Modes of Transportation
- Buses are complicated for tourists who don’t speak Japanese. The buses operate as they do in any other city of the world, however, you must be extra-cognizant of where you are heading because the drivers don’t speak English.
The absolute worst choice for tourists. Streets are maze-like and parking is all but impossible.
Subways are generally the best way to travel. They’re safe, inexpensive, and run frequently. The lines are color-coded (a sign of civilization, I’m quite sure) with station names indicated in English. Vending machines sell tickets, and if you err and underpay for your ride, you can pay the difference at your destination. Some machines also have an English-language option that can be activated when buying tickets. Some maps (especially the one provided by the TIC show the names of stations in Japanese and English — this is a big help when faced with ticket machines in smaller stations). One note: the absolute worst time to be on the subway is during morning rush hour — they really do shove people into the trains, and I swear that I spent my morning commute suspended between two larger individuals.
While a fairly expensive way to travel, taxis are good for short trips. Remember that a red light means the taxi is available while a green light means the taxi is occupied. Taxis are plentiful around well-known spots and major hotels. When taking a taxi, it is especially helpful to have written directions (talk to the hotel’s concierge — this person may well become your best friend in Japan). Note: having written directions is no guarantee that your driver will deliver you to your intended destination. On one trip, we actually had a driver through up his hands in disgust at his inability to locate a particular restaurant and kick us out of the cab.
Japan Railways (JR) also operated trains (again, based on a color-coded system). Of these, the most popular (and convenient) is the Yamanote Line. The bright green train loops through central Tokyo (this is my personal line of choice).
Note: Transferring between subways and trains can be tricky. The tickets do not allow for transfers between systems; however, the ticket collectors at the end of the lines can help to sort out any confusion (somehow, I believe that we managed to survive our trip without any problems of this sort).
Public Transportation – Passes
Each system has various passes available — all convenient if you are planning to do quite a bit of sightseeing. There are single-day economy tickets as well as passes that allow a day’s travel on all the subway systems and busses. A valid JR Rail Pass allows unlimited travel on JR Rail Lines.