When I first arrived in Japan, I was overwhelmed and incredibly excited by so many things to in Tokyo. To this day, Japan's capital remains the coolest place on Earth and nothing compares to the first time I experienced Tokyo. One of the puzzling initiations which almost all tourists have to go through is the deciphering of the Tokyo Subway Map.
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Tokyo subway map
First, let me a few things about the Tokyo subway map: it is the world's third most complex subway guide. The amazing Tokyo metro system caters for the highest ridership in the world (3.1 billion riders a year). Despite the sheer amount of people using the Tokyo subway system, it remains one of the most efficient (and clean!!) in the whole world. Surprised? Don't be! The Japanese trains are famed for their incredible precision, delays occurring only on rare occasions.
With so many passengers travelling by subway on a daily basis, it's natural to assume that some people might not feel safe. Although violent crimes are rare in Japan, several women complained about being groped whilst on their way to and from work. The Tokyo metro system catered for the vulnerable by creating a morning women-only carriage. This is a great way to allow women to feel safe and secure, whilst still benefiting from a cheap and efficient method of transportation.
As I already mentioned, the Tokyo subway is incredibly clean. After riding the tube in Tokyo, I didn't feel the need to constantly apply disinfectant on my hands. I didn't feel sticky and yucky, nor I felt I shouldn't touch the holding bars. My clothes were intact, still in pristine condition. Although the tube carriage was sometimes busy, I didn't feel suffocated.
Now, if you remember, I wrote an article about what to do on a Saturday in London, and it involved me leaving my car at the hotel and exploring London by subway and on foot. It was a completely different experience. I did feel sticky and dirty and I was not keen to touch anything in the tube, let alone sit down on some dirty and old tapestry. Keeping the transportation clean should always be a priority, in order to keep the citizens healthy and encourage personal hygiene. In my opinion, Tokyo nailed it.
There is no getting around it, the first time you will lay your eyes on the Tokyo subway map, you will be (at least a little) confused. There are several colours, numbers, funky names and weird connotations. Allow yourself a few minutes to understand how the Tokyo metro map works.
First, note there are 13 different lines. You need to remember to check for the Line colours, line symbol and station number. See example below to understand a little further.
Now all you need is to know where you are (check the name of the closest subway station), figure out the closest subway station to your desired destination, and connect the dots. You will see that sometimes you need to change lines. Don't panic, it's easier than you think.
Here is an example to help you out. Say you are at the Shimbasi subway station. Take a look at the Tokyo subway map and locate Shimbasi. Say you need to get to Tsukiji Fish market. Get on the Asakusa line (A10) and get off at the next station, Higashi-Ginza (A11). Now follow the signs within the metro station to change for the Hibiya line (H09). Take the subway for one station and get off at the Tsukiji (H10).
Although it's easy to navigate just by having the Tokyo metro map handy, I recommend downloading the Tokyo Subway Navigation app. However, note you need internet access in order to use it. If you want to avoid extreme roaming charges, read the Tokyo - prepare for your arrival article, where I explain how to get a Japanese data sim card.
To save time (and money), I recommend buying a Suica or Pasmo Card before getting the subway in Tokyo. Suica or Pasmo are called IC cards in Japan and they are widely used by everyone. Go to any ticket machine located in the subway station, switch the language to English and follow the instructions on the screen. You need to pay 500 yen for the card, as well as any initial deposit. I recommend topping up the card with 1500 yen to begin with. At the end of your trip around Tokyo, you can return the card to a counter and recover your 500 yen, or, you can personalise the IC card and keep as a memo, like I did.
To recharge your IC card, insert it into the ticket machine, check your balance and simply click the top up button on the screen. For those used to the London subway system, the IC cards in Japan are similar to the Oyster cards. Know that you can use the IC Cards almost everywhere in Japan, as well as for purchasing train tickets, or even food and drinks from vending machines dotted all around the country. Pretty cool, right? They are like a pre paid debit card which ended up saving me lots of money and hassle.
The best and quickest way to explore Tokyo is by using the subway. Yes, the Tokyo metro map might look a bit confusing at first, but give it a chance and you will become an expert on using the subway system in a matter of minutes. The Tokyo metro is clean, efficient, relatively cheap and safe. I can't help but recommend it to everyone wishing to get around Tokyo with ease. Of course, don't forget to grab a Tokyo subway map from the information desk located in the airports, and invest into an IC card to save time and money on a long run.
Great, you are now ready to go on an adventure.
I loved the Tokyo subway system and I really can't wait to enjoy another 7 days in Tokyo and make use of it once more. What was the most complicated subway system you've used? What was your most interesting (mis)adventure involving the metro in a foreign country? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.