The traveler’s guide to getting around Tokyo

photo by tompagenet on Flickr

One of the worst nightmares that any traveler could imagine is being in the middle of a huge, completely unknown city, in a country whose language you don’t speak, and without a clue about how to get from where you’re standing back to your hotel, or to some interesting sight that you’ve been planning to see. Feeling a little lost and bewildered in Tokyo is a common occurrence, and not only for travelers, don’t worry! But if you are going to make your visit to the Japanese capital a fun one, you will have to devise a strategy for navigating this urban labyrinth. If you don’t feel like stopping strangers on the street every half an hour and asking for directions, here is a traveler’s guide to getting around Tokyo that might give you some helpful pointers.

Train lines

photo by tie78reu on Flickr

Trains are by far the fastest, most punctual and most convenient means of getting around Tokyo, the only trouble being that you have to get to know them. One of the lines that you will almost certainly make use of is the Yamanote Line, which is marked with the color green on all maps of the rail system. The Yamanote line circles Tokyo’s major neighborhoods: Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Tokyo Station, Akihabara, Ueno and Ikebukero. The yellow JR Sobu line passes through Akihabara, the red JR Chuo line stops at Shinjuku, Ochanomizu and Tokyo Station. The gold-colored Ginza (TRTA) Subway Line can drop you off at Asakusa, Shibuya, Omotesando, Ginza, Nihonbashi and Ueno. With these lines, you have most of the important parts of Tokyo covered.

Buses

While trains are faster, buses might actually be a more convenient way to get around Tokyo than trains. Most of commuters, students and office workers use trains, so you will hardly find a time of the day when trains and train stations aren’t horribly crowded. Plus, if train stations seem chaotic and you can’t figure out which train to board, buses are again more convenient – the name of the destination is written in Latin alphabet at the front.

Taxis

photo by tie78reu on Flickr

Taxis are outrageously expensive in Tokyo, and you will find that it’s not easy to communicate with the drivers unless you speak Japanese. You might solve this problem by writing down the name of your destination and showing it to the driver (if you can find someone to write it down in hiragana or kanji, the better). However, taxis are the only way to get around town after midnight. Buses don’t run past 10 PM and there are no night buses, and trains stop running at 12 PM.

Biking

If you stay in Tokyo for an extended visit, you might consider renting a bike. Bikes are extremely common in Tokyo, but bike lanes not so much. However, it is perfectly acceptable to cycle on the sidewalk – everyone does it! But if you find yourself on a busy street, you have to be very careful since traffic tends to be hectic to say the least.

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