Getting around Tokyo with the JR Pass: Metro, trains and more

Shinjuku ward in Tokyo

Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is the most densely populated metropolitan city in the world, home to nearly 40 million people. The Tokyo Metropolis, as the area is officially known, spans nearly 850 square miles (nearly 2,200 square kilometers). Tokyo enjoys a rich cultural history, as it has been the seat of government in Japan since the year 1603.  Tokyo is comprised of twenty-three wards, each operated as an individual city.

Getting around in a city of this size – especially as an international traveler – may at first seem intimidating. However, Tokyo’s public transportation system, which includes airports, trains, buses, taxies, and pedestrian traffic – has been designed operate smoothly. With your Japan Rail Pass in hand and with the help of this travel guide, you will soon be navigating the streets and stations of Tokyo like a pro.

Major Tokyo train stations

Tokyo is densely laced with railway lines, and most major lines make stops in this city. As such, Tokyo houses a large number of railway stations.

The main hubs in Tokyo include:

  • Akihabara Station, located in Tokyo’s so-called “Electric City,” one of the largest stations in Tokyo, served by all three major JR lines.
  • Ikebukuro Station, in the north-western side, served by the Yamanote loop line and also the Narita Express.
  • Shibuya Station, connecting the Shibuya ward with the Yamanote loop line and private railways and subways.
  • Shinagawa Station, in the southern downtown area, connecting to the Tokaido Shinkansen.
  • Shinjuku Station, busiest train station in the world, connecting most JR and private lines, serving more than 3.5 million passengers daily.
  • Tokyo Station, served by the shinkansen high-speed rail lines, local JR lines, and with number of authentic restaurants on its internal Kitchen Street
  • Ueno Station, in the northern downtown area and served by Shinkansen lines going north of Tokyo.
Tokyo Station view
Tokyo Station, near the Ginza district is the main intercity rail terminal

JR lines in Tokyo

The JR Pass affords access to five different Tokyo railway lines. You can reach Tokyo via many of Japan’s Shinkansen lines. Within the city, the Tokaido Shinkansen makes stops at Shinagawa, Ueno, and Tokyo Stations.

  • The Yamanote Line is the most prominent rail line in Tokyo. The Yamanote is a 21.5 mile (34.5 kilometer) loop line which passes through Tokyo’s various city centers and numerous stations, including Tokyo, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and Shibuya Stations. Riding the entire Yamanote Line takes around one hour, thus allowing you to quickly view different parts of the city.
  • The Keihin-Tohoku Line runs parallel to the eastern side of the Yamanote, and can be accessed from Tokyo, Ueno, and Shinagawa Stations. On the western side, the Yamanote is complemented by the Saikyo Line.
  • The Rapid Chuo Line intersects the Yamanote line. It can be accessed from Tokyo and Shinjuku Stations. The train runs every two and half to four minutes, and as a rapid service, stops only at Yotsuya, Ochanomizu, and Kanda during peak hours.
  • The local Chuo-Sobu line also crosses the Yamanote, with a slower but very handy service for tourists. This line services both east and west Tokyo, from Chiba to Mitaka, passing through Akihabara, Yoyogi and Shinjuku Stations. Ryogoku Station can be reached from this line, providing access to the Kokugikan Sumo tournament arena.
  • Other metropolitan lines that circulate on the outskirts of the city are the JR Keiyo, Musashi, Nambu and Yokohama lines. Don’t forget to check the complete train maps of Tokyo and its area in our Japan maps section!
La línea Yamanote junto a la estación de Ueno (Tokio)
The Yamanote line passes by Ueno Station

Airport transfers with the JR Pass

Tokyo is home to two airports, the Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. Both airports handle international and domestic flights, making the airplane a convenient means of travel in and out of Tokyo.

  • The Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport departs from Hamamatsucho Station, on the Yamanote line. Travel time to the terminal is 13 minutes from this station.
  • The Narita Express connects to the Narita Airport via Shinjuku Station.

Your Japan Rail Pass is valid on both airport trains.

Non-JR lines

The rest of the 13 Tokyo subway lines that run in and around the Yamanote line are operated by companies other than JR East. While the metro lines do no accept the JR Pass, other IC Cards, such as the Pasmo and Suica, may be used. These cards give you access to almost any train or bus in Tokyo.

Other ways of getting around Tokyo

While the rail lines are the fastest, most efficient, and most reliable means of getting around Tokyo, other methods of travel are available for your convenience.

The city of Tokyo is crisscrossed by a network of city buses routes. In Tokyo, buses require a flat rate fee of ¥210. You can use an IC Card on most city buses.

Taxis are plentiful in Tokyo. Each taxi can handle up to four passengers, and most accept credit cards. Be sure to write down your destination for the driver. If you have access to the location name in Japanese, this is ideal, as many drivers do not speak English. Taxis, however, can be expensive compared to other public transportation when traveling long distances.

Walking and biking

As Tokyo is a large city, walking is not an ideal means of transportation. What looks like a short distance on a map – for example, from Ginza to Shibuya – may often become an hours-long walk. The exceptions are the areas around Akihabara and Ginza, which on Sundays are designated as pedestrian zones.

Shibuya crossing (Tokyo)
Shibuya crossing in the afternoon

As an alternative to walking, you might consider renting a bicycle. If you do so, however, be aware of traffic laws and the presence of steep, hilly terrain.

Whether you choose to travel by train, bus, taxi, or on foot, you are now equipped to successfully navigate the teeming metropolis known as Tokyo!

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24 thoughts on “Getting around Tokyo with the JR Pass: Metro, trains and more”

  1. If I have a JR Pass and wish to use the JR lines within Tokyo (such as the Yamanote and Chuo lines), how do I get a ticket that will let me onto the train? Do I need to visit the JR ticket office each time or can I show my JR Pass at the platform gate?

    1. Hi Nick!

      You don’t need to go to the JR ticket office each time you plan to board a train. Once your voucher is exchanged and that you have the actual Japan Rail Pass you just need to go to the designed gate and show your pass to the staff.

      Have a nice trip!

  2. I arrive Narita airport at 4.30pm Oct 10 and plan to depart on Oct 19 at 4pm same airport. I purchase a 7 days JR rail pass and can only activate the pass on Oct 13 so it will last till the last dat of departure. Since my arrival time is late afternoon I plan to spend 2nites in Tokyo, can you please recommend which is the most economical transport to ride from Narita airport into Tokyo?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Kim!

      The easiest way would be the Narita Express, fully included in the Japan Rail Pass. However there are many other options that take a little longer but at a lower price, please check Narita Airport’s website for further detail.

      Enjoy your trip!

  3. Is activation of the JR pass based on the day of activation or a 24 hour time period. Specifically, if I activate my JR pass on Nov 24th at 4p, can I use the pass until Nov 30th at 11:59p or until 4p on that day?

    1. Hi Eric!

      The Japan Rail Pass validity period is calculated in days, not in hours. Therefore, if you have purchased a 7-day pass and your activation date (when you first use the pass) is the 24th of November, the exact expiration time will be midnight on November 30th.

      What this implies is that if you plan to take a late night train during your last validity day, you will be able to do so as long as your train leaves before midnight. Your JR Pass will be valid until the end of the journey.

      Happy travels!

  4. for the 7 days JR Pass, we want to activate it on by 12:00 PM (noon) on October 6 so we can still use them on October 13 before 11:00 AM?

    1. Hello Anna,

      The Japan Rail Pass validity period is calculated in days, not in hours.
      Therefore, if you have purchased a 7-day pass and your activation date (when you first use the pass) is October 6th, the exact expiration time will be midnight on October 12th.
      What this implies is that if you plan to take a late night train during your last validity day, you will be able to do so as long as your train leaves before midnight.
      Your JR Pass will be valid until the end of the journey.

      Hope this helps.
      Have a very nice trip to Japan!

  5. Hi there’
    I will be in Tokyo from October 20th – October 22nd staying near the Tsukiji Fish Market as I intend to watch the tuna auction in action. Another of my planned itinerary will be to travel from the Tsukiji Fish Market area to Narita to visit the Narita-san Temple as well as to savour Kawatoyo Honten’s unagi.

    May I know how do I travel from Tuskiji Fish Market Area to Narita using my JR Rail Pass?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi there,

      To go from the Tsukiji Fish Market, in Tokyo, to Narita city you need to take The Narita Express, also known as N’EX. This limited express train service is fast, reliable and punctual, and you can ride it for free with your Japan Rail Pass. N’EX trains take approximately 1 hour to get from and to Tokyo Station and the service operates 27 trains daily. For more information about travel times and schedules , have a look at our blog.

      Have a safe trip!

  6. Thank you for the information. Please also advise how do I travel from the Tsukiji Fish Market area to Tokyo Station with the JR Rail Pass. If the JR Rail Pass could not be used, which other rail pass do I need to purchase and which station in Tsukiji Fish Market area should I start my journey. As this is the first time I am travelling to Tokyo, I am unsure of how to move around.
    Thank you.

    Yip TM

    1. Hi there,

      You can get to Tokyo station by metro wich is the fastest way (13 minutes)
      From the Tsukiji Fish Market walk for 5 minutes to the Tsukiji Station and take the Hibiya Line to the Ginza station.
      Once there, you need to do a transfer to the Marunouchi Line. After 2 minutes without any stop, you will reach the Tokyo station.
      The price will be 170 JPY aproximilly

      Hope this helps you

      Have a nice trip

      Kind regards

    1. Hi there!

      The JR Pass is not valid on the Rinkai line so you will have to pay the ticket prices for that part of your trip.
      If you have more doubts, please contact us or check on our website about using your Japan Rail Pass

      Hope it helps 🙂

      Regards

  7. Hi JRail Pass

    I am arranging my boss trip to Tokyo early November ( 2 – 6 Nov 2017) and wish to get clearer information concerning to JR Pass. He will traveling from Tokyo ( arrival not sure yet either from Narita Airport or Haneda Airport ) to Osaka and wish to use train. He will take train again to Tokyo from Osaka few days later to catch his return flight.

    Looking for best advise , He can buy the ticket from the machine located at station or it way better i purchase from him JR Pass for his usage during his Tokyo – Osaka trip ?

    1. Hi Ida!

      It will depend on the usage he makes of the Japan Rail Pass: since it covers trips through the whole country it would be more cost effective the more he travelled. We would advice you to check at Hyperdia the cost of the individual trips and compare it to the cost of the Japan Rail Pass to assess which ticket is more adequated to your boss’ scheduled trips.

      Hope you enjoy Japan!

  8. Hi there,
    Could you please advise me on the following:

    1. From Narita Station, I would like to travel to Asakusa to visit the Sensoji Temple as well as the Tokyo Skytree? May I know if I could travel to this places using only the JR Rail Pass or do I need to connect through other subway lines? If that is so, may I know which subway line should I use and at which stations should I transfer?

    2. I also intend to to travel from the Tsukiji Fish Market area to the Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, visit the Meiji Jungu Shrine and finally to Shinjuku. From the write-up of the JR Yamanote Line, I get the impression that I could travel to these places using only the JR Pass?Please advise if I am correct.

    Thank you.

    Regards,

    Yip TM

    1. Hi Yip!

      There is no JR station in Asakusa and hence there is no way of arriving by only using your Japan Rail Pass. You can use the pass to travel to the Ueno Station from Tokyo Station in the Yamanote line and there take the Tokyo Metro in Ginza line to Asakusa (not covered by the Japan Rail Pass). Asakusa is the last station of the line.

      You can get to Tsukiji Fish Market by only using your Japan Rail Pass: you just need to travel on the Yamanote line to Shinbasi and walk around 20 minutes. To visit the Tokyo Tower you can also use the Yamanote line, fully included in the Japan Rail Pass: station is Hamamatsucho. In the same JR Line you have Shibuya and Shinjuku stations, that will get you to those vibrant areas. Last but not least, the Meji Jungu Shrine is located just beside the JR Yamanote Line’s Harajuku Station.

      Have an amazing trip!

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