Taking the Subway in Japan

Getting from point A to point Z using the subway is not that difficult. If you’re new to using a subway, or public transportation at all (like I was), my advice is to plan your route and stay calm no matter how busy the station gets. Carrying a small note pad and a pen is a good idea. The subway is a great tool when you traveling around Japan or if you’re heading to work! It’s always on time, so the subway is something you can rely on day after day.

Tokyo Japan Subway Map

Along with some tips I’m going to share some pictures I took of the subway on a rainy, cold, Friday afternoon around 2pm. It wasn’t a busy time and the station I was at doesn’t seem to be as busy as bigger stations. And it’s always handy to have a Japan travel guide.

Tip #1 – If somebody falls onto the track, hit this button! (Press the red button below in case a person fall sinto the track area. Trains will stop automatically. FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY!)

Press the red button below in case a person fall sinto the track area. Trains will stop automatically. FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY!

Tips beyond “Tip #1” in no particular order:

Getting a ticket:
Look at the fare chart above the machine. Find your destination, the number below the destination is how much Yen it’ll cost you. Put in your money in the machine and click the button that shows that amount. There’s usually an English option on the machine. Get your ticket and change from the tray. If your purchase a wrong ticket by mistake you can insert the ticket into the refund slot and your money will be returned. I think in Tokyo you can buy the ticket at a ticket counter. Also: See if you have to make any connections (meaning you start at point A, change trains at point B, change again at point C, and arrive at the final destination). If you make a train change you might want to write down the names of those places so you don’t forget.

Japan Subway Fare Chart

Next, take your ticket, put it into this machine that’s a gate area (or Automatic Ticket Gate, usually green) and grab the ticket when it spits it out at the end. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you should watch other people do it. It’s pretty simple.

Now head to your track number. You’ll know which track number you should take by looking at the station names under the number or on the wall. They’ll say which direction that train is heading by giving names of upcoming stations. If you’re going to the aiport you’ll see CITYNAME Kuko… I think… wait behind the white line with arrows pointing to where the train doors will be. When the train arrives let people out and then go in.

( Oh yeah, this information board above also shows the estimated arrival time, and a picture of the train which changes position and reflects it’s progress)

Some tips on riding in the train –

  • Don’t eat or drink in the train.
  • If you have an ipod, turn down the volume so others can’t hear it.
  • If you’re uncomfortable, just stand the whole time.
  • Don’t sit in the designated areas for elderly, pregnant, etc. There’s a sign showing this.
  • Designated areas are in the waiting area for the train as well.


Subway Waiting Seats

You can buy Japanese Subway maps here! If you need additional help, you can call the Japan Railways’s English-language telephone service at 03-3423-0111 or visit their website.
Operation time can vary. Usually early morning to late at night (something like 5:30am – 11:30pm). And the time between trains can run 3-4 minutes during rush/peak times and 4-9 minutes during the off peak times.

Fares usually depend on distance travelled. You can expect to spend 200-400 Yen one way. Here’s an example fare chart:

  • 200 Yen – 0 – 3 km
  • 250 Yen – 3 – 7 km
  • 290 Yen – 7 – 11 km
  • 320 Yen – 11- 14 km
  • 360 Yen – 14+ km

You can also buy prepaid cards and 1-Day passes. A one day pass can cost as little as 600 yen, or up to 1600 yen for the Tokyo super duper combo all transport one day pass. (Don’t ask for a super duper combo, I made that name up).

You can get a map of the Tokyo subway system here (like the 1st picture I posted)
You can get a subway map of Fukuoka here
If you’re looking for a different city, I recommend searching google using a phrase similar to “CITYNAME japan metro subway map” or visiting UrbanRail.net

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21 thoughts on “Taking the Subway in Japan

  1. That map is crazy confusing and the emergency button is a great idea! I live in an area where subways don’t exist… So it’s all new to me! Great photos!

  2. Jyankee – I’ve seen the traffic get crazy. And then there’s the driving down a side street you can barely fit on, and then you have to find parking. You’re brave!

    Talina – Thanks for the comment. That’s the map from Tokyo. Luckily I am taking the subway in Fukuoka which you can see on the third picture. At first it was pretty different to me, but now it’s cake especially after seeing the Tokyo map. Insane!

  3. Great guide! Also, if you are unsure of the fare, just buy the lowest amount. Then when you reach the destination, you can use the ticket fare adjustment machine to add the correct amount.

  4. Its a hell of a lot cleaner than my subway. The New York subway often smells of urine. But at two bucks a ride, what do you expect? Cocktails and showgirls?

  5. Kali – Cocktails and showgirls? That made me laugh. So far most places in Japan are a lot cleaner that what I’ve seen in the U.S.

  6. Thanks for all the links and pictures Steve! I’m pretty sure my bf and I aren’t going to have any cars and what not so subs sound like the awesome way to go, I’ll definitely check out the links and learn more about it! Oh and btw…the machines aren’t in English are they…

    Somehow…I have a fear of wasting money trying to get the right ticket or getting to the wrong place and getting lost haha

  7. Emily – There’s enough English to get around I think. Also it’s easy to not waste money if you know where you are and where you’re going. By each destination it shows how much you should spend on a ticket.

  8. Well I certainly hope so haha. Thanks for your help Steve I’ll look more into it as our move gets closer

  9. Hi Steve, Finally got down to sending you another note. Survived the subways. I cheated actually. I got myself a 2D Metro pass for unlimited rides. I found myself getting on the train going the opposite direction many times and the card saved me lots! Your tips on taking notes was really handy, esp when I couldn’t find the English fare charts. No problem about paying too little as there are those fare adjust machines around. Looking forward to visiting Japan again soon.

  10. Maxie – That’s great! The unlimited pass is excellent. I’d be interested in paying a monthly fee for unlimited rides if it was a decent price. I’m glad you didn’t get lost.

  11. 2 of us will be in Japan as follows:
    April 2, 3, 4, 5 Tokyo
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Osaka

    Following daytrips from Osaka:
    April 07 Hiroshima & Mayajima Island
    08 Himeji Castle
    09 Kyoto
    10 Nara
    We will purchase 7 day Japan Rail Pass; I think. What do you think? Are there any guides in each city to act as a guide for the most famous sights?

    Please advise.

    [email protected]

  12. Hello;
    I was in japan many yaers ago for 1 year .some times whene I used metro I did,nt
    pay for it ,so I do,nt have good feeling about it .Now .How can pay for it …….Thanks

  13. If you’re freaked out from this article, don’t worry about it. I was in Japan when I was 16 by myself for months and no Japanese and I figured this all out within a day or so. I remember mostly using prepaid cards and not tickets though. looking back on it I do not remember how it worked at all but i remember never stressing about it and easily figuring out how to do it once i was there.

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