Ultimate Guide to Tokyo Trains

By The Japan Switch Team | December 4th, 2023 

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    When planning your Japanese trip, one of the aspects you simply can’t forget about is transportation. The transportation system, particularly trains in Tokyo (and across the entire country), can appear quite complicated to a first-time tourist. And rather than waste valuable moments in your holiday trying to figure out how to get around, it’s best to arrive prepared. That’s why we’ve compiled this extra-thorough, Ultimate Guide to Tokyo Trains. We’ll talk about reaching the major tourist attractions, what kind of travel pass you need, and much more in the article below.

    As we’ve seen in previous articles, it’s also paramount that you make a travel itinerary before you go. Tokyo is an exciting, attraction-packed city, so figuring out which are unmissable stops for you will save you a lot of time. It will also make this guide that much easier to navigate, and help you create your ideal Tokyo road map.

    This article is a part of our extensive series on Learning about Japan through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.


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    Tokyo Trains - A Quick Overview

    One of the many globally renowned elements of Japan is undoubtedly its transportation system. We’ve all seen the videos of train staff stuffing desperate passengers into crammed carriages, have we not? That aside, Japan has got one of the most well-organized and convenient transportation systems in the world, although it can appear daunting to a first-time visitor.

    Whereas other capitals of the world struggle with easy access to its many areas, Tokyo has got pretty much everything covered. However, due to the city's sheer size, its train map looks like a wiry, multicolored mess at first glance. But do not despair. Once you pick up some basics, you’ll be good to go!

    With roughly  300 subway and train stations spread out across the city, you’re going to be able to arrive easily at any and every destination on your itinerary. While it can’t exactly qualify as a “walkable city”, being so large, Tokyo is definitely one of the best places to visit – not only can you get by without a car, but the elaborate train system will mean you don’t even miss your wheels!

    Another important benefit of Tokyo trains is that they are precise, usually running right on schedule; there’s even a rumor that Japanese people waiting for trains will be annoyed by a delay of even a few seconds. The trains themselves are also quite silent, clean, and most importantly, safe.

    Tokyo Train Services To
    Familiarize Yourself With

    While Tokyo transport is highly accessible and convenient, it can appear quite confusing to visitors at first, since different train lines are run by different companies. In the interest of convenience and ease of use, these companies work together pretty tightly to ensure a smooth passenger experience.

    Most of the time, you can switch from one transport service to another without exiting the gates or purchasing an extra ticket. Although, depending on your chosen route, you may occasionally need to do that, as well.

    Pro Tip: Know that Tokyo’s complex train and subway system is divided by a color scheme! It might be helpful to familiarize yourself with which line has which color assigned to it. Aside from that, you will also want to know the logos of each of the major train/subway providers when traveling through Tokyo.

    Platform of Tokyo Train station with trains waiting


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    Know Your Tokyo Trains.

    When trying to understand the Tokyo transportation system, it is paramount that you familiarize yourself with the different types of trains. Tokyo boasts four separate train types:

    • The local / slow train is one that stops at every single station along its route, which offers access to smaller, less known stations, but means a longer journey time.
    • The rapid train skips some smaller stations along the route (so make sure you don’t miss yours!), but uses the same prices and platforms as the local train.
    • The express train skips even more stations than the rapid, but as the name suggests, is very fast. Ideal if you’re wanting to travel between Tokyo’s major subway stations.
    • The limited express train, finally, only stops at the major stations, and usually warrant an additional fee.

    Pro Tip: Generally, the extra fee of limited express trains isn’t worth it if you're only travelling a short distance as you can travel quickly and easily between major areas on either the rapid or express trains.

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    Japan Rail (JR) - The Mother of All Tokyo Trains

    Japan Rail is the country’s number one rail provider. Its extensive rail network connects all the major cities of Japan and directs the famous Shinkansen bullet trains. Remember – if you are planning on traveling throughout the country as well, really look into these bullet trains. While they tend to be pricier than the average train ticket, they will save you a lot of time. And since Japan is quite a large country, you can easily waste an entire day of your visit just sitting on a regular train, getting from one city to another.

    Japan Rail also runs an impressive 36 lines through the capital city alone, connecting many of the various neighborhoods of Tokyo. These are all run by JR East, the division of Japan Rail handling the busy Kanto and Tohoku Regions).

    Possibly the most important Tokyo train line run by JR to be aware of is the JR Yamanote Line (山手線). This line actually runs in a loop around the city, connecting many of the city’s key tourist and business areas like Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Ueno, and many more. Familiarizing yourself with the Yamanote route is also helpful since everything that falls inside it is considered “Central Tokyo”. It’s likely that a lot of the attractions you want to explore will fall within the Yamanote line.

    Running inside Central Tokyo and connecting all these major areas, the Yamanote Line can get quite busy, servicing locals and tourists alike, so the trains might be more crowded, and you may need to wait longer. Keep that in mind while planning your visit.


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    Useful JR Lines

    Aside from the Yamanote Line, here are some of the other major Japan Rail lines running through Tokyo.

    The Keihin-Tohoku Line (京浜東北線) similarly services the central area of Tokyo. While the Yamanote Line runs in a circular loop around the city center, the Keihin-Tohoku Line only covers the eastern half of that circle, between Tabata and Shinagawa. It connects major stations like Kanagawa, Saitama, Saitama City, and Kawasaki, and is marked in light blue/cyan.

    The Chuo / Sobu Line (中央線) is a local slow train line that runs across the Yamanote route. Being a slow line, the Sobu train stops at every station between Shinjuku and Ochanomizu and is marked with yellow.

    The rapid Chuo Line (中央線) is the Sobu Line’s twin, with one notable exception. Where the Sobu Line is slow and stops at every train station, the rapid Chuo Line only stops at the major stations – Shinjuku, Yotsuya, Ochanomizu, Kanda, and Tokyo. It connects Tokyo Station with Shinjuku and is marked with orange.

    The Saikyo Line (埼京線) also runs on the Yamanote route, this time only covering the western half of the circle. The train goes from Osaki Station towards Odaiba, connecting the southern Saitama Prefecture with central stations like Shinjuku. It is marked with deep green.

    The Shinkansen bullet train (新幹線) that connects Tokyo to other major cities in Japan is marked in red.

    Finally, Japan Rail is also responsible for Tokyo’s well-known Monorail, which connects the Haneda Airport to busy, central areas like Shinagawa, Minato, Ota, and so on.

    While JR is responsible for the train lines running through Tokyo, transportation is also provided by the city’s two subway services, Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway.

    Green handles on a Tokyo Train

    Tokyo Metro (Subway)

    Tokyo Metro, one of the city’s two subway providers, runs a total of 9 subway lines, connecting 23 of Tokyo’s most important wards. On top of connecting with Toei Subway lines, in some areas, Tokyo Metro also connects with Japan Rail lines, as well as other smaller private transport companies.  Tokyo Metro’s network covers an impressive total of 195 km and connects 180 stations.

    Every day, almost six million passengers ride the Tokyo Metro network, connecting central Tokyo with the city’s suburbs. As with the JR lines, it’s important to learn the different colors depicting different Tokyo Metro lines for ease of use.

    Tokyo Metro offers both dedicated sightseeing routes, as well as more “regular” transport to Tokyo’s less touristy areas. Below, we will mark the popular tourist attractions along each line for ease of use.

    Heads up: On top of being color-coded, the Tokyo Metro lines are also marked by a circled letter, symbolizing the name of the line. So, for instance, the Ginza Line will be marked by a circled “G”. Look for these if you get confused by the different color lines.

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    Tokyo Metro Train Lines + Sightseeing Spots!

    The Ginza Line connects the wards of Chuo, Shibuya, Minato, Chiyoda, and Taito. Running across 14 km, it is considered the oldest subway line in the entirety of Asia (having opened in 1927). It is recommended for tourists, as it connects Ueno and Asakusa to shopping districts like Aoyama and Omotesando. It is marked in orange, and with a circled “G”.

    Sightseeing: Meiji Shrine, Sanno Shrine, Ginza, Ueno Park, Senso-Ji Temple, and Omotesando Hills.

    The Hibiya Line (東京メトロ日比谷線, Line 2) offers easy access to the city’s main fashion districts, such as Roppongi, Nakameguro, and Ueno. It runs from Nakameguro to Ueno, also covering important stops such as Ginza, or Hibiya. It’s colored silver and marked with an “H”.

    Sightseeing: Hibiya Park, Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Market, Ameya Yokocho, Ueno Park.

    The Marunochi Line (東京メトロ丸ノ内線, Line 4) actually splits into two lines: the original Marunochi Line, running from Ogikubo Station to Ikebukuro Station (covering 24 stations), and the Marunochi Branch Line, from Nakano-Sakaue to Honancho (covering 4 stations). It is marked by the color red, and the letter “M”.

    Sightseeing: Shinjuku, Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo Dome, Imperial Palace, Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

    The Tozai Line (東京メトロ東西線, Line 5) runs from Nakano to Nishi-Funabashi, and with roughly 1.6 million daily passengers is considered the busiest train line in Tokyo. It connects the eastern and western sides of Tokyo, stopping at important stations like Waseda, Kagurazaka, Kudanshita, and Kasai. Its color is sky blue, and its letter is “T”.

    Sightseeing: Nakano Broadway, Imperial Palace, Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, Kagurazaka, Nippon Budokan.

    The Chiyoda Line (東京メトロ千代田線, Line 9) runs from Yoyogi-Uehara to Kita-Ayase, spanning a total of 20 stations. It covers major stops like Meiji-jingumae, Omotesando, and Nezu, and is considered Tokyo’s second busiest subway line, with roughly 1.4 million daily passengers. It's marked with green, and the letter “C”.

    Sightseeing: Yoyogi Park, Yushima Tenmangu, National Diet Building, Omotesando Hills, Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine.


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    The Yurakucho Line (東京メトロ有楽町線, Line 8) covers a total of 24 stations from Wakoshi to Shin-Kiba. Its major stops include Ichigaya, Yurakucho, Sakuradamon, and Ginza Itchome. It’s marked with a brownish gold, and the letter “Y”.

    Sightseeing: Ginza, Tsukishima, Monju Street, Yumenoshima Park, Sunshine City, Gokokuji.

    The Namboku Line (東京メトロ南北線, Line 7) runs from Meguro to Akabane-Iwabuchi, mainly connecting luxury areas like Bunkyo and Roppongi to Korakuen and Tokyo University. It stops at places like Hanzomon, Otemachi, Kuidanshita, and Omotesando. It is marked emerald green, and with the letter “N”.

    Sightseeing: Roppongi Hills, Hotel Gajoen Tokyo, Hie Shrine, Tokyo Dome, Rokugien.

    The Hanzomon Line (東京メトロ半蔵門線, Line 11) spans an impressive 16.8 km in length, stretched over only 14 stations from Shinuya to Oshiage. Some of its major stops include Aoyama Itchome, Hanzomon, Kudanshita, and Suitengumae. It’s marked purple and with the letter “Z”.

    Sightseeing: Shibuya 109, Tokyo Skytree, Harajuku, Omotesando, Nippon Budokan, Tokyo Station, and Imperial Palace.

    The Fukutoshin Line (東京メトロ副都心線, Line 13) covers sixteen stations from Wakoshi to Shibuya, basically covering the same route as the Yurakucho Line from Wako to Ikebukuro. Its main stations include Zoshigaya, Nishi-Waseda, and Shinjuku Sanchome. Its color is brown, and its letter is “F”.

    Sightseeing: Sunshine City, Shibuya 109, Meiji Shrine, Shinjuku Gyoen, and Omotesando Hills.

    Ticket barriers at a Tokyo train station
    Image of silver and green train at a train station in Tokyo

    Toei Subway

    If you’re finding it hard to arrive at your destination using the JR or Tokyo Metro lines, it may be time to switch to the Toei Subway. Compared to either of the first two, Toei Subway seems like the easier of the three major transportation providers. Toei runs only four subway lines across Tokyo, all touching base near major tourist attractions, and passing through all the sought-after wards and districts.

    However, running only four lines, Toei trains tend to have slightly more stops than Metro lines.

    The Asakusa Line (都営地下鉄浅草線, Line 1) spans a total of 20 stations from Nishi-Magome to Oshiage. It runs through some major stops like Nihonbashi, Higashi-Ginza, and Ningyocho. It is marked with a vivid rose color, and the letter “A”.

    Sightseeing: Shiba Park, Zojo-ji, Hamarikyu Gardens, Tokyo Skytree, Senso-ji Temple, Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden,

    The Mita Line (都営地下鉄三田線, Line 6) covers 27 subway stations, connecting Meguro to Nishi-Takashimadaira. It offers convenient access to several tourist attractions and stops at some popular stations, including Shibakoen, Jimbocho, Suidobashi, and Kasuga. It is marked with a vivid blue color, and the letter “I”.

    Sightseeing: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Zojo-Ji, Tokyo Dome, Hakusan Shrine, Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station.

    The Shinjuku Line (都営地下鉄新宿線, Line 10) takes you from the east of Shinjuku Station, across 20 stations, to Ichikawa in Chibo. It passes through Koto, Edogawa, as well as Akebonobashi, Kudanshita, and Iwamotocho. It’s colored in a light leaf green, and marked with an “S”.

    Sightseeing: Shinjuku Kabukicho, Shinjuku Gyoen, Science Museum, Nippon Budokan, Akihabara.

    The Oedo Line (都営地下鉄大江戸線, Line 12) is probably your best option for sightseeing. Spanning an impressive 38 stations, the Oedo Line passes through all the major, central tourist attraction points. It goes from Hikarigaoka to Tochomae, passing through Roppongi, Ryogoku, Aoyama Itchome, Tsukishima, and Ueno Okachimachi. It is marked with magenta, and the letter “E”.

    Sightseeing: Tokyo Tower, Tsukiji Market, Tsukushima Monja Street, Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ameya Yokocho, Tokyo Skytree, Asakusa.











    Other Tokyo Trains / Services

    While Japan Rail, Tokyo Metro, and Toei Subway are the three main train and subway providers in Tokyo, they are far from the only ones. Other, smaller private companies like Keikyu Electric Railway, Keio Corporation, Odakyu Electric Railway, and the Tokyo Sakura Tram, also provide indispensable access to Japan’s capital.

    However, as a first-time visitor, it’s more than enough to familiarize yourself with the three main providers outlined above, as they will take you to the majority of places you’re likely to need on your trip.

    Here’s some bite-sized info about the other transport providers:

    The Keikyu Electric Railway offers an easy connection between the Haneda Airport and the Shinagawa Station.

    The Kei Corporation allows you to explore the beautiful and highly popular Mount Takao.

    The Odakyu Electric Railway runs three lines out of Shinjuku Station, connecting to Odawara (great for exploring the Hakone area), Enoshima, and Tama New Town.

    Finally, the Tokyo Sakura Tram is a charming retro street car service that runs from Minowabashi Station to the Waseda Station, covering a total of about 12 km, and 30 stations.

    Tokyo Trains: Tickets and Passes

    Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of Tokyo’s many train providers, it’s time to talk about costs and ticket types. There are, of course, a variety of options for getting around Tokyo. While most stations offer multilingual desks and ticket machines, it may save time and money buying yours beforehand online!

    Single Tickets

    One of the easiest ways to travel by train through Tokyo is by purchasing single-use tickets for each trip, to take you from A to B. Typically, Tokyo Metro ticket prices range between 180 and 330 yen ($1.26 - $2.30), while Toei fare goes between 180 and 430 yen ($1.26 - $3).

    Prepaid IC Cards (Travel Cards)

    Prepaid cards are considered the most convenient choice for traveling Tokyo. These are sold at JR stations (known as Suica IC Cards) and non-JR stations (known as Pasmo IC Cards). Though the names differ, the use is basically identical.

    IC Cards can be purchased for a refundable deposit of 500 yen ($3.50), and come pre-charged with JPY1,500 ($10.50). They can then be reloaded with more money at any IC Card redemption station/machine.

    Prepaid cards are advantageous if you’re going to be traveling a lot, since you can just swipe them, and don’t need to stop and purchase a new ticket each time you want to hop on a train. Additionally, prepaid Suica Cards can be used to pay in other places such as vending machines.

    IC Cards allow you to use any bus or train in Greater Tokyo (as well as numerous other major Japanese cities).


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    Tourist Passes for Tokyo Trains

    Special subway tourist passes are available for periods of 24, 48, or even 72 hours, from Tokyo Metro Pass Offices, and some Tourist Information desks in some stations. You can also purchase them online.

    Tokyo Free Kippu (Tokyo Tour Ticket) allows you unrestricted use of all subway lines (both Metro and Toei) across Tokyo for one full day, as well as JR Trains (in the central Tokyo area).

    Cost: 1,600 yen ($11)

    Tokyo Subway Ticket is sold at ticket offices at Narita and Haneda Airports, as well as in major subway stations, and Bic Camera and Yamada Denki stores. It offers unlimited subway access (both Toei and Metro), though doesn’t work on JR trains.


    24 hours - 800 yen ($5.50)

    48 hours - 1,200 yen ($8.3)

    72 hours - 1,500 yen ($10.50)

    Tokyo Metro 24-Hour Ticket allows you unlimited use of all Tokyo Metro lines (though doesn’t work on JR or Toei subway lines) for one day. It can be purchased in any Tokyo Metro station.

    Cost: 600 yen ($4.18)

    Toei One-Day Pass (Toei Marugoto Kippu) similarly allows you unlimited use of all four Toei subway lines, as well as overground buses and streetcars for 24 hours. It can be bought at any Toei station and is not available on either Metro or JR.

    Cost: 700 yen ($4.88)

    Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy Pass combines the above two, offering unlimited access on all thirteen subway lines (both Metro and Toei) for one calendar day. It is not valid on JR trains and can be bought at any subway station in central Tokyo.

    Cost: 900 yen ($6.28)

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    Tokyo bullet trains - shinkansen

    Is a Day Pass Worth It?

    If you’re planning a couple of days where you’ll be intensively using the Tokyo subway, it might be worthwhile investing in a day pass. If you’re looking at a longer stay with fewer daily trips, then a prepaid IC card is probably your best bet.

    Tokyo Train Passes

    Tokunai Pass allows you unlimited use of all JR trains in the central Tokyo area for one day, and can be purchased and ticket counters and vending machines in JR Stations.

    Cost: 760 yen ($5.30)

    Japan Rail Pass, finally, allows you full access on JR trains throughout Japan. It can be purchased over different time periods (7-, 14-, or 21-days). JR Passes can be regular, or green-car (first-class), which is obviously slightly pricier. You can use your JR Pass at JR-operated train lines in Tokyo, though not on lines from the other providers. You can also use it to ride the Tokyo Monorail, as well as obtain discounts at hotels and venues that are JR-affiliated.


    7-days - 29,650 yen ($206) / 39,600 yen ($276) for Green Car
    14-days - 47,250 yen ($329.50) / 64,120 yen ($447) for Green Car
    21-days - 60,450 yen ($421) / 83,390 yen ($581) for Green Car

    Heads up: The price of the Japan Rail Pass will be severely increased as of October 1st 2023, going up by a whopping 70%. So that the regular 7-day pass will go from 29,650 yen to 50,000 yen ($350); the 14-day one will go to 80,000 yen ($560), and the 21-day pass goes up to 100,000 yen ($700). Green Car prices will skyrocket to 70,000 - 140,000 yen ($490 - $980). 

    The pass can still be purchased at old prices until September 30th, and can theoretically be used for up to three months after purchase (so until early 2024).

    While the increase in price makes the JR Pass much less convenient than before, it is still a good option for travelers interested in using the rail system heavily during their stay.

    Be warned that regional rail tickets will also suffer a price increase, so a JR Pass might still be worth the investment for your trip!


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    Railway tracks in Tokyo

    Tokyo Trains: Wrap-Up

    At the end of the day, which pass or which Tokyo train company you opt for or use more heavily will depend on your travel priorities. Hopefully, now, you have a better understanding of the complex subway and train system in the Japanese capital!

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