A first timers guide to Tokyo’s public transport - Wapiti Travel

How to use public transportation in Tokyo? Tokyo has a very extensive public transportation network. The fact that it is operated by various companies can make it a bit overwhelming at first.

We had only just landed in Tokyo and jumped on a train downtown when we had to pay a supplement cause apparently, we had taken the wrong train. It would be great if we could avoid you to pay supplements like these. 

That’s why we have compiled our best tips about Tokyo’s public transport.

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Read also: Where to stay in Tokyo for the first time

Tokyo transport – How to use Tokyo’s public transportation

11 different train companies offer public transportation in Tokyo and each company sells its own tickets which are usually only valid on their own trains.

Two different companies operate the metro network and here too you cannot use tickets from one company to transfer to the trains of the other company. 

There’re several bus companies as well but we will not discuss those as you don’t really need them with the extensive range of train and metro networks.

Japan Rail Pass

If you want to travel through Japan, you might have decided to buy a Japan Rail Pass already. 

If you didn’t you might want to read our article about the Japan Rail Pass as it might be an interesting option for your Japan trip.

If you have a Japan rail pass, that’s everything you need for your days in Tokyo. You can use this pass on the JR trains that run on the inner-city network in Tokyo, a very extensive network that can be compared with a metro network.

If you have a Japan rail pass, that’s everything you need for your days in Tokyo.

But beware, a Japan rail pass is expensive and If you need to extend your Japan Rail Pass to cover the days that you will be in Tokyo it will be cheaper to buy a Tokyo Subway pass.

Tokyo Subway Pass

In addition to the JR lines, Tokyo also has a metro network operated by 2 different companies.

There are 13 lines in total, Toei is in charge of 4 and Tokyo Metro operates the other 9 lines.

Just like the JR lines the Tokyo metro network can bring you to all the sights in Tokyo.

The real value lies in the combined passes. These give you unlimited access to the network of both companies.

Read also: Our travel guide Japan.

Both Toei and Tokyo Metro offer 1-, 2- or 3- day passes separately, but the real value lies in the combined passes.

These give you unlimited access to the network of both companies.

A 3-day Tokyo Subway ticket costs 1480JPY.  And this ticket is perfect for your trips all across Tokyo.

The Tokyo Subway pass cannot be purchased at the automatic ticket machine because it is only intended for tourists.

The Tokyo Subway pass cannot be purchased at the automatic ticket machine because it is only intended for tourists.

You need to go to a manned ticket counter where you also need to show your passport.

You can also buy the pass at tourist information centers, BIC Camera shops, and certain hotels. There’s a list of selling points on the Tokyo Metro website.

Be sure to bring cash as credit or debit cards are usually not accepted.

The pass can also be bought online which is even more convenient.  When you buy your pass online you will receive a voucher that you can use to quickly and easily collect your pass at the airport and seconds later you will be on your way to your hotel. 

Your pass can be used immediately, so you can use it if you would have to change to the metro en route to your hotel.

Click here to read reviews and buy your Tokyo public transportation pass: Tokyo subway pass

The Tokyo metro app is a very handy tool for planning your trips with the Metro.

Read also: The best places to visit in Tokyo

Regional Pass

If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass and you would like to take a day trip out of Tokyo, maybe a regional pass is what you are looking for.

JR Tokyo Wide Pass

With the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, you have unlimited use of the JR trains in Tokyo and surrounding areas valid for 3 days.

With this pass, you can take the train to Mt. Fuji, Disneyland or Nikko.

As with the Japan Rail Pass, the use of Shinkansen and the reservation of seats is included.

The price of this pass is 10.000 JPY. Much more expensive than the subway ticket.

However, if you plan a trip to Nikko and you plan to use the Shinkansen, this one trip will suffice to earn back the price of the pass.

This ticket cannot be purchased online in advance. You can buy it at the airports of Tokyo (Narita, Haneda) or the major train stations in Tokyo. (Tokyo, Shinjuku,…)

If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass and you would like to take a day trip out of Tokyo, maybe a regional pass is what you are looking for.

The Tokunai pass

There is also the Tokunai pass for 1 day of unlimited use of the JR trains in Tokyo. This pass costs about 750 Yen.

This means that you need to do 4 rides on average to benefit from this pass.

IC Cards

If you think you will not be able to profit from any of these passes for your trip to Tokyo, you still don’t have to buy separate tickets every time. You can also use IC cards.

These are prepaid cards you can reload and use for the metro, bus and JR trains.

The price of your rides will be the same as you would pay for a single ride but you will avoid the hassle of standing in line and buying tickets for each and every ride separately.

If you think you will not be able to profit from any of these passes for your trip to Tokyo, you still don’t have to buy separate tickets every time. You can also use IC cards.

Read also: Best sakura spots in Tokyo

Depending on the city where you are, you will be offered a different IC card. In Tokyo, JR East offers the SUICA card. There is also a Pasmo card issued by the local metro and bus company.

IC cards are prepaid cards you can reload and use for the metro, bus and JR trains.

The price of your rides will be the same as you would pay for a single ride but you will avoid the hassle of queueing and buying tickets for each and every ride separately.

Use of IC Cards outside of Tokyo

If you have bought an IC card in Tokyo you will be able to use it for the rest of your trip throughout Japan. There are however a few things you need to take into account.

Every region has its own IC card.

In Osaka and Kyoto, JR west offers the ICOCA card. In Nagoya, they use the Toica card. In Fukuoka and Nagasaki, it is the Sugoco card.

We can go on for a while because there are at least 24 different cards. All these cards are compatible with each other.

Nevertheless, the IC card cannot be used for journeys between IC card regions with the exception of some Shinkansen trains.

If you don’t want all this hassle and you are planning to travel a lot by train, I would recommend you, to buy a Japan Rail Pass.

But even then, the system remains devious.

A trip from Kyoto to Osaka will not be a problem as both cities are situated in the same region that uses the ICOCO card.

On the other hand, if you want to use the JR Central Shinkansen traveling from Tokyo to Osaka, you are required to first register your IC card at either an app or a website, where you must link your IC card with a credit card.

The price of the train ride will not be deducted from the IC card but from your credit card instead. As a result, you might as well just buy the ticket with your credit card.

You can also use your IC card on the Shinkansen lines from JR East, but before doing so you have to register your IC card at a ticket machine. In the case of JR East, the payment will go through your IC card.

The IC card can also only be used to pay the standard rate for your rides.  This means that if you want to travel on the faster, limited express trains, you will have to pay the supplement separately at a ticket machine.

At the end of your vacation, you can return your IC card. At least if you end your vacation where you have bought your IC card.

They can only be returned in the region where they’re issued. You will get back your guarantee, which in most cases is 500 Yen, as well as any remaining balance minus a small administrative fee of about 200 Yen.

If you don’t want all this hassle and you are planning to travel a lot by train, I would recommend you, to buy a Japan Rail Pass. With this pass, you have unlimited rides with the Shinkansen and Limited Express trains and also your seat reservation is included. We provide more information about this pass in this article.

Ready for some more inspiration regarding your upcoming trip to Japan.  Read on:

The complete Japan travel guide

 

15 tips for traveling to Japan for the first time

 

Japan Rail Pass, is it worth it?

 

If you are looking for a Japan itinerary and have 14 days take a look here. If have 3 weeks to spend in Japan, this itinerary is perfect for you.

 

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Learn to cook Japanese with an Osaka cooking class

 

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