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Getting Around Tokyo

Tokyo, like most major cities in Asia, features a clean, modern and efficient public transportation system. If, for some reason, you’re only going to be in Tokyo for the day and think you’ll be using a combination of the subway, JR train and Toei bus (all under the public transportation umbrella), you might want to consider the $13 Tokyo Free Kippu, which allows unlimited travel for one full day. You can find this card at all JR stations and most subway stations.

Because the bus system is so intricate, and ultimately, features less English on both bus signs and in the bus (i.e. passengers), it’s suggested you stick to the subways and trains. The subway system makes it easy to get around Tokyo. It isn’t cheap, though, so try visiting areas that are close together so that you don’t waste too much time or fare by commuting from one area to the next. One-way fares range from roughly $1.35 for the shortest distance to $2.50 for the longest. Don’t worry if you’re not sure how much you pay, as most of the signs above the vending machines are written in Japanese. One way around this is to get the cheapest ticket possible, for $1.35, then simply pay the difference when you arrive at your destination (you’ll have to rescan your ticket at a “fare adjustment machine,” and it’ll ask for the extra amount of change you owe if you chose a cheaper fare, by choice or accident).

If you’re planning on staying a few days and don’t want to bother with paying for single rides each time you enter the station, opt for the Passnet Metro Card. This is a prepaid card, which comes in different amounts ranging from around $8 to $42, and lets you quickly swipe and automatically deduct how much fare you owe. There is also a One-day Economy Pass (Echinichi Josha Ken), which costs around $8 and lets you ride subway lines all day.

Unlike many of the fare signs, the 13 station names are all written in English, so don’t expect too much trouble there. There are also plenty of English-speakers, so don’t hesitate to ask anyone for directions if you find yourself lost in the crisscrossing of train stations. Just remember, when you’re transferring from one line to the next be sure to use the orange transfer fare gate. This way, if you’ve already paid through to your final destination, you can still board the next train (within 30 minutes) and not be charged extra. Unfortunately, like London, trains don’t run all night. Most operate from around 5am until midnight, though it’s suggested you avoid rush hour travel between 8 and 9am (especially at Shinjuku) unless you want to travel shoulder to shoulder with your commuter neighbors.

JR Trains, which operate above ground by the East Japan Railways Company, are also color-coded lines. Fares start at $1.10 and also go up depending on the distance you travel. You’ll likely find the Yamanote Line (green-colored) the most convenient in the city. It has over two dozen stops that it makes during its hour-long commute over an oblong loop around the city. And if you decide to stick to the JR lines more than the subway cars, think of purchasing the IO Card, another prepaid option that lets you deduct fares as you pass through station gates (again, they range from around $8 to $42). The one-day unlimited card is known as the Tokyo Rail Pass (Tokunai Free Kippu), which costs around $6.

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