Tokyo has fast, efficient and famously punctual public transportation system. Every corner of the sprawling metropolis is well served by a remarkable network of trains and buses, almost all of which have fares chargeable to one convenient prepaid card available at major stations.
Most visitors rely solely on the trains, which operate daily from 5am to 12am (and can become notoriously crowded during rush hours). Taxis are readily available—and are the only means of transport once the trains shut down for the night—but they can be expensive, particularly for long journeys. Though you’ll need to cover considerable distances by train or motorized vehicle, exploring Tokyo on foot is one of the best ways to experience the city’s many weird and wonderful charms.
Don’t be intimidated by Tokyo’s labyrinthine subway map, which at first glance can understandably look like a chaotic riot of colours and indecipherable station names. Comprising 13 subway lines, plus a number of private lines that includes the nifty JR Yamanote, Tokyo’s world-class train network is relatively easy to navigate and the best way to get around.
There are a number of one- to three-day passes for unlimited travel, but they’re not the best option since they’re restricted to specific lines and operators. Instead, get a Suica or PASMO card (available for a refundable ¥500 or US$4.90 deposit), add value, and use it to tap into and out of the stations. The cards are valid for most train lines.
Everything about Tokyo taxis is extravagant, from the white-gloved drivers in spotless cars with plush bench seats decorated in white-lace linens, to expensive fares starting at around ¥700 (US$6.80) for the first two kilometres. It’s certainly a worthwhile experience for travelling short distances, particularly in small groups to help alleviate the cost, but there’s otherwise little reason to splurge given the comprehensive—and more affordable—train network.
If you do take a taxi, note that most drivers speak little to no English. Have your serviced residence’s staff to write in Japanese the name and address of your destination, or have it loaded on your phone’s map to show the driver.
Tokyo is a safe and, somewhat surprisingly, walkable city—as long as you have some sense of where you’re going and don’t mind getting turned around and backtracking now and again, that is. Though major streets and avenues are clearly marked, finding one’s way around the jumbled mazes of winding, unnumbered, and seemingly unnamed backstreets can be tricky for even the most skilled urban navigators.
Carry a city map if you plan to pound the pavement in Tokyo, or better yet invest in an international roaming plan or pocket Wi-Fi rental to ensure GPS access on your smartphone. Our serviced residences’ staff can assist you with pocket Wi-Fi rental information.