WTH is the complexity of trains in Tokyo? -- How to ride on a train 'fluently' in Tokyo.

I give you introductions to ride on a train in Tokyo. These tips aim to people who wants to live in Tokyo or some places in Japan. Maybe it's overkill if you just come to Japan for sightseeing.

Since I'm a native Japanese speaker and as it is said that many Japanese people are not quite good at speaking in English, my explanation is not so good, either. So if you feel some sentences, phrases, and paragraphs are odd, I would appreciate if you contact me on twitter or comment it in the last section.

Here is my twitter account! -> haᵲuʞaͣeͤͣͤͣru #vZkt8fc6J (@d24d30033e5c469) | Twitter

The Japanese version is here -> わらうなんてぜったいにゆるさないぞ電車ネイティブ(田舎から出てきた人への都内での電車の乗り方Tips) - Heppoko Binbo Yarou no Newbie Nikki (It's not the exactly same version, though.)

Anyway, let's get started to explain.


I don't know your background. So, I'd like to start to explain about trains in Tokyo from basics.

Tokyo has 30 million population, and population density of the central Tokyo is 15,000 people/km2. It means each person can use only 66.6m2(about 8m x 8m area). This is insane, isn't it? We are being jammed into such a narrow spaces whenever we work, study and play. (Actually Tokyo prefecture is not exactly Tokyo itself. When non-Japanese people refer to Tokyo, it's a metropolitan region near Tokyo prefecture. However I use Tokyo as the region in this whole article.)

Japan's economics is basically depended on Tokyo, the most biggest metropolis in Japan. One third of Japan's GDP is yielded by Tokyo, though other 46 prefectures are there. So is the population. Tokyo has one fourth of Japan's population.

Because of such a density, we use not cars, but trains. Cars are not efficient for abnormally many people to move from A to B. Cars are still main transportation means even in Tokyo, but we mainly use trains. 99% of people in Tokyo are forced to use trains. And, sadly, so do you.

How to get on a train is a hard task!

Even native Japanese people can get lost easily, especially in Tokyo. So basically it's difficult to be achieved that without a problem. Keep in mind that it's not appropriate to despise of yourself simply because you failed to ride on quickly. It's not an easy task.

Trains and Train Companies

We ordinarily use trains as commute methods. So basically trains are crowded in the morning and evening on weekdays, especially around 7:00 or 8:00 is the most crowded time, because a lot of companies start to work at 8:00 or 9:00. I highly recommend that you avoid this time unless you must do it. All of the times are of course Japanese Standard Time(JST, UTC+09:00)

Trains are run by varied companies. For examples, JR is the most dominant company in transporting system fields, and other companies cannot be ignored, which names are like Seibu Railway(西武鉄道), Tokyo Metro(東京メトロ), Tokyo Kyuko(東京急行), and so on.

You don't need to memorize these AT FIRST. Unless you plan to live in Tokyo, no need to know. Just note that there are a lot of train companies.

Basically, if you transfer from a train to another train which doesn't belong to the same company, you must buy another ticket to ride on.


You want to go from Shinjuku(新宿) station to Haneda Airport(羽田空港) station.

This is you.
-> 😆

At first, you buy a ticket to ride on a train at a ticket counter in Shinjuku station. It has English instructions, so firstly, choose a button to switch languages. You may find "English" or "Language" as a button in the screen of the ticketing machine.
-> 😆🎫

Then you insert it into a ticket gate machine(改札, かいさつ, a Kaisatsu, a turnstile, a ticket barrier, and so on. Sometimes it's referred as "wicket", heh.)
-> 😆<Inserting! 三🎫 [Machine]

After you insert a ticket into the machine, don't forget to pull your ticket from the machine. The machine emits the ticket after examining whether it's valid or not. The ticket will be used when you get down from the train.
-> [Machine]三🎫 😆<Catching!

[Note] If it's invalid, you will hear some error sounds. Don't be panic of that. It has some problems on your ticket. Be sure of the ticket, or ask a station worker.
-> 😢 🎫<Backing三 [Machine]<Error!!!

If your ticket doesn't have any problems, you go on a platform(Japanese people refer as ホーム, which sounds "Home") and then find the proper train on which you ride.
In this case, you may ride on Yamanote line towards Shibuya(Yamanote Sen Shibuya Iki, やまのてせんしぶやいき, 山手線渋谷行き) which is run by JR.
([Note] Shinjuku station run by JR has 16 platforms to ride on, and there are two Yamanote lines. Be careful that both directions are different. So the two Yamanote lines exist. Shinjuku station run by JR means there are other Shinjuku stations run by other companies. Wow.)
-> 🚉[Yamanote Line Train towards Shibuya(渋谷)😆< I rode on!]

You get off at Shinagawa(品川) station to transfer another train. To change the direction, you should go Keikyu line Towards Haneda-Airport(京急線羽田空港行き) which is run by Keihin Kyuko(京浜急行). So you go to a ticket gate machine, and insert your ticket into it, and pull out the ticket again.
-> 😆<Inserting once again! 三🎫 [Machine]

After you get off at Haneda-Aiport station..., you already arrived there!
-> 😆[Haneda-Airport]

I didn't intend that the explanation is so long... but anyway, don't miss the point that you should insert a ticket into the machine several times if you change the lines of the transporting company. Annoying? Me, too.

That is why the followings are very important.

Go buy a Suica or PASMO, alternatives of obsolete paper tickets

No Tokyo-nian buy a ticket in a ticket counter in Tokyo.

We use Suica or PASMO, which are electronic money cards, like these images.


(I cited it from here. https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/common-questions/difference-Pasmo-Suica)

Using Suica or PASMO, you don't have to buy tickets. All you have to do is buy the card and put your money into the card.(Japanese people call "put money" as チャージ(charge); we consider the behavior as well as to charge a car battery.)

Still, you have to top-up(put your money into) the card in a ticketing machine, but you won't be bothered by "Where is my destination in this map!?" or "Which coins are how much!?"

"This map" which I mentioned here is the following map. If you're going to do by a paper ticket, you have to look up a destination out of the following map. Isn't it somewhat crazy job?


To buy the cards, you need some money(1,000 yen[nearly equals to 10USD]), but it's quite useful. I assure that.

If you have an iPhone, you have possibility to get Suica app freely. I recommend you check it. If you have an Android, I'm not sure...

Go get an app which explains how to transfer

All Tokyo-nian uses an app to get on a train. You easily get lost if you don't use it, surely.

I found a nice app in App Store and Google Play.

[iPhone] ‎Japan Transit Planner on the App Store

[Android] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.co.jorudan.japantransit&hl=en

Using this app, you don't have to think how you go. Obey the instruction of the app, so the way will be shown up in front of you. It shows up like this. (This is the iPhone version.)

So the internet connection is very important to search for anythings.

Yes, certainly it's so expensive to surf on the internet in foreign countries, but it's worth using in other countries, because you can google anytime.

In Tokyo, some places implement Free Wi-Fi, but not always! Rather, there are almost no-internet places if you do not pay!


So, that's all!

Once you get the app and a card, you won't get lost, ... maybe.

The app is like a consultant. If you get confused, just input the current time, the current station, and the destination. Magically, answers will be displayed. What a kind era today is.

I want to conclude as the followings.

  • There are a lot of train companies, and ticket counters are prepared by each companies. Don't panic.
  • Get Suica or PASMO, then you won't be worried about tickets.
  • Get the App, then you can get a route easily.

Thank you for reading! 😆🍙