On Taking the Train in Tokyo
I grew up in a small town, and then went to school in another small town. I remember my first time taking the TTC, the subway system in Toronto, and being amazed at the urban-ness of the experience. I think the person I was with laughed at me and said the TTC system is really nothing amazing: it’s a big U and one line across the U.
Since then, Jon and I have traveled together to various places around the world, near and far. We’ve taken public transit, usually the subway, but also including buses or mini buses in a variety of countries and major cities including St. Petersburg, Beijing, Hong Kong, Lima, Ulan Baatar, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Antananarivo, Moscow and of course Toronto—and I’ve seen how the big U and the one line across is perhaps not quite as majestic as I first thought.
However, the Tokyo train system is truly something else.
As with the rest of Tokyo, the train system is incredibly clean, and also extremely efficient. Several of the stations or lines are at least partially above ground, and it’s fun to watch the city pass by—it’s a fantastic way to get to know a bit of a city.
While there is such a thing as a Pasmo card, which is a tap-and-go card like the Octopus card in Hong Kong or the Presto card, we (unwisely) chose to purchase individual tickets throughout our trip, as we were going to be in and out of Tokyo and taking various lines. Not having done it ourselves, I’m not sure I can really recommend it, but as we sometimes took the subway several times a day and spent a lot of time scratching our heads at the ticket machines, we would probably will start off with the Pasmo or Suica card right from the beginning next time.
To buy individual tickets is not just a matter of buying a token to get you into the system.
When you enter the station, you buy a ticket at a ticket machine, selecting your destination station. You can search by station code or by station name, but if you make a mistake you can still adjust your fare at your destination station.
However, there are different companies running subway lines, and so you may have to buy one ticket for the first line you take, exit at the end station, walk (possibly outdoors, as not all the stations are connected to each other directly, but they are typically close) to another station at a different line, and then purchase a ticket to get onto the next line. We used Google Maps a lot to plan out trips, and while it was incredibly helpful, it was not completely infallible: it occasionally sent us on the wrong platform or was slightly off in direction.
All that being said, if you’re really actually going to take the Tokyo transit system, I’m sure you will probably be wise enough to check another more informative and more accurate website.
To no one’s surprise, Caleb loves taking the train. He is also terrible at taking the train because he gets so absorbed in watching everything go by—and good grief if we ever get a seat with a window to the engineer’s cabin. Despite abundant forewarning (“two stops, Caleb; next stop, Caleb; okay, we’re arriving Caleb”) we often have to say his name several times with increasing levels of urgency as we’re about to exit the train so he doesn’t get left behind.
One of the best things about the Tokyo train system, though, is that a number of stations have a “train stamp.” The challenging part is that apparently some of the train stamps are located inside or outside of the ticket area (so you may have to purchase at least a platform ticket to get in), and you may have to do some research ahead of time to find out which exit it’s located at. I imagine that if I was staying longer (maybe at least a year?) it would be fun to see how many I could collect.
While the occasional taxi is a lovely respite while traveling, not to mention sometimes necessary as you’re moving all of your luggage and a stroller, one of my favourite things about visiting another country is getting to know their transit system. Some countries have stations filled with artwork representative of a neighbourhood, or are architecturally beautiful, or are historically significant, or, maybe best of all, have a bubble tea shop located conveniently at the entrance.
And as a lovely coincidence, as I was reading Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima, a book that takes place Japan in the early 1900s, I came across a mention of ordering books through the Maruzen bookstore. Wouldn’t it be just incredible if I was actually on my way to Maruzen?*
*I was not—but it’s a nice thought.