Getting around Tokyo without getting lost

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Getting around Tokyo without getting lost

With a population of over ten million people, Tokyo is one of the worlds mega-cities.  It is kind of difficult to fathom the absolute enormity of this place – one of the best ways to get some perspective is to go to the top of the Tokyo SkyTree where can get a 360 degree view and realise that the city extends as far as the eye can see.

When you first arrive in Tokyo as visitor, it can be incredibly overwhelming – all of your senses assaulted by a world quite different to where you have come from.

In this article we give you a couple of tips on how to navigate your way around the city and make sure that you get the best out of your expedition to Tokyo.

 

Getting from the airport

Tokyos main international airport is Tokyo Narita.  The best way to get from Narita to central Tokyo is by train.  You will probably be heading to Tokyo Station and there is an express train that will get you there.  Another option is the Skyliner service that takes you to Ueno station.  There are ticket machines at the airport that you can use to buy your tickets for the train (the machines have an English language option) or just ask the staff for assistance – they all speak English and are very friendly.

 

Embrace public transport

Using public transport is by far the easiest and quickest way to get around Tokyo.  However there is no doubt that it can be a little bit scary on first encounter – just looking at the map of all the different stations, the different lines, and trying to work out the connections you need can give you a migraine. 

The first thing to remember is that there are maps that use English.  When you are at the ticket machines, at least one of the big maps on the walls will use English.  Grab one of the free maps that you can pick up near the ticket machines – usually these will be Japanese on one side, and English on the other.  Even when youre on the train there will be plenty of English used so that you can keep track of where you are and where you need to get off.

Ticketing can be a little complicated too because there are a number of different train companies that provide the various services that make up Tokyos metro system.  The maps near the ticket machines help you work out what value ticket you need depending on the destination that you are going to – this is relatively straightforward but can take a little practice until you get used to it.  If you get it wrong their are Fare Adjustment machines at every exit so you can always top up your ticket if you need to.  It is far simpler though to use a Suica card – these are the stored value cards that enable you to touch in and touch out through the ticket gates and the correct fare is automatically deducted (similar to many other cities around the world).  You can purchase a Suica card from any of the ticket machines. With a map and a Suica card you are ready to go.

tokyo train station Getting around Tokyo without getting lost

 

Get your bearings

There are a few key lines and stations that are useful reference points when trying to visualise where you are in the city and where you need to get to.  The Yamanote line is the circle line that runs around the heart of Tokyo.  On this line are the major stations of Tokyo, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Shinagawa.  Cutting across town are a myriad of subway lines – so whether you need to get to Ginza, Akihabara or Roppongi, you can use your map to work out the best route to get there.

 

Ask for help

No matter how good your sense of direction is, when you are in an unfamiliar city it can be easy to get disorientated and lose track of where you are.  In general, people in Tokyo are pretty friendly so dont be afraid to ask for assistance, but you may find that it is difficult to find someone who speaks English.  Your best bet is to go to the nearest Koban station.  These are the small police stations that you will see on nearly every major intersection – they will be signposted as Koban and will have a blue light.  The police manning these stations are very helpful and are great at providing assistance even for the simplest question.

 

Tokyo is a fantastic city to visit.  Vibrant, beautiful, fascinating – a seamless blend of the history of yesterday and the future of tomorrow.  With a few tools at your fingertips you can confidently hit the streets and you will soon be navigating your way around like a local.

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