The Tokyo train system can be very intimidating to a newcomer, but it’s not that bad when armed with the right tools. There are two train systems, the above ground lines and the underground lines (subway). I was terrified the first time I saw the train system maps below! But, don’t spend too much time with the maps, the best way to navigate is with a smart phone.
There are many apps to choose from, but my favorite is called Hyperdia. (**TIP- Just google Hyperdia.com on your phone and bookmark it rather than buy the app. It’ll save you money and I actually found the app not as efficient.) Then follow a few easy steps.
***TIP- See under the Tachikawa station where it says “special rapid”? This is a faster train that does not make as many stops, so your travel time to Shinjuku will only take about 35 minutes. There is also a “rapid” which is not quite as fast, and then the “local” line, which will make every stop on the line. This will add at least 15 minutes to your trip.
When you enter the station, you will need to know where you are going in order to buy the correct fare. This is where having a Suica card comes in handy becuase the signs are not always in English. (Learn how to buy a Suica card here: http://yokotatravel.com/how-to-buy-a-suica-card/)
Enter through the turn style and proceed to the platform.
Now, its time to wait.
Look for the electronic sign above, it switches between Japanese and English and will tell you if you are waiting in the right place. It also indicates if it is a Special rapid, rapid, or local train.
When you reach your destination, look for the map near the exit and it will tell you landmarks in the area, and also which exit to take to get you where you’re going. Some of the train station’s are massive, so this is really helpful.
And, that’s about it! The best way to get started is to JUST DO IT! Plan a trip that is nearby, like Tachikawa, and go for it. The more you challenge yourself, the easier it will become. Also, don’t hesitate to ask people for help, you will usually always find someone with enough English to point you in the right direction. And if you miss a train? No worries, another one will be along in a few minutes. Now, get out and see something! Jamie Cowan, July 2015