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With 13 million inhabitants, Tokyo is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It extends 90 km from east to west and 25 km from north to south.
To remedy this colossal size, the city has built a dense and practical, if rather complex transportation system.
See our tips for using the various means of transportation available and get around the Japanese capital efficiently.
In Tokyo, the distances are always greater than you think. If on the map the train stations seem to be close to each other, it still takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk from Shibuya to Harajuku and more than 2 hours from Shibuya to Ginza.
Moreover, Tokyo is not designed for pedestrians, the main streets are not nice to walk along and the small streets will get you lost in a blink of an eye.Some neighborhoods like Aoyama or Yanaka are quite nice for a stroll and big areas like Ginza and Akihabara are transformed into pedestrian zones on Sundays.
Cycling is one means of transportation that is both ecological and flexible. Faster than walking, most young Tokyoites use it, but beware of traffic rules! According to the law, bikes are supposed to ride on the road with the cars, but the absence of cycle paths makes it difficult. On sidewalks be careful not to hit pedestrians.
Another problem, Tokyo is not a flat city, be prepared to go up some steep hills, especially on the west side of the city. Various stores offer daily bike rentals or visits of the town by bike (Tokyo Great Cycling Tour). You can also borrow bikes at the Yurakucho’s Muji to ride around Ginza or Marunouchi.
In Tokyo, unlike many Asian cities, the taxi is a practical but expensive means of transportation.
The basic fare for the first 2 km is 730 yen, then it will cost you 90 cents every 280 meters, the price can quickly exceed 2 000 yen. Be careful, night rate starts at 11PM.
However, taxis are very numerous and you will have no problem finding one. The maximum number of people that can ride is 4. Not all taxis accept credit cards.
Given the complexity of the streets, most taxis are now equipped with GPS. But as most drivers don’t speak English, it might be a good idea to prepare a note with your destination written on it.To book a taxi in English, call Nihon Kotsu.
Note: Do not open or close the doors of the taxi, as they are automatic.
Although tourists tend to prefer the train, the bus is often a good alternative to rail, but it can be hard to find your way around an unknown neighborhood and find the right bus to take.
If the directions look too difficult, don’t hesitate to ask the bus drivers, as they are usually very well informed and obliging.The fare is 210 yens, to be paid when entering the bus.The main bus company is Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan), and other private companies like Odakyu or Keio also run in the city.
The Toei buses also offer a touristic tour that will take you to visit the old part of the city called 'Tokyo Shitamachi Bus'.
Whatever anybody says, the train is the most efficient way to get around Tokyo. The trains are punctual, frequent, and constitute the fastest way to go from one side of the city to another. Within Tokyo you can find JR lines and private lines.
The circular JR Yamanote line goes around Tokyo and serves most of the big stations. The private lines leave from those stations and radiate outwards. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can travel for free on the Yamanote line, the Chuo-Sobu line that crosses Tokyo from East to West, the Tokyo Monorail that goes around the bay and heads towards the Haneda Airport, as well as the other JR Lines going to the outskirts of the city.
The Tokyo Metro is very well designed. It is very clean and the travelers never wait very long on the platform. Two subway companies share the traffic, Tokyo metro and the Toei lines, with slightly different fares.The metro doesn’t stay within the Yamanote ring, but also extends outside the city and has direct connections with private train lines in order to release the traffic congestion on the Yamanote main stations.
For the train as for the metro, watch out for the rush hours, in the morning or in the evening, during which the wagons are rapidly filled with passengers.
Other original means of transportation
In some parts of the city you can find Japanese rickshaws, the 'Jinrikisha'. Of course, far from being a real means of transportation, it’s more an attraction to remind you of the days of Edo. The most famous neighborhood to go for a Jinrikisha ride is Asakusa (See Ebisuya, Jidaiya, Tokyo Rickshaw), but it is also possible to ride one in Yanaka with Otowaya.
Another leisurely way of seeing the city is on one of the little cruise boats or 'Suijo Buses'. They will take you from Asakusa to Odaiba, on the Sumida River, around Shinagawa or the Tokyo Big Sight.
Cards and discounts
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can cover large parts of the city on the Yamanote line and the Chuo-Sobu line.
Prepaid cards, like SUICA and PASMO, will not give you any discount, but will make it easier to travel around as a pay as you go option. The cards themselves can be bought in the machines or the different selling points for 500 yen, which is refundable, plus the amount you want to charge on the card.
The day pass Tokyo Free Kippu (1 590 yen) allows you to use the metro as well as the JR lines. The Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy Pass (1 000 yen) is only valid for the metro (it can be used as a complement for the JR Pass), and the Tokyo Metro Open Ticket (710 yen for a day, 980 yen for 2 days) can only be used for the Tokyo Metro lines.
Enjoy a few of the typical Tokyoite experiences using transportation:
Going down the many escalators and diving in the depths of the Odeo line. Built in 2000, the line, linking Shinjuku, Roppongi, Tsukiji and Ryogoku, reaches 48 meters deep in some places.
Make a complete tour on the Yamanote to see the different neighborhoods, atmospheres and diverse populations. It takes an hour to go the 34.5 km.
Take the Yurikamome that crosses the rainbow bridge and goes around Odaiba artificial island.