Tokyo is one of the busiest urban cities in the world, which prides itself in having one of the best transport systems in the world. Although getting around this fast-paced mega city is not, as they say, “a-walk-in-the-park.” Foreigners and locals alike, can easily get lost in the heavily-congested streets and public transport stations in the city. Around 40 million people flock the city daily, causing major traffic jams on the roads and on the sidewalks, not to mention most streets have no names making the city even more difficult to navigate.
For interns traveling to Tokyo, it is best to know the various modes of transportation available to take you from point A to point B, but anyone new to the city must still be prepared to get lost a time or two. Here are some basics about public transportation in Tokyo to help you prepare and adjust for the adventure:
The Railway System: Surface Trains & Subways
Tokyo has one of the most extensive, unparalleled urban transit systems in the world. It is the primary mode of traveling from one place to another in the city, made especially popular by low costs and numerous conveniently located stations. Over eight million people use the train everyday in Tokyo, from students and employees, to tourists and business people. Although it is the fastest means of traveling, trains are almost always overcrowded during rush hour, which typically starts at about seven-thirty in the morning and peaks again around five o’clock in the afternoon. Imagine your face smushed an inch too close to the window or your body nearly crushed by those around you, that’s how overcrowded Tokyo trains can be.
Interns should also be aware that it is common practice for women to give their seats to men who are standing, which is often not the case worldwide. However, there are “women-only” cars which provide added convenience and security for women, children, individuals with physical disabilities, and pregnant women. Pickpocketing becomes an easy game when so many people are squeezed into such tight quarters, so you must always keep an eye on your purse or wallet.
For those who want to avoid the “commuter hell” of trains, buses are a great alternative travel option. The fare is relatively affordable and there is no hassle of overcrowding. The only downside, travel time is slower compared to trains and you may have to walk a ways to get to a station or take another mode of travel to get to your final destination, since bus stops are not as prevalent around the city as train stations.
Interns who want to get to a place fast might want to take a taxi, but for those staying in Tokyo for an extended period taxis are definitely not the most efficient form of transport. Drivers in Tokyo are known to be trustworthy and never take advantage of their passengers, therefore providing added security of passengers, especially those who are new to the country. If it is of absolute necessity to take a taxi, know that it is expensive, especially on weekends. Cost-conscious interns should seek out alternative means of travel, unless traveling in groups, when taxis can be more economical.
Taxi doors typically open and close automatically, so don’t bother doing it yourself. Tipping is not customary in Japan and drivers do not accept tips. When worried about the difficulty of communicating an address, write it on paper or show the driver the location on a map. Better yet, taxis are equipped with GPS, so it is not hard for drivers to find the place or for them to input an address directly into their navigation systems.
Two-Wheelers & Two-Feet
Motorcycles and bikes can be an effective means of transport in the city, particularly when it comes to parking or squeezing in between cars stuck in a traffic jam. But bikes are often discouraged because of the high levels of traffic congestion too, since it increases the dangers of traveling by bike.
When the time comes to wander the city and get to know the streets and landmarks of Tokyo’s urban landscape, it is best to walk.
With a map at hand, the chance of becoming overwhelmed by the intricate city streets is lessened and the chances for discovery are great.
General Travel Customs of Tokyo
Knowing the local travel customs can reassure interns traveling around the city for the first time and make the task seem less daunting. It is best to plan ahead of time if you are going out shopping or to explore the city’s nightlife; trains and buses usually end operations at midnight, so newbies must know what, where, and when alternative modes of transportation are available. Be sure to always prepare enough cash or change for fare, although prepaid rail passes are available. Transport systems, especially trains, are strict with time and schedules, but be mindful of announcements over the loudspeakers for delays occasionally. To avoid rush hour traffic, leave early; getting an early head-start the day is better than squeezing on to an overpopulated train or navigating a crowded street. Ultimately, it is culturally best to try all modes of transportation to see which is most convenient for each situation and purpose.