Tokyo’s transportation system is probably the most complicated in the world. With so many train stations packed in the city, even the Japanese find it confusing when they look at Tokyo’s railway map. If you are from somewhere other than Tokyo, it is even harder to figure out which train line to get to the attractions scattered across the city. At big stations such as Shinjuku, another problem you will likely run into is how to get to the platform you are supposed to be at.
So here is an article about the most commonly used train lines by tourists in Tokyo so that you are better prepared before you fly off to explore one of the best cities in the world!
Table of Contents
- JR, Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and Private Railway?
- Types of Trains in Japan
- JR East
- Tokyo Metro (東京メトロ)
- Toei Subway (都営地下鉄)
- Tokyo’s Six Private Railway Companies
- The Train Lines to/from Narita Airport and Haneda Airport
JR, Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and Private Railway?
Tokyo’s train network comprises train lines of JR East, Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and a couple of private railway companies.
Japan Railway (JR) was a national railway previously owned by the government. This is why its rail network stretches across the country. In Tokyo, JR’s network starts from Tokyo’s city center and extends to the surrounding prefectures.
Together with Japan’s advanced development, more and more railway companies were then established, complementing the existing JR railway network. In Tokyo’s metropolitan area, the rail lines of Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway fill most areas where JR doesn’t have a station.
Outside of Tokyo’s city center, other private railway companies largely manage the transportation network. For example, Tōbu Railway has train lines extending to the north, whereas if you want to travel to the west, you can take Seibu, Keiō, or Odakyu.
Refer to HERE for Tokyo’s transportation network map.
Types of Trains in Japan
As confusing as it sounds, on top of the different train companies, the trains in Japan are divided into five different networks according to their speed:
- Bullet Train/Shinkansen:
- The fastest type of train with the least number of stops.
- A separate Shinkansen charge is required.
- Limited Express:
- A limited express ticket/charge is required.
- Local: The slowest type of train that approaches every stop on a particular train line.
The bullet train, or Shinkansen in Japanese, has its own designated platforms. But in many cases, the other four types of trains might share the same platforms. So check closely when you are at a platform. Depending on the type of train you want to board, the waiting point will most likely differ.
An easy way to identify where you need to stand is by matching the shape on the screen with the shape marked on the ground. If there is a triangle next to the service you want to board on the screen, look for a triangular marking on the platform ground and stand behind it.
JR East has all five types of trains running on its train lines. If you plan to visit prefectures and regions away from Tokyo, such as Nagano, Niigata, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka, and the Tōhoku region, taking Shinkansei will definitely save you time. As taking the bullet train is rather expensive, consider getting one of the JR passes to save money.
In Tokyo’s metropolitan area, you will most likely use express, rapid, and local trains. Although you won’t be able to reserve a seat, they are still cheaper in comparison.
A List of JR Passes that Covers Tokyo
Below is a list of JR passes covering Tokyo and other regions. Please keep in mind that depending on your itinerary, a JR pass may or may not be worthwhile for your trip. You can estimate the transportation cost using Google Maps and compare the total price to a JR pass.
- JR Pass (7-Day, 14-Day, or 21-Day)
- JR Tokyo Wide Pass
- JR EAST PASS（Tohoku area）/ 5 Days
- JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) / 5 Days
- JR Hokuriku Arch Pass (7 Days)
- JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass (6 Days)
A List of Commonly Used JR Train Lines
Refer to HERE for the JR train map in Tokyo.
|Train Line||Color & Number||Main Stations|
|Yamanote Line (山手線)||Grass green (no. 9)||It is the loop line in central Tokyo. It takes around 60 minutes to complete one loop trip. |
Yamanote Line is one of Tokyo’s main train lines. Because it stops at Tokyo’s main transportation hubs, including Tokyo, Akihabara, Ueno, Nippori, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinagawa Station, you will most likely be on the Yamanote Line at some point during your time in Tokyo.
|Chūō Line (中央線) – Rapid||Orange (no. 11)||Chūō Line (rapid) is the train line you would take to get to the Ghibli Museum, Mt. Takao and possibly Kawaguchiko/Mt. Fuji (if you choose to take the JR Chūō Line (中央線) + Fujikyūkō Line (富士急行線)). |
One thing to note is this train line is a rapid service so that it won’t stop at all stops between Shinjuku and Tokyo.
|Chūō-Sōbu Line (中央・総武緩行線) – Local||Yellow (no. 12)||Chūō-Sōbu Line (Local) is another train line you might use to get to the Ghibli Museum as it terminates at Mikata. The train stops at all stops from Chiba Station to Mikata Station. You can take Chūō-Sōbu Line (Local) to get to Shinjuku, Akihabara, Suidōbashi (Tokyo Dome), Īdabashi (Tokyo Daijingu), Yoyogi, and Kichijōji.|
|Shonan-Shinjuku Line (湘南新宿線)||Red (no. 3)||If you want to go to Yokohama, Kamakura, Enoshima, or even Odawara, you can board the Shonan-Shinjuku Line from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku.|
|Keiyō Line (京葉線)||Dark red (no. 29)||Keiyō Line is the train line that connects you to the Tokyo Disney Resort (Maihama Station) and Kasai Rinkai Park from Tokyo Station.|
Tokyo Metro (東京メトロ)
Tokyo Metro has nine train lines, covering not only the main stations such as Tokyo, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro. You can also take Tokyo Metro to Asakusa, Oshiage (Tokyo Sky Tree), Ginza, Tsukiji, Roppongi, and Omotesandō.
While most Tokyo Metro stations don’t have a shopping mall attached to them, and with services ending earlier than JR at night, the Tokyo Metro is arguably the most convenient way to get to the most popular attractions around Tokyo’s metropolitan area.
And the good news is that the Tokyo Metro offers many transportation passes. You can refer to our Guide to Tokyo’s Transportation Passes to see if any of the listed passes suit your itinerary.
Tip: The Tokyo Subway Ticket (24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour) is a convenient pass to travel between attractions in Tokyo.
Refer to HERE for Tokyo Metro Route Map.
Toei Subway (都営地下鉄)
Toei Subway has four lines, suitable for getting to Asakusa, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Akabanebashi (Tokyo Tower), Oshiage (Tokyo Sky Tree), Nibhonbashi, Kiysumi-Shirakawa, Ginza, and Tsukiji.
One thing to note is that Toei Subway and Tokyo Metro don’t share the same station. So if you want to transfer from a Tokyo Metro line to a Toei Subway line, you will need to get out of the Tokyo Metro station before you can reach the Toei Subway station.
Refer to HERE for Toei Subway Route Map.
If most of the attractions you want to visit are Toei’s subway lines, consider getting the Toei 1-Day Pass. The 700 yen ticket gives you unlimited rides on all Toei subway lines, the Toei bus route, Tokyo Sakura Tram, and Nippori-Toneri Liner!
Tokyo’s Six Private Railway Companies
- Keiō Railway (京王電鉄)
- Odakyū Electric Railway (小田急電鉄)
- Tōbu Railway (東武鉄道)
- Seibu Railway (西武鉄道)
- Tōkyū Railway (東急電鉄)
- Yurikamome Line (ゆりかもめ)
Keiō Railway (京王電鉄)
The Keiō Railway’s train lines you might use are the Keiō Line (京王線), the Inokashira Line (井の頭線), and the Sagamihara Line (相模原線).
Inokashira Line suits those based in Shibuya who want to take a peek into the local’s lifestyle by visiting Shimo-Kitazawa, Inokashira-Kōen, and Kichijōji.
If you are based in Shinjuku, you can get to Mt. Takao by taking the Keiō Line and getting off at Takaosanguchi Station (高尾山口). You can also take the Keiō Line to Jindaiji Temple (深大寺) and Jindai Botanical Gardens (神代植物公園) by getting off at Chōfu Station (調布駅).
Keiō’s Sagamihara Line is also one of the options to get to the Sanrio Puroland (Keiō-Tama-Center Station) and Keiō Yomiuri Land (Keiō-Yomiuri-land Station).
Refer to HERE for Keiō Railway Map.
Odakyū Electric Railway (小田急電鉄)
For those who want to visit Hakone, Odakyū Railway will be your best buddy. With Odakyū’s Hakone Free Pass (2 – 3 Days), besides the unlimited rides on trains and buses in Hakone, you can board the Hakone Ropeway and Sightseeing Cruise as well!
Plus, special perks and discounts are available in many attractions and restaurants in Hakone!
Odakyū also has transportation deals to Kamakura, Enoshima, Mt. Ōyama, and the east side of the Izu Peninsula. Because Odakyū has a station in Shinjuku, it is one of the best railway companies available for traveling to destinations close to Tokyo.
Refer to the official website HERE for information about the discount passes offered by Odakyū.
Refer to HERE for Odakyū Railway Map.
Tōbu Railway (東武鉄道)
Tōbu Railway has two really useful train lines for tourists extending from Tokyo. If you take the Tōbu Tōjō Line (東武東上線) from Ikebukuro, you can get to Kawagoe (川越) in around 30 minutes. And don’t forget to utilize the Kawagoe Discount Pass (小江戸川越クーポン). It includes your return trip cost from Ikebukuro and unlimited rides on Tōbu Bus, which will make traveling easier between attractions in Kawagoe.
Of course, it comes with perks and discounts at many facilities and cafes in Kawagoe!
Although we have mentioned many popular destinations and attractions so far, you are probably thinking, how about Nikkō and Kinugawa?
We haven’t forgotten about it! The Tōbu Nikkō Line (東武日光線) departing from Asakura is the train line you want to utilize when visiting the beautiful nature where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum is located. Before hopping on a train, check out the discount passes designated for your trip to Nikkō on Tōbu’s website HERE!
Refer to HERE for Tōbu Railway Map.
Seibu Railway (西武鉄道)
If you want to visit Kawagoe, you can also take Seibu’s Shinjuku Line (新宿線) and get off at Hon-Kawagoe Station (本川越駅). In fact, Seibu is the most recommended company to use if you want to visit Kawagoe as its Hon-Kawagoe Station is closer to the traditional township. The Kawagoe Discount Tickets (小江戸・川越フリークーポンチラシ) are great ways to save on transportation costs to Kawagoe.
You can also take Seibu’s Ikebukuro Line + Seibu-Chichibu Line to get to Chichibu (秩父). If you want to visit Nagatoro (長瀞), you can change to Chichibu Railway at Chichibu Station (秩父駅). SEIBU 1-Day Pass / SEIBU 2-Day Pass are the two passes you can consider when traveling to Chichibu and/or Nagatoro.
If you plan to head to Seibu Dome (西武ドーム) for baseball games, you can also take Seibu’s Ikebukuro Line + Seibu’s Sayama Line to get there. You will need to get off at Seibukyūjō-mae (西武球場前駅).
☛ Consider getting the Kawagoe Discount Tickets (小江戸・川越フリークーポンチラシ) if you want to visit Kawagoe.
☛ If you want to get to Chichibu faster, take the Limited Express Laview. While a separate limited express ticket is required, it will only take you less than 80 minutes to travel from Ikebukuro to Chichibu!
Refer to HERE for Seibu Railway Map.
Tōkyū Railway (東急電鉄)
In addition to JR, you can also take Tōkyū Railway’s Tōyoko Line (東横線) to Yokohama. You can change trains at Yokohama Station for the Minatomirai Line to Minatomirai and Motomachi/China Town. Daikanyama, Nakameguro, and Jiyūgaoka are also on the Tōyoko Line.
Tōkyū’s two main train lines depart from Shibuya. In addition to Tōyoko Line, you can also take the Denen-Toshi Line (田園都市線) to Sangen-Jaya Station (三軒茶屋駅) for unique cafes or to Futakotamagawa Station (二子玉川駅) for treasure hunts!
Refer to HERE for Tōkyū Railway Map.
Yurikamome Line (ゆりかもめ)
Odaiba is undoubtedly one of Tokyo’s most popular spots. Great for shopping, dating, and getting close to robots, the best way to get to Odaiba is probably by taking the Yurikamome Line.
Boarding the train from Shinbashi, the train will drive through Odaiba’s famous landmark, the Rainbow Bridge. Although taking the Yurikamome Line is more expensive than JR’s Rinkai Line, the experience should be worthwhile to tourists, especially with the One-Day Pass.
The Train Lines to/from Narita Airport and Haneda Airport
While it is intuitive that airport lines are used for those traveling to and from airports, these train lines can also be used for sightseeing.
Narita Airport – JR East’s N’EX and Keisei
- N’EX or Narita Express has comfortable seats and large luggage storage space. It is the most convenient train line to get to Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro Station because no transfer is required.
- If your hotel is in Asakusa, Ueno, and Nippori, the Keisei Railway’s Skyliner, Access Express, or Rapid Limited Express would be the better options.
For more information about Narita Airport’s access, refer to our article on How to Get from Narita Airport to Tokyo. The article also provides information about buses and alternatives to traditional taxis.
Haneda Airport – Keikyū and Tokyo Monorail
- Take Keikyū Railway from Haneda Airport if your hotel is in or around Shinagawa Station, as it will only take you less than 15 minutes. As a transportation hub, you can easily transfer to other JR lines to other parts of Tokyo metropolitan areas.
- On the other hand, if your hotel is on JR’s Keihin-Tōhoku Line (京濱東北線) or Toei Subway’s Ōedo Line (都營大江戶線), take Tokyo Monorail and make a transfer at Hamamatsuchō Station (浜松町駅).
- You can also take the Keihin-Tōhoku Line to get to Yokohama.
For more information about Haneda Airport’s access, refer to our article on How to Get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo. The article also provides information about buses and alternatives to traditional taxis.
Discover Tokyo’s Transportation Tickets That Can Save You Money
Now that you know more about Tokyo’s train system, the next step in your planning is probably finding out if there is a discounted transportation pass that will help save you money.
So refer to our Guide to Tokyo’s Transportation Passes for a list of tickets that can be used in Tokyo and/or the surrounding tourist destinations!
The Ultimate Guide to How to Get to Kawaguchiko from Tokyo
Kawaguchiko (河口湖) or Lake Kawaguchi is one of Japan’s top tourist destinations. But because the lake at the foot of Mt. Fuji isn’t located in Tokyo’s city center, you may be wondering how to get from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko. If that is the case, refer to our Guide to How to Get to Kawaguchiko from Tokyo. Whether it is from Shinjuku, Haneda Airport, or Shinagawa, we got you covered!