An excellent public transport system offers the best means of getting around in Tokyo. There's a dense network of interconnected rail and subway lines as well as extensive bus routes, so reaching anywhere in the city is easy, although navigating the system can be confusing for new arrivals.
Public transport can be extremely crowded during rush hour and long commutes to work are common. But most expats agree that having to deal with crowds is well worth the efficiency and convenience of Japan's public transport system.
Public transport in Tokyo
Tokyo’s railway system is the most popular means of getting around the city. There's an extensive rail network, mostly operated by JR East, alongside several other privately operated lines. The circular Yamanote Line, sometimes referred to as the 'Loop Line', is the main rail line in the city and serves most major stations within the city limits.
Station names are usually marked in both Japanese and English, which makes it easier for expats still finding their way around the city. Trains are usually punctual and efficient.
Tokyo’s subway system is extensive, efficient and well connected to the train system. Route maps and fare charts are available in English at each station.
The subway system operates within the Yamanote Line. It also extends beyond the city limits with direct connections to other private train lines, making it a convenient mode of transport in Tokyo.
Bus services aren't as frequent as trains but are convenient if needing to reach parts of Tokyo not accessible by rail. Buses can also be used for long-distance services outside of Tokyo. There are many different bus operators in Tokyo, with Toei buses being the most prominent.
Taxis in Tokyo
Taxis in Tokyo are plentiful but are an expensive option, though they can be useful if travelling late at night when most other public transport options cease operating. Taxi drivers might not speak English so it’s a good idea to have one’s destination written in Japanese for the driver. It isn't necessary to tip the driver. Taxi doors open and close automatically so don’t attempt to operate the door manually – something that may take a while to get used to.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber are operational in the city, but can be more expensive and scarcer than regular taxis.
Driving in Tokyo
Owing to the city’s excellent public transport system, it's unlikely that expats will require a car for getting around in Tokyo. If anything, it can be more of a hassle to drive in Tokyo; navigating the city in a car can be especially difficult due to heavy traffic congestion and the confusing mass of narrow streets, which aren't always clearly marked.
Those who do wish to drive will generally need an international drivers' permit, at least initially, though nationals of certain countries may use their licence from home as long as they have it officially translated into Japanese. To obtain a permanent Japanese licence, practical and written tests may be necessary.
Cycling in Tokyo
Although cycling is popular in Tokyo, amenities for cyclists aren't extensive and traffic congestion can add to the danger. Many cyclists simply ride along the sidewalk as cycle lanes aren't common in the city – so pedestrians should watch where they are going as accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists are common in Tokyo.
►Learn more about getting around in the country in Transport and Driving in Japan
"A car is not necessary in Tokyo though with children they can be a significant benefit." Read more of Jonathan's thoughts on expat life in Tokyo.
"The railway networks connect you to virtually any point in Japan you can imagine." Read about Joan's expat experiences in Tokyo.
Are you an expat living in Tokyo?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Tokyo. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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