One of the first things I have learned while living in Tokyo was to get around public transportation.
Japan has one of the most amazing but complex public transportation in the world but it takes a little bit of time to get used to. Coming from a little town in Canada here are my tips on how to survive the concrete jungle of Tokyo.
My first survival tip: Getting a public transportation pass
To avoid headaches and fare calculation every time boarding the train, I strongly recommend getting a local pass (Suica or PASMO). Theses pass allows you travel easily throughout most of the public transportation and also lets you to buy soft drink from some vending machines in the hot Japanese summer. You can also use this pass at some convenient store and some family restaurant just like a regular prepaid credit card. The pass is really cheap and is refundable (500yen or approx. 5 U.S Dollars) which can be bought at every station ticket booth.
Photo : Suica(left), PASMO(right)
Photo : Station
Photo : Ticket booth
Photo : Entrance gate
But if you plan on venturing outside of Tokyo in places like Kyoto the land of the Ninja or enjoy the fresh air and hot springs of Nagano, I strongly recommend the JR pass. This pass allows you to instantly use the Bullet Train (Shinkansen) across Japan and a fair amount of Japanese local public transportation lines. This pass gives you the most bangs for your buck and truly is the Japanese dream pass. This ticket is only available for foreigners. You can get this pass at Shinjuku JR Station and is valid for 1 to 3 weeks. It Cost 256 USD for one week and 523 USD for 3 weeks. You can simply show this pass to toll officer to access all JR local lanes. This pass is only available if you order it outside of japan so remember to plan ahead if you want to use this method of transportation. Japan Rail line is the biggest transportation company in japan and while traveling I rarely had to pay extra fare while exploring the countryside.
My second survival tip: Getting navigation Apps
One of the greatest tools that you can add in your survival kit is a great navigation Apps.
If you don’t plan on getting any phone or mobile data, Wi-Fi is accessible in most major stations and convenient store such as 7eleven and Family Mart.
Google Maps is the most common and reliable application for traveling and local directions. Most cellphone provider allows GPS tracking even when your phone is not in service. This makes it a great tool while exploring Tokyo.
Japan travel is a great app for public transportation. I use this application daily. It is not as great as Google Maps because it doesn’t have local maps. But I find this App is more user friendly while using transportation. This App is focused for traveler and lets you prioritize JR and tourist pass to avoid paying extra fare. It is also less power intensive than Google Maps, which use much more battery. The last thing you need while traveling is a dead phone!
Downtown Tokyo can be as disorienting as the Amazon when you are not used to it. Traveling across a forest of skyscrapers, you can easily lose your path. Here are a few tips if you ever have the misfortune of getting lost without a compass.
Most station has information booth but very little people speaks fluent English, Remember to speak slowly or even write down your question. Most Japanese understand or has basic understanding of English but are shy to respond. You can also get help at the local Koban (Police Station) as they are outside of every station. And the Kyugoshitsu at the end of the tracks there is a small cabin if you ever feel any discomfort or questions.
Photo : Koban outside of station
My third survival tip: Useful Japanese phrases
Here is a few survival sentences that I used or wished I knew while exploring japan and hopefully you wont have to use.
Sorry I am lost.
Where is X station?
→XX Ekiwa Doko Desuka?
Where is the Shinakansen?
→Shinkansen Wa Dokodesuka?
Where is the restroom?
→Toilet Wa Doko desuka?
Where can I get Wi-Fi?
→Wi-Fi Wa Doko desuka?
Where is this restaurant?
→Kono Restaurant Wa Doko Desuka?
I lost my traveling companions, can you help me?
→Tomodachi Wo Miushinaimashita, Tasukete Kudasai.
I lost my luggage. Where is the lost and found office?
→Nimotsu Wo Nakushimashita. Doko Ni Todokimasuka?
Can I use Cards here?
→Card Wa Tsukaemasuka?
Can I talk to someone that speaks English please?
→Sumimasenga, Eigo Wo Hanaseruhito Wa Imasuka?
I don’t feel good!
→Kibun Ga Waruidesu.
Let’s have a beer!
And if you feel courageous
Would you marry me?
In conclusion, I have been living in Tokyo for a year now and I have had my fair share of experiences using this system coming from a small town in Eastern Canada I was utterly confused when I first came here. I am now working for pro wrestling and traveling all across japan using what I have learned the hard way and hopefully this article will help you in your adventure.