So long as you avoid the rush hour (travelling anytime between 10am and 4pm lets you miss the worst of the crush) then Tokyo’s public transport is a dream. Speedy, efficient and relatively cheap for an amazing service, you can get to just about anywhere on the trains and metro system that criss-cross the cityscape. The only services you may have some difficulties using are the sbuses, since signs tend to be in character script and the driver’s usually can’t comprehend an English tongue. However, if you get a local to write down the name of your destination before you board then you should be able to navigate the system.
Train (JR Lines)
JR English Information line – 34 23 0111, open 10am-6pm Mon-Fri.
Exceptionally fast and good value, the trains run from 6am to midnight. The JR Yamanote line is the most useful line that completes a 35km loop of the city in 60 minutes. A ticket costs ¥130 and it’s a great way to get your bearings when you first arrive in the city.
The Chuo line is another useful route which cuts across the centre, linking the districts of Shinjuku with Akihabara. Tickets are transferable on all lines and the major stations you are likely to visit include Tokyo, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Veno. All the platforms are huge with both English and character signage indicating the platforms. When you want to buy a ticket and are unable to work out how much it should cost, find a ticket machine, drop ¥130 into the slot and then push the button on the top left with no figure on it. Then, when you arrive at your destination, you can pay the balance.
A JR ‘Suica’ card is a handy ticket to purchase when spending any length of time in the city as it deducts money from your pre-paid amount (either ¥1000/3000/5000) every time you swipe it through the validation machine. Buy them from the machines marked, albeit randomly, with a watermelon and penguin.
A surprisingly simple method of transport to decipher, there are 12 lines across the city, eight of which are TRTA with the other four being TOEI. Each one is clearly colour coded. Combine this knowledge with one of the metro maps provided for free at the stations and you should be able to find your destination relatively easily. A ticket costs ¥160, but if you want to change lines then it will cost ¥190. You will need a separate ticket when switching from a TRTA line to a TOEI one, and if you are unsure of how much to pay then, like the trains, use the top left hand button on the ticket machine.
The SF Metro Card is just like the JR ‘Suica’ card and deducts money every time you make a trip from your pre-paid reserve.
Alternatively, the Tokyo Combination Ticket lets you make unlimited trips on all public transport for a day and costs ¥1580 from any metro or train station or tourist offices.
Make sure you have your destination scribbled down in character script before you attempt to board a bus otherwise you may end up on the wrong side of the city. The ticket costs ¥200 to any destination and pick up a free TOEI Bus Route Guide from any tourist office or TIC which will help you unscramble the Japanese streets.
Eye-wateringly expensive, the rule seems to be that you only take them if you really have to. The very minimum fare you pay is ¥630 which leaps up rapidly when you actually start moving – it even costs you ¥80 for every two minutes you gaze at a right light.
The public transport options are so good in Tokyo that there really is no need to hire a car and become tangled in the traffic. If you desperately want your own transport then you will need an international driving license. Dollar, Hertz and all the big car hire firms are represented at the airport.
Commonly seen weaving their way through the stationary traffic, copy the locals and rent a bike for some fresh air fun. For ¥1920 a day, you can hire bikes from Eignt Rent, Sumitamo-Seimei Building, 31-16 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku, telephone 334622383.