TRANSPORT WITHIN TOKYO
In Japan, even within a single city you’ll find a number of different privately-run train lines. There will often be times where you need to not only switch trains but switch rail companies altogether. This is entirely normal for Japan residents but visitors from other parts of the world, which have their metro systems all run by a single company, are often surprised.
When switching train companies in the midst of the route you will have to pay for two tickets. Unfortunately, there are no universal train passes to help you save money. The JR rail pass will allow you to ride the JR trains for free but it won’t be of any use when you need to use the subway or the Odakyu Line, for example.
When travelling around Tokyo or other major cities, it’s recommend to buy an IC card such as Suica or Pasmo. Understand, however, that these will not save you any money – only time. You can charge your card with cash and then when switching train lines you can use your card without having to buy individual tickets every time.
Even if you buy a Suica card at a JR station, it will still work at stations and on train lines run by other companies, and most IC cards work all over Japan! Furthermore, they’ll often work on local buses.
Japanese trains are known for their punctuality. An excellent free resource for looking up train schedules is the web site hyperdia.com. You’ll not only learn the exact route you should take but also the exact minute you’ll arrive at your destination.
Taxis are absolutely everywhere around Tokyo and other large Japanese cities. With the exception of during a typhoon, you’ll rarely have a hard time catching one. Just keep in mind that Japanese taxis are some of the most expensive in the world.
For many years, Tokyo taxi rides had a starting price of around ¥700, with Osaka fares being slightly cheaper. From the beginning of 2017, starting fares in Tokyo were reduced to around ¥400. Not too many people are celebrating the news, though, as passengers will now get charged more than previously the longer they travel. Only those taking short trips will save any money with the new change, while longer trips will end up being more expensive than they used to.
With all that in mind, I do not recommend taking taxis in Japan unless you really need to. There are much better transport options out there.
Ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft have been slow to take off in Japan, a large part in thanks to the powerful taxi lobby’s efforts to keep them out. But the vacation rental apartment industry was the same way until it practically exploded overnight. With that in mind, it’s likely only a matter of time until ridesharing services suddenly become huge.
Tokyo and other major Japanese cities have comprehensive bus systems. The destination names, however, are often displayed on the timetables and on the buses themselves in kanji only. And a bus ride can typically take twice as long as the same train ride. Therefore, getting around the cities by bus is not strongly recommended. If you happen to be near a convenient bus stop, though, you might as well hop on.