Trains. There are lots of them in Tokyo. And by that, I mean LOTS (= so many that you can only get your point across by implying that you are shouting the exact same word you used in the previous sentence to emphasize it – because that’s how language works)! Generally speaking, that’s a great thing because a good rail system means that traveling about by using only public transportation is totally doable. However, this rather good train network, well, networks, also comes with disadvantages: primarily, the the-duck-and-I-will-get-lost-factor is instantly multiplied by ten (minimum). Well, getting lost frequently at least gives the duck more chances to pose for photos because the world really needs to know what the duck looks like, elaborately
reading looking at a station map.
There are so many things to be said about the Tokyo train system, but in order to not write another exhaustive blog post about transportation, I am going to focus on only a few things that we have noticed so far (well, I tried):
So many options, so little money
Before we arrived, I knew a few things about traveling around central Tokyo and how there are different networks. But my experience was restricted to Tokyo Metro, the occasional JR (Japan Rail) train, and the Tokyo Monorail to get to (the lovely and convenient) Haneda Airport. Yet there are far more train operators than that: the Odakyu Electric Railway, the Tama Toshi Monorail, and Seibu Railway, just to name a few. “So what?” you might think, “I don’t mind using different operators to get from A to B.” And we wouldn’t, either… if it wasn’t for that one little arrangement which makes you pay for each leg individually if you change operators. Imagine, after having had a great time enjoying the view from Tokyo Skytree, you have the sudden urge to go on the Tower of Terror at DisneySea: You board the Metro, change onto another Metro line, then exit through the Tokyo Metro ticket gates, pay your fare for that part of the journey, enter through the JR ticket gates and begin a separate journey that leads you to the magical doors of Disney. If you do that multiple times it can get pretty expensive because you always pay at least the base fare whenever you switch to a new operator, no matter how short the journey is. In this situation, for example, it is cheaper to take the first route that Hyperdia (when it was still working) suggests here:
As you can imagine, the duck and I, being our stingy selves, always plan out our journeys meticulously (using several journey planning sites and apps) to find the cheapest fare humanly (or duckly) possible, even if that means changing trains seventeen times and walking a few extra miles to reach our destination. And this is the root of our getting lost problem. On our house(s) viewing day, we came equipped with a batch of printed-out and translated train connection tables (thank you, Mr. S!) supplemented by a multitude of screenshots of even more optional connections – and we still managed to get ourselves into a moment of confusion when the name of the train we had gotten onto did not match the one on our lists even though it seemed to be going in the right direction. So, we got off, confusedly wandered around the station, checked one of the station maps, and tried again (to this day, I do not know whether we were on the right train). At that time, we were not worried about not reaching our destination but that taking the wrong train possibly meant having to change operators somewhere along the line, hence *gasp!* having to pay an extra 150 yen or so.
To the cost (and time) conscious people, I recommend getting an IC card (either Pasmo or Suica, both work fine in Tokyo) because on top of being able to conveniently touch your card at the gates before you enter/exit a station, you also get to save a few yen compared to the single ticket fare with some operators! Make sure that the gates actually register your card, though. Once, on my solo travels without the duck, I did not touch my card correctly when I entered the JR station coming from the Metro. At my destination, a small station outside Tokyo, the station attendant charged me for the whole journey (including the Metro part, which my card actually had registered) because, well, I couldn’t communicate my problem properly in Japanese. Learn from my mistakes (or speak better Japanese than I do)!
Writing of Japanese: Even though you might not be able to read the information on the trains themselves, station maps usually come with roman letter subtitles and, once in a while, the information displays change to (in my case) “Wow, I can actually read all of this!”. They also tell you whether the next train is going to be local, semi-express, express, or one of the many other versions that exist; each has the same destination, but some might leave out some of the stops (increasingly more going from local to limited express). So, with a combination of an online planner, station map, information display, and luck (or talent), you can plan out your journey and reach your destination as quickly as possible and/or more cheaply.
Bonus note: Sometimes there are trains that turn into other trains. This had me completely confused in the beginning. But, basically, this just means that instead of getting off at the terminal station, you can stay on the train and continue your journey if the train happens to change into the one you would have changed onto, anyway. Those are the best!
Anyway, this post is getting rather long and extensive again, despite my promise. Thus, I’ll cut it short right here… so that you can enjoy many more posts about trains in the future.