Using the Tokyo Underground
Using the underground system in Tokyo is easy – even I managed to do it, and it’s much cheaper and faster than using taxis. It is the cleanest underground system I’ve ever encountered, and although it’s sensible to keep valuables hidden, I saw local people with phones shoved into back pockets and purses at the top of bags, so I’m guessing there is very little crime.
It’s much easier if there are two of you, as stations have lots of signs, and it takes time to read them all. One of you can check for arrows, showing which side you are meant to walk/queue/wait, and the other can read the less important ones about which platform and trains you need.
First of all, find a map, and work out which station you want to visit. I can’t read Japanese, but all the signs were also in English, so it wasn’t a problem. The map is topological, like the London underground (so the stations are shown in the right order, but the distances aren’t to scale). The stations are shown on coloured lines, and you need to know the names of the lines you want to travel on. You also need to know which direction you want, so take note of the final station on the line. This is all shown on maps, which are available at stations and displayed on walls.
You then need a ticket. Find an automatic ticket machine. Nearby will be a list of all the stations, in alphabetical order, and next to them, the price of a ticket. Find the station you are aiming for, and remember the number next to it.
Go to the ticket machine. Press the button for ‘international languages’ and touch the English button. Then press to ‘buy a ticket’ and select the price (which you have remembered from the previous sign).
Then put in your money. Take your change, and the ticket.
You then need to use the overhead signs to find the correct line. To enter the platform, you put your ticket into the machine – which snatches it in quite a fierce way and then spits it out for you to collect when you’re through the barrier.
You need to know which direction you’re travelling in, and follow the signs to the correct platform.
One thing to be careful of, is that some trains have ‘women only’ carriages. The position of these is marked by signs on the platform. I noticed a sign, and helpfully told some European-looking tourists, so they knew not to enter those carriages. Husband afterwards told me that the restriction only applies at certain times, and I had moved the tourists on unnecessarily. But I’m hoping they never realise that.