10 Best Ways to Navigate Tokyo’s Subway System

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Tokyo’s subway can seem daunting, but with these 10 insider tips you’ll be zipping around Tokyo’s rail system like a local in no time. From decoding station signs to subway etiquette, this comprehensive guide has everything you need to know.

1 Look for Line Colors and Numbers

Each subway line in Tokyo is assigned a color and number sequence, which is easier to follow than Japanese names. Check signs for the color and number heading in your direction.

2 Know Your Platform Direction

Platform signs display the line color and final destination. Make sure you board in the correct direction or risk going the wrong way.

3 Download Transit Apps

Google Maps and the Tokyo Subway app provide detailed directions with real-time updates on subway lines, platforms and ETAs. These are a lifesaver for first-timers.

4 Avoid Rush Hour Crowds

When possible, plan trips outside of peak commuter times like 8-10am and 5-7pm to bypass cramped train cars. If unavoidable, see tip #5!

5 Mind Your Backpack and Sumimasen

Remove large bags and backpacks when boarding and say “sumimasen” (excuse me) when squeezing through tight spaces to avoid frustrating locals.

6 Look for Station Transfer Signs

Easy-to-spot signs pointing the way to connecting lines make transfers a breeze. Also check platforms numbers on your transit app.

7 Get a Suica or Pasmo Card

Rechargeable Suica and Pasmo cards can be used on all transit including taxis and offer the fastest way to enter stations and shop. Also they have stopped selling these cards as of August, visitors can still get a Welcome Suica card.

8 Check Your Card Balance

Card balances display when entering and exiting station gates so you can easily monitor your amount and stop to add funds when running low.

9 Remove Food Before Boarding

No open food or drinks are allowed on subway cars, so finish snacks beforehand. Drinking is OK on long distance commuter trains.

10 Help Reserved Seats Stay Clear

Look for priority seating markers on trains to offer elderly, disabled passengers and pregnant women available seats if needed.

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