Getting Around in Tokyo
Tokyo's mass transit system is one of the largest, safest, cleanest, and most efficient in the world. For first-time visitors to the metropolis, it can also be the most confusing. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that multiple distinct transport companies operate within Tokyo – including two subway networks and several private lines.
Tokyo's Metro Authority does a good job of making sense of these peculiars, but you will still have to study the lines to make sense of them. The most defining rail line for a tourist to know is the Yamanote line. This rail line runs in a loop around central Tokyo. All inter-regional lines and private lines begin somewhere along the Yamanote line. If you become familiar with this line, you have a great starting point for understanding the entire Tokyo metro system.
Fortunately, almost all subway and train ticket vending machines have an "English" option. The transit authority is gradually phasing out the older machines that only operate in Japanese. When you buy a ticket, you actually purchase a rechargeable smart card – tap your card on the touch pad of the turnstile to use it. When you run out of money, recharge at another vending machine.
Travelers who wish to see the sights and sounds of Tokyo are encouraged to purchase the all-inclusive 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket. It costs ¥1500 ($13 USD) and offers unlimited access to most of Central Tokyo's subway lines. Importantly, this ticket is only available to tourists with foreign passports – you must buy it at the airport on your way in.
These lines typically run between 5:00 AM and 01:00 AM. Most run once every three minutes during peak hours, so checking timetables is usually unnecessary. If you get stuck out after the trains close, however, you may to call a taxi, which can be expensive.
If you do choose to ride with a taxi, do not count on your driver knowing any English – use a GPS or show the address of your destination for the best results. The same goes for travelers who wish to rent a car – Tokyo's narrow streets are often unmarked, so you need to know exactly where you are going if you want to arrive on-time.