Written by MATCHA_En
Tokyo's Railway Network Explained - Trains, Subway And Discount Passes
In addition to JR (Japan Railway) lines, there are several other railways operating in the Tokyo area, including the underground lines of Tokyo Metro and Toe Subway. Find out what are the convenient discount passes that each of them issues.
The Main JR Lines in the Tokyo Area
There is a total of 36 lines run by JR East (*1) in the Tokyo area, connecting the various areas of the city, the suburban areas, and the cities in the neighboring prefectures.
We will introduce here the main lines and the ones that may be of particular interest to visitors from abroad.
*1 JR East is the JR branch that covers the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Yamanashi), the Tohoku region (Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Akita, Iwate, Aomori) and the so-called Shin'etsu region (encompassing Niigata and Nagano).
The Yamanote Line is a loop around the center of the city, connecting Tokyo Station with areas such as Akihabara, Ueno, Nippori, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinagawa.
You can use the Yamanote Line to get to major stations such as Tokyo, Ueno, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Shinagawa, where you can take other lines in order to reach various areas in Tokyo, as well as other cities.
Chuo Line Rapid Service
The Chuo Line connects the areas east of Tokyo (Nishi-Funabashi in Chiba prefecture) with western Tokyo (Tachikawa, Hachioji, Otsuki). Please note that the Chuo Line Rapid Service operates only
express trains, which means that the trains will stop only at major stations and some other stations on the way.
The stations where the Chuo Line Rapid Service trains don't stop are covered by the Chuo Line - Sobu Line (see below).
Chuo Line - Sobu Line (Local Trains)
The Chuo Line - Sobu Line runs between Mitaka in western Tokyo and Chiba Station, which is east of Tokyo in Chiba prefecture. The trains of the Chuo-Sobu Line stop at all the stations between Mitaka and Shinjuku (ex. Kichijoji, Koenji, Nakano), between Shinjuku and Ochanomizu (ex. Yotsuya, Iidabashi, Suidobashi), as well as at Akihabara, Asakusabashi, Ryogoku and other stations on their way to Chiba.
To learn more about the difference between express trains and local trains, please refer to the following article: Get On The Right Train! Explaining Japanese Train Types.
The Keihin-Tohoku Line connects the areas south of Tokyo (Ofuna, Yokohama, Kawasaki) with the stations Shinagawa, Tokyo, and Ueno, going up north to Akabane and Omiya in Saitama prefecture.
Shonan Shinjuku Line
The Shonan Shinjuku Line also traverses Tokyo from south to north, connecting Zushi, Kamakura, and Yokohama (Kanagawa prefecture) with Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Akabane (northern Tokyo), reaching Omiya in Saitama prefecture. From Omiya on, the trains on the Shonan Shinjuku Line will go either toward Maebashi in Gunma prefecture or to Utsunomiya in Tochigi.
Please be aware that the Shonan Shinjuku Line stops only at major stations (the ones mentions above and a few more). This makes it very efficient when you need to travel fast to areas north and south of Tokyo.
The Joban Line connects Ueno and the northeastern areas of Tokyo with Abiko and Narita in Chiba prefecture, and even with cities along the Pacific coast in Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures.
The Tokyo Monorail is a service that connects Hamamatsucho, a station on the Yamanote Line south of Tokyo Station, with Haneda International Aiport. A ride on the Monorail will bring you from Hamamatsucho to Haneda International Airport in less than 20 minutes.
Please note that, while the JR lines are operating mainly surface trains, some of the lines may have direct connections to Tokyo Metro lines. This is the case of the Chuo Line - Tokyo Metro Tozai Line and the Joban Line (Local) - Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line. The JR Rail Pass cannot be used on these lines. The Tokyo Metro network and their convenient passes will be introduced below, in the section on Tokyo's underground railways.
Introduced above are some of the major JR lines that can be used to travel within the Tokyo metropolitan area. For more detailed information on all the lines run by JR East, please refer to the official website of JR East.
The other regional branches of Japan Railways are JR West (operating in the Kansai, Hokuriku and Chugoku areas), JR Central (Nagoya area), JR Hokkaido (operating in Hokkaido), JR Kyushu (operating in the Kyushu region) and JR Shikoku (operating in the Shikoku region).
Remember that all the Shinkansen lines are operated by JR. While the JR Rail Pass can be used on all the JR lines throughout the country, each JR branch offers their own convenient passes and discount tickets, such as the very convenient JR West Rail Pass offered by JR West. For information on discount tickets check the website of the JR branch operating in the region you're visiting.
Taking into account that the JR Rail Pass is valid only on JR lines, if you want to save money while traveling around Japan, purchase a JR Rail Pass and try using mostly JR lines in order to move around.
However, please be aware that many areas within Tokyo and around Japan may not be covered by the JR network. There are many other railways operating both surface trains and underground trains that may bring you directly and faster to your destination. Let's take a look at the major private railways operating in the Tokyo area.