some one, the Tokyoites are usually very helpful in spite of their fast pace of life. The Tokyo subway is safe, clean and on-time. However, rush hours can be crowded. A funny thing you'll notice: half the people fall asleep as soon as they board a train!
Most subway tickets are only 160 to 190 yens (ie, about USD 1,20 to 1,50). For instance from Akasaka Mitsuke to Ginza, Shinjuku or Shibya is only JPY 160. It is very easy to buy a ticket, even without understanding japanese:
1. Check your fare on a bilingual fare map (upholstered in all large stations).
2. Put your money (change or bills) in the ticket ATM.
3. Click on the symbol showing either 1 person, 2 persons or 3 persons.
4. Click on the number of your fare; eg. 160, 190, 240, etc...
5. You'll get your ticket and your change. It's as easy as that !
If you're too tired or can't be bothered with the subways, taxis are very reliable too.
An average taxi ride from the New Otani Hotel in Akasaka to Ginza (about 15 minutes) costs about Yen 2,500 (approx. USD 20). Of course, if you're going to visit a lot of Tokyo, you will save money by using the metro.
Check the map:
Subway/metro is another commonly used transportation in Tokyo other than JR. There are quite a lot of subways in Tokyo: the Tokyo Metro, the Kotsu Metro, the Tokyu Line, the Keio Line, just to name a few. With so many different subway lines and JR lines, its very important for you to have a copy of the complete train line map on hand. So that you'll know where to get transitted.
Those subways' online resources are quite useful too: checking of fares, how and how long to get from locations to locations, etc.
Tokyo Metro: http://www.tokyometro.jp/
Kotsu Metro: http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp
Tokyu Lines: http://www.tokyu.co.jp/index_flash.html
Keio Lines: http://www.keio.co.jp
Tickets: Advise to purchase the Passnet card, for the the value of 1,000 , 3,000 or 5,000. You can take most of the subways / trains other than the JR with the Passnet Card. (If you see the passnet logo on the ticket machines, it means you can use the passnet card for that train line) It saved me time as I dont have to queue up every time I take the trains. Value can be added after used up, and you can keep the card after the trip~
It is very easy and convenient to get around Tokyo using the fantastic subway and train systems that go all over the city. The train stations are all well signposted in English and in Japanese. Get hold of a good train/subway map in English and Japanese and off you go! Train travel is very cheap in Tokyo compared with other parts of Japan. The average trip costs less than 200 yen. The map to your left is of the major train lines in Tokyo. Click to enlarge.
More Info:For information on how to get into Tokyo from Narita Airport check out this link: http://www.japanhotel.net/travel_info/airport_access.htm
For information on Tokyo's subway click this link: http://www.metropla.net/as/toky/tokyo.htm
I also found this totally cool interactive subway Map available in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese: http://www.tokyometro.go.jp/network/map_english.html