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You Are Here: Riding the Subways in Tokyo

Map in subway
    When you get off the subway in Tokyo, "You Are Here" signs are posted, with a large size map of the station, exits, and surrounding streets. Signs for connecting subway lines are well marked in "romanji" (Western alphabet). The Tokyo subway/trains network is one of the cleanest, most well-organized, speediest systems in the world, and you'll want to use it to get around Tokyo with kids.
      There are two primary subway lines, the Toei and Tokyo Metro Lines. Individual lines are named, abbreviated, and color coded e.g. Ginza (G, orange), Hanzomon (Z, purple), Asakusa (A, pink), Shinjuku (S, green) lines. In addition, there's also the JR train lines, e.g. the Keihin Tohoku line which stops at Tokyo Station and Shinagawa. Private railways, such as the Kaisei line, provide speedy Skyliner service (40 min.) from Narita.
      Buying subway tickets
      To purchase tickets at subway station kiosks – choose the "English" option so you can read the menus. The ticket with most flexibility is the One-Day Open Ticket, with unlimited rides on the two major subway lines (Tokyo Metro and Toei). Additionally, the Tokyo Combination Ticket includes unlimited rides on these subway lines, plus the JR train line (convenient if your hotel is located near a JR station).
      Riding the subways
Subway signs
    Before getting on the subway, be sure to determine the end station direction you're going. For example, are you taking the Ginza line in the direction of Asakusa or Shibuya? (If you make a mistake and go the wrong direction, just get off at the next station, and reverse direction.)
    All subway stops are numbered so it's easy to figure out which station to get off (e.g. "We need to get off at Ueno-Hirokoji, station 15, on the Ginza line"). Also, while riding in the subway car, the next station is usually announced in English, e.g. "The next stop is Nihonbashi."
  Note about connections between stations. For some stations, the connection to a different subway line is very close. For others, it can be some distance - 200 - 400 meters.
      When you're in big stations, such as Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, Otemachi, consult posted maps to determine which exit to use. For example, at Otemachi, if you're going to the Imperial Palace, you'll want to take the C13 exit, and follow the signs (otherwise, in that big station it's easy to get turned around in the labyrinth of tunnels and other exits, which is not what you want).
      Before going to Tokyo, we imagined the morning rush hour would be a crushing stampede as it is in New York City. In our experience, Tokyo subways were crowded, but not impossibly so. People lined up in a very orderly way, didn't run to get on the coming train, or push madly when getting off.
      Subway maps
  Our first look at the Tokyo subway and train map, it seemed like a live octopus. But when we arrived in Tokyo, and started actually riding around, the map made sense, and we used it every day to organize our explorations of Tokyo. Here's several map options:
      Pick up free bi-lingual paper maps of the subway system in the stations, usually near the spot where you buy tickets.
  Before our trip, we bought a copy of the excellent Getting Around Tokyo guidebook with detailed maps of subway stops and city streets. It also has our favorite one-page map of the subway system – so easy to see all the lines and stops.
  Tokyo subway apps are another option, although we didn't find them as useful until we were more familiar with the system.
  Tokyo Metro Subway. Free app with a good map of the system, showing the subway stations, connections, etc. Can also enter start and end destinations, and calculate a route. Only disadvantage, it doesn't display the JR train stations. Enter starting and ending stations, the app will shows connections, duration of ride, different routes, and fare (particularly helpful if you're not using the unlimited rides day ticket). The app is also free.
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