The myth says that Tokyo’s metro is difficult to use…

June 26, 2008

in photography, sabbatical, services, travel

…nothing so far from reality!

I cannot claim to be an expert already in Tokyo’s metro, as I’ve been here for just a couple of days. But I remember some comments about how difficult it was to use. Maybe because I have used metro subways in more than a dozen countries (including Shanghai, Beijing, New York, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, Madrid, London, Lisbon, Milan, Rome), some things that could be a novelty are usual now.

Tokyo metro station

First of all, the metro map (see below) can seem intimidating. Tokyo has more than 12 subway lines and if you come from a city like Milan, with a mere 3, you might feel a bit lost. But if you been to London or Madrid it won’t seem such an adventure.

Make sure you find a map in English or your own language here (at the moment in english, spanish, french, german, russian, corean, simplified and traditional chinese).

Each route is identified with a color and a letter and stations have a progressive number inside the line they belong to. For example Asakusa station is served by two lines, Asakusa line and Ginza line, being station number 18 (A18) in the former and 19 (G19) in the latter.

metro signage

In all lines I used during the past few days I found that the station’s name is written in Japanese and English, and the numbers and colors are pretty visible. The numbers are helpful when you need to decide which direction you should take. Be sure to know the number of the destination and then check on what side of the tracks you should stand. You’ll see that, if you’re in Asakusa station on the Asakusa line (A18), one side will show it goes from A01 to A17 and the other one from A19 to A20.

metro signage

Connecting lines are well indicated too with clear signage describing line name (name, letter, color), direction and average distance.

A novelty, at least for me, is that Tokyo subway lines are managed by different operators (I counted 3) and each have their own fares, separate ticketing and an “interchange” or “connection” charge when you combine lines from two different ones. What tourist guides suggest is to buy the cheapest ticket and then adjust the fare before getting out in the “fare adjustment” machines. You just put in the ticket and it tells you how much you owe. There is no penalty for doing this.

In order to save time and headaches I simplified my life by getting the magnetic PASMO card (another version is the SUICA card). Fill it up with money (don’t worry about losing it, you can have it reissued if you’ve registered it under your name) and just hold it against the cart reader at the ticket gate. The fare adjustment is done automatically when you change lines at the end of your trip (as paper tickets, you have to use it when you get in AND when you get out of the metro). You can even use the PASMO card in selected stores and vending machines (look for the PASMO logo).

my PASMO card

The average cost of an average single ride is much cheaper than in London, being 160 yen which at today’s exchange rate is less than 1 euro.

Recently, “only women” carts have been implemented during rush hours.

women only
Hope this post is useful to dissolve your fear in the Japanese subway ^_^

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More photos of Tokyo’s subway

Metro Rush

Metro Rush

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