All About Japan

A Gamer's Approach to Tokyo's Trains

| Trains , First Time in Japan

Tokyo's train system can be challenging for beginners, with the many lines, stations and companies running the rails. Plus, there's the strict code of manners and the dreaded rush hour. We've found that with all the rules and routes, approaching the city rail like a game makes the adventure much more enjoyable.

Intro Sequence: Tokyo's Train Map

Welcome to the "Tokyo Spider Web," the railway system of the capital of Japan. Within Tokyo's central 23 wards alone, there are several hundred stations, more than 20 train and 13 subway lines, and nine different rail companies running passengers throughout the city. It looks, sounds and feels overwhelming, but because it's so intricate visitors are actually able to explore all the nooks and crannies of Tokyo.

Level One: Individual Railways

In some metropolitan cities, such as Paris and Hong Kong, the city rail is operated by one single company. For Tokyo, it's a different story.

There are nine rail companies, including JR East Japan, Tokyo Metro, Odakyu, Seibu, Tobu and Keisei, to name a few. Each has their own fare system and area of operation.

In order to complete this level and move on, your goal is to find the shortest route to your destination with the lowest possible fare. Be sure to study your map and talk to people—transferring between lines and stations may accomplish your task quicker than taking a roundabout single-company route!

Level Two: Train Manners

Besides aiming for the lowest fare and shortest time, in order to advance to the next round you have to follow the country's train manners.

There's nothing too difficult—mainly, be quiet and mindful. Remember to line up while waiting to board the train, and let other passengers off before scurrying on. Keep your voice to a minimum if you're chatting with a friend and refrain from mobile phone usage on-board. It's pretty straightforward.

If you notice you're the only male in a carriage full of women who are giving you the side-eye, you've stumbled into the "Women-Only" car, which is usually available during rush hour only. The damage you'll take for this mistake won't send you back to Level One, but it'll keep you from advancing. Pay attention to which car you get on!

Boss Battle: Man-in Densha (Full Train)

After completing Level Two, now we are at the boss level: a full train during rush hour!

With about 20 million people commuting via the rail system in the Greater Tokyo Area on a daily basis, rush hour is a sight to behold on the busier lines and stations.

When you go up against a man-in densha (full train), you'll have no personal space during your ride, to the point that a station worker may have to physically push passengers onto the train in order to get the doors to close! Elbows, knees and bags will all jam into you. Your neighbors may have uncomfortable body odor or perfume that makes you lightheaded. The youth next to you may have his music cranked up so loud that you can sing along to it. If you're standing close to the door, you may find yourself getting swept out in a deluge of passengers at the next big station, only to experience the frenzy of boarding again moments later.

But look on the bright side: once you get off at your destination in one piece, you'll feel the sweet relief of winning the "Tokyo Train Game." Won't that be something to write home about to friends and family?

Wherever you're off to, we hope your commute isn't too rough. Good luck!