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The Complete Guide to Tokyo’s Trains & Subways

The Complete Guide to Tokyo’s Trains & Subways

Update: 25 September 2018

Looking at a map of central Tokyo’s train and subway system can seem like looking at a messy ball of yarn. It’s a complicated web of JR East and other private railway companies, including subways – it intertwines seemingly endlessly, making it hard to understand for anyone who’s not a local.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand and confidently navigate Tokyo’s complex train system. Let’s take a look at the number of train lines in Tokyo, what kind of lines there are, which of them are the most convenient for sightseeing, and so on.

Tokyo's Railway Companies

Tokyo's Railway Companies

Japan’s railway can be divided into three categories: JR, subway, and other private railways.
JR stands for “Japan Railway” and once was the national railway but is now a private company. Tokyo’s subway is split into Tokyo Metro operated by Tokyo Metro Co., Ltd. and Toei Subway operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation. Then there are seven private railway companies: Odakyu Electric Railway, Keio Corporation, Keikyu Corporation, Keisei Electric Railway, Seibu Railway, Tokyu Corporation, and Tobu Railway. Additionally, there’s also the Tokyo Monorail that runs between Haneda Airport and Hamamatsucho, the Yurikamome Line that is convenient when going to the Odaiba area, and Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit’s Rinkai Line.
Large stations such as Shinjuku Station, Ikebukuro Station, Tokyo Station, Shibuya Station, and so on are served by multiple lines and allow convenient transfer between the different railway companies without having to leave the station.

Stations Near Popular Sightseeing Spots and Their Lines

Stations Near Popular Sightseeing Spots and Their Lines

A lot of Tokyo’s major sightseeing spots and areas are within walking distance of a station, at least in and around central Tokyo. Some lines even circle such areas conveniently, so take a look at the table below and it might just help you plan a perfect day of sightseeing!

JR East – the Convenient Yamanote Line and Chuo Line

JR East – the Convenient Yamanote Line and Chuo Line

JR East doesn’t only operate the Yamanote Line, Chuo Line, and the Keihin Tohoku Line, but also the Narita Express. While sightseeing in Tokyo, you’ll find yourself using the Yamanote Line quite often. If you plan on going to Tokyo’s suburbs and outer areas, limited express trains are recommended.

JR East: Major Lines and Stops

JR East: Major Lines and Stops

Yamanote Line: a circular line around the city
・The sotomawari (外回り) trains go clockwise, the uchimawari (内回り) trains go counter-clockwise.
・Convenient connection between many main stations, such as Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Ikebukuro Station, and Shibuya Station
・The color of the train is a yellowish green.

Chūō-Sōbu Line: through Tokyo from East to West
・Runs through the center of the Yamanote Line, connecting Tokyo’s east and west.
・The Sōbu Line is yellow and a local train bound for Chiba.
・The Chūō Line is orange and features local, express, and limited express trains.

Tokyo Metro: 9 Subway Lines

Tokyo Metro: 9 Subway Lines

Tokyo Metro almost covers the entire area of Tokyo’s 23 wards with 9 lines. This includes convenient sightseeing lines such as the Marunouchi Line or the Yūrakuchō Line that go around the Imperial Palace, as well as the Hanzōmon Line that takes you to shitamachi (old downtown) areas in the east.
Tokyo Metro also offers the very convenient “Tokyo Metro 24-hour Ticket” for 600 yen, as well as a lot of reasonably priced special tickets in collaboration with other railway companies,

Tokyo Metro: Major Lines and Stops

Tokyo Metro: Major Lines and Stops

Ginza Line: connecting Asakusa and Shibuya
・Passes many downtown areas such as Asakusa, Ueno, and Kanda.
・Great access to Omotesando Station, Shibuya Station, Aoyama Itchome Station, etc.
・Transfer to JR lines at Shibuya Station, Kanda Station, Ueno Station, etc.

Hanzōmon Line: connecting Asakusa and Shibuya
・Goes to Oshiage Station right next to Tokyo Skytree.
・Goes by Shibuya and the north side of the Imperial Palace.
・Also stops at Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station since recently.

Toei Subway – the Convenient Oedo Line and Asakusa Line

Toei Subway – the Convenient Oedo Line and Asakusa Line

Toei Subways operates 4 lines. Especially the Ōedo Line is very handy for sightseeing, as it connects major downtown areas such as Aoyama, Roppongi, and Shinjuku. So is the Asakusa Line, offering excellent access to East Ginza, Nihonbashi, Asakusa, and Tokyo Skytree’s Oshiage.

Toei Subway: Major Lines and Stops

Toei Subway: Major Lines and Stops

Asakusa Line: to Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree
・Great access to Oshiage Station next to Tokyo Skytee.
・Stops at major areas such as East Ginza and Nihonbashi.
・Transfer to JR lines and Tokyo Monorail at Daimon Station after a short walk to Hamamatsuchō Station.

Ōedo Line: to Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree
・Stops at many old downtown areas such as Monzen-Nakachō, Tsukishima, and Ryōgoku.
・The line goes in a 6-shape starting at Shinjuku’s Tochōmae Station.
・Offers access to the Nakano area.

Tokyo Sakura Tram (Tokyo Arakawa Line: the Charming Retro Streetcar

Tokyo Sakura Tram (Tokyo Arakawa Line: the Charming Retro Streetcar

Among Tokyo’s many trams, the Sakura Tram (or Tokyo Arakawa Line) is the only one that remains. It runs between Minowabashi Station north of Waseda University’s Arakawa Campus and Waseda Station in Shinjuku, about 12.2 kilometers in total. The 30 stations are mostly unstaffed, and a single driver handles passengers getting on and off. The tram stops at Kishibojimmae Station close to Kishimojin Temple and Takeyoshi Inari Shrine, Kōshinzuka Station next to Sugamo’s famous Togenuki Jizo (a Buddhist state believed to cure ailments), and at Ōji-ekimae Station near Asukayama Park.

Odakyu Electric Railway – Direct Connection Between Shinjuku and Hakone, Enoshima

Odakyu Electric Railway – Direct Connection Between Shinjuku and Hakone, Enoshima

Odakyu Electric Railway operates 3 lines that all start at Shinjuku Station. The Odawara Line takes you to Odawara, which is the gateway to the popular sightseeing area Hakone, while the Enoshima Line offers direct access to Enoshima. Finally, the Tama Line goes to Tama New Town.
All lines feature local trains, express trains, limited express trains, and so on, but especially convenient for visiting Hakone, Enoshima, and Kamakura is the Limited Express Romancecar. It takes you to Hakone-Yumoto Station in 85 minutes and the seats can be rotated all the way around, perfect for savoring the scenery outside the window.
For exploring the Hakone area thoroughly, the Odakyu Line round-trip ticket called “Hakone Free Pass” is recommended, as it includes 8 different trains, lines, and other transportation, such as the Hakone Tozan Railway, the cable car, the ropeway, sightseeing boats, and so on. (Valid for 2 days from Shinjuku Station, 5,140 yen).

Keio Corporation: to Mount Takao in 47 Minutes

Keio Corporation: to Mount Takao in 47 Minutes

Keio Corporation operates two lines: the Keio Line from Shinjuku and the Keio Inokashira Line from Shibuya.
The Keio Line goes from Shinjuku Station to Chōfu Station and Takahatafudō Station, also stopping at Keio Hachioji Station and Takaosanguchi Station, the station that is closest to the beautiful and popular Mount Takao.
The Keio Sagamihara Line branches off at Chōfu Station and takes you to the closest stations for Yomiuriland, as well as to Keiō-Tama-Center Station, the closest station for Sanrio Puroland.
The Keio Inokashira Line runs between Shibuya Station and Kichijoji Station, also stopping at Shimokitazawa Station and Meidaimae Station. Transfer between the Keio Line and the Keio Inokashira Line is possible at Meidaimae Station. A 1-day ticket is available for is available for 900 yen (450 yen for children) and grants unlimited use of both the Keio and the Keio Inokashira Line. For Mount Takao, there’s the Mt. Takao Discount Ticket that comes in a set with the Mt. Takao One Day Trip*. That deal includes a round-trip from all stations on the Keio and Keio Inokashira Line to Takaosanguchi Station, a round-trip ticket for the Mt. Takao cable car or lift, as well as meals.
Another option is the Keio Amusement Passport that includes a free pass for all rides in one of the amusement park son the Keio lines (Yomiuri Land, Tokyo Summerland, Sanrio Puroland) alongside a one-day train ticket for a great price.

*For the Mt. Takao One Day Trip, reservation on JAPANiCAN.com is required prior to the desired day.

Keikyu Electric Railway: Connecting Haneda Airport and Shinagawa Station

Keikyu Electric Railway: Connecting Haneda Airport and Shinagawa Station

Keikyu Electric Railway’s Keikyū Main Line connects Sengakuji Station in Tokyo’s Minato Ward with Uraga Station at the coast in southeast Kanagawa Prefecture. It is convenient for comfortable access to Kawasaki, Yokohama, Yokosuka, and so on. Within Tokyo, transfer to the Asakusa line is possible at Sengakuji Station, while transfer to JR East’s Yamanote Line is possible at Shinagawa Station.
Next to the main line, the company also operates the Keikyū Airport Line that branches off at Keikyū Kamata Station and takes you to Haneda Airport’s domestic and international terminals. Using the Airport Limited Express (Kaitoku) is the shortest route between Shinagawa and Haneda International Terminal, with only 11 minutes of travel time.

Keisei Electric Railway: Comfortably from Narita Airport to Ueno with the Keisei Skyliner

Keisei Electric Railway: Comfortably from Narita Airport to Ueno with the Keisei Skyliner

Keisei Electric Railway operates several branch lines in northeast Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture, centering on two lines called Keisei Main Line and Narita Sky Access Line, connecting Narita Airport and Ueno. The company is famous for its Keisei Skyliner, a limited express train requiring a special ticket that connects Narita Airport Terminal 2 to several stations. The shortest ride is from Ueno Station with only 41 minutes, but the Skyliner can also be accessed from Oshiage Station, Asakusa Station, Nihonbashi Station, Higashi-Ginza Station, and more. The Narita Sky Access Line to and from Terminal 2 is also convenient for straight access to several sightseeing spots in Tokyo.
Keisei Ueno Station is just a 1-minute walk away from Ueno Station, where transfer to JR’s Yamanote Line or Tokyo Metro’s Ginza and Hibiya Line is possible. The nearby Oshiage Station offers access to Toei Subway’s Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro’s Hanzomon Line, and Tobu Railway’s Tobu Skytree Line.

Seibu Railway: From Ikebukuro and Shinjuku to Chichibu and Kawagoe in Saitama

Seibu Railway: From Ikebukuro and Shinjuku to Chichibu and Kawagoe in Saitama

Seibu Railway’s Ikebukuro Line runs between Ikebukuro Station and Seibu Chichibu Station, stopping at Tokorozawa. The Hajima Line branches off at Kodaira Station on the Shinjuku Line and takes you to Hajima Station in Tokyo’s west. If you want to go to Seibuen Amusement Park, use the Tamako Line. Several branch lines connect Tokyo’s northwest to Saitama Prefecture’s southwest, such as the Sayama Line that runs between Nishi-Tokorozawa Station on the Ikebukuro Line and Seibu-Kyūjō-mae Station, where the MetLife Dome can be found, home to the Saitama Seibu Lions.
Seibu Railway also operates several express trains, including the Red Arrow. One Red Arrow Line runs between Ikebukuro and Seibu-Chichibu, while another connects Seibu-Shinjuku and Hon-Kawagoe. On weekends and national holidays only, there’s also an express train called S-TRAIN between Motomachi-Chūkagai Station (Yokohama’s famous Chinatown) and Seibu-Chichibu Station.

Tokyu Corporation: From Shibuya to South Tokyo

Tokyu Corporation: From Shibuya to South Tokyo

Tokyu Corporation operates 8 lines in total, including the Toyoko Line from Shibuya Station and the Den-en-toshi Line. Especially the Toyoko Line is convenient for sightseers, as it doesn’t only offer a convenient connection between Shibuya and Yokohama but also stops at noteworthy stations in Shibuya and Meguro, including Daikanyama Station, Naka-Meguro Station, Yūtenji Station, or Jiyūgaoka Station.
The Den-en-toshi Line also runs from Shibuya Station to Chūō-Rinkan Station in Kanagawa Prefecture, stopping at stations such as Sangen-Jaya, Komazawa-daigaku, and Futako-tamagawa.

Tobu Railway: Access to Nikkō

Tobu Railway: Access to Nikkō

Tobu Railway offers convenient access from Tokyo’s east to Utsunomiya in Ibaraki Prefecture and Nikkō in Tochigi Prefecture, as well as to Kinugawa Onsen, Isesaki in Gunma Prefecture, and more.
The company’s main line is the Isesaki Line connecting Oshiage Station and Asakusa Station to Isesaki Station but also the Tōbu Tōjō Line and several branch lines including the Noda Line, the Sano Line, and the Kiryū Line. From Tōbu-Dōbutsu-Kōen Station (Tobu Zoo), the Nikkō Line takes you to the world heritage of Nikkō. The limited express train “Revaty Kegon” from Asakusa Station takes you to Tōbu Nikkō Station within 1 hour and 47 minutes at the shortest. There’s also the limited express “Revaty Kinu,” boasting 2 hours to Kinugawa-Onsen Station. Additionally, the Tōbu Tōjō Line from Ikebukuro Station to Yorii Station in Saitama’s northwest is the shortest way to get to Kawagoe.

Tokyo Monorail: Quick Access from Haneda Airport to Central Tokyo

Tokyo Monorail: Quick Access from Haneda Airport to Central Tokyo

Tokyo Monorail connects Japan’s gate to the world, Haneda Airport, to Hamamatsuchō Station. The regular “Local Train” monorail that stops at every station takes 17 minutes in total, while the “Haneda Express” only takes 13 minutes to and from the International Terminal. Monorail Hamamatsuchō Station is connected to JR’s Hamamatsuchō Station and offers convenient transfer to the Yamanote Line and the Keihin-Tōhoku Line. It’s also possible to access the nearby Daimon Station with a 5-minute walk, which is served by Toei Subway’s Oedo Line and Asakusa Line.

Yurikamome: to the Odaiba Area

Yurikamome: to the Odaiba Area

The Yurikamome Line (officially called the Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line) crosses Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge and takes you to the bay areas such as Odaiba and Ariake. It is entirely controlled by computers and gently glides along on rubber0tired wheels, making for a particularly smooth riding experience. It runs about 15km between Shinbashi and Toyosu Station – at Shinbashi Station, transfer to and from several JR lines, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, and Toei Subway’s Asakusa Line, while Toyosu Station is also served by Tokyo Metro’s Yūrakuchō Line.

Rinkai Line: Direct Access to Odaiba from Shinjuku

Rinkai Line: Direct Access to Odaiba from Shinjuku

This line serves about 12km between Ōsaki Station in Shinagawa and Shin-Kiba Station in the Koto Ward. It serves many stations in the Tokyo waterfront area, such as Shinagawa Seaside Station, Tennōzu Isle Station, Tokyo Teleport Station (Odaiba), and Kokusai-Tenjijō Station. A large part of the line is underground, so there’s no view to be enjoyed, but the mutual operation with Jr’s Saikyo Line and Kawagoe Line allow direct access to Odaiba from major stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro without having to transfer.

Summary

Tokyo’s railway network is complicated and hard to figure out, even for Japanese people. With careful planning and an active search for the optimal route, however, it is also ridiculously convenient, and each company features several deals and day tickets to make your Tokyo adventure even better! With a bit of planning and research, getting around in Tokyo will be no issue at all!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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