Tokyo guide: Transportation (part 2)

JR pass, Suica / Pasmo pass, navigating the subways

This is part 2 of my Tokyo Guide. I cover planning and budgeting for a Tokyo vacation in part 1.

JR Train Schedule

Japan Rail (JR) Pass

  1. Should you buy the JR pass? If you are planning to visit both Kyoto and Tokyo, get the JR pass. The trips from Narita Airport -> Tokyo and Tokyo -> Kyoto pays for the pass.
  2. How do I purchase the pass? Buy the pass at least a week in advance from one of the sites the Japanese government has contracted to supply the pass. Budget time for the pass to be shipped. We purchased our passes from here. You will receive a voucher in the mail before you leave for Japan. When you land at the airport, you will redeem the voucher for the actual pass. Instructions as included with your voucher.
  3. Train schedule — — JR rail schedule. You don’t need to check the schedule for transit within Tokyo because a train arrives every 5 minute. Check the schedule for rides to Narita Airport or Kyoto. Google Transit (created by Avichal Garg!) works great in Tokyo.
  4. How to use — The JR pass is a paper voucher. Don’t go through the turnstiles. Instead, walk to the side entrance to show the pass to an attendant. You will need to go through the side entrance to get on and off the train.

What we didn’t know about the JR pass:

  1. Reserved vs. non-reserved — You do not need to reserve a seat to sit in the reserved section with your JR pass. However, be prepared to move to another seat if someone has reserved your seat.
  2. Narita vs Narita Express — The Narita Express is 2x as fast as the normal Narita train when going to the airport. Ask the attendant at the subway station for the express train.

Suica / Pasmo Card

Buy a prepaid Suica or Pasmo train card if you are not getting a JR Pass. Instead of buying a ticket for every train / bus ride, you can add money to this card and tap in and out of the station.

  1. How do I buy a card? There are vending machines at every train station. There is a 500 yen deposit for the card that you are refunded when you leave Tokyo.
  2. How do I use the card? Tap your card when you enter the turnstile, and tap the card when you exit. If you are short on cash, you can use the vending machines by the turnstiles to add additional funding.
  3. What is the difference between the Suica and Pasmo? Both cards are accepted on all trains. Buy the card that you find a kiosk for first.

Subway Etiquette

  1. There is no eating and limited talking on the subways. During morning and evening rush hours, the subways will be extremely crowded. If you are traveling with a stroller, I would avoid taking the subway during the mornings (9–10am) and evenings (6–7pm). Some cars are women only — watching for this sign on the platform:


  1. Take pictures of the destination — Find a picture of the restaurant sign and building you’re visiting. Lots of restaurants have Japanese only signs and are hard to find.
  2. Navigating the subway — Subway signs are in English and Japanese. This is a good guide on navigating the subway. The final destination is listed on the placard and gives you a clue to the direction the train is traveling. Getting to the right platform is half the battle.
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