Friday, July 07, 2006

Tokyo Travel Notes #2

Commuting in Tokyo
A hallmark of any city is sometimes known by how easy and safe it is for foreigners and tourists to get around the city. Tokyo would easily score very high on this front.

Tokyo perhaps has the best public transportation system in the world. Tokyo is one of the most populated cities yet their Subways, Buses & Taxis are simply the best each complementing the other.

It might take a little while to understand the system particularly with the language challenge but the entire is system is kind of 'idiot proof', so we can put our arms around it relatively easy. Once you do, you will start to love the system, it is cheaper, comfortable and convenient.

Commuting To /From the Airport
Tokyo Airport (NRT) is pretty far from the city (like Chengalpattu to Chennai) and the best way to get in and out of the NRT is by Airport Limousine Bus. They are frequent and ply through out the day. It took me 75 minutes and JPY 3000 to reach my hotel in the heart of the city. Taxis and Trains are also available but they are not as convenient and cheaper like the Bus.

So, use the Airport Limousine Bus from / to NRT. They are punctual, convenient and comfortable and ply to most of the places in the City.

Airport Limousine Bus stop @ NRT
Clearly marked stops @ NRT for Airport Limousine Buses

Tokyo Taxis
Within the city, Taxis are ubiquitous and easy to engage. They are clean, comfortable and most importantly ply by meter (A huge relief for anyone from Chennai.)

Sometimes, you might have a problem if you just know the English name of the place you are going. It is advisable to also have the Japanese name handy while engaging Taxis particularly if you are venturing without any of your local hosts.

Most of the Taxi's have GPS and are high tech.
All of the Taxis I engaged were hi-tech. They had GPS, credit card swiping system, printer, device radio contact and more....

Taxi Line near my hotel
Taxis form a line at their designated places and wait for their turn. Taxi Drivers stay INSIDE the car.

Tokyo Subways & Trains

Tokyo simply has one of the most comprehensive metro system anywhere in the world. Tokyo had a decent train system before the second world war but has grown leaps and bounds after the war in the last 40+ years.

Waiting for the train near Amagi
a Train station near Amagi, about 2 1/2 hours from Tokyo Central.

Tokyo Subway has many lines (I counted at least 7) and they cris-cross each other all several level under the ground. The underground maze is a world in itself and it is important to know the exit # to the real world. Otherwise, you would end up on the wrong side of the road and might have to trek again.

I got off the subway at Ginza station and wanted to head to SONY Building where I was supposed to meet my friend. I was told to take exit B9 and it took me a while to find it.

Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)
A must experience in Japan. Shinkansens have been around for a while and they run to many parts of Japan. Also, over the years they consistently upgraded the trains and have introduced several generations. All these have consistently improved the rider comfort and safety.

Their current focus is to reduce the 'noise pollution' levels. They should.. I could clearly hear these bullet trains constantly whizzing past even from my 26th floor Hotel room. Imagine , how disturbing it would be for the folks much closer to the tracks.

Tokyo rail lines from my hotel
Shinkansen on duty.... A view from my Hotel room.

Here is compilation of clips my colleague Steve took.. (Our train was 20 years old and were told the newer ones are even better.)


  1. Excellent travel notes. Enjoyed reading and watchin.

  2. Nice experience mate..something that one will cherish through out his life.

  3. Ram, I must compliment you on the variety that you bring into your blog - online travelogue, political commentary, podcasts, tips for NRIs returning to India...
    Keep' em coming.

  4. Ram,

    U are rocking the Blogoshepere. With very frequent updates. Im impressed. I wanted to blog as frequently as U do. But im stuck. Im trying hard to keep my blog alive.

    I wonder, how U manage all these inspite of ur tight schedule.

  5. Ram,
    I have taken both Airport Limousine Bus and Narita Express. I somehow felt that Limo Bus takes lot of time bcoz of the traffic and the road conditions. I usually dial the number of my client and handover my phone to the taxi driver so that he can converse directly to my client. In other occasions, I have provided the location map in Japanese to the taxi driver.

    You should probably mention that one is likely to miss the Shinkansen if the person is even a few seconds late. Few months ago, there was an accident involving a bullet train and that was the only black mark in its impressive safety record.

    It is very east to get lost in Shinjuku station. there are more than 25 tracks there and you can only see heads whizzing past.

  6. Raman, Shiloh, SLN, Balaji, Raj, Jaggy

    Thanks guys.. appreciate your support.. in fact that's what keeps me going..

    Yes.. Road conditions / accidents can affect the 'timing'.. but I found the bus rather comfortable and convenient.. Taxi would have costed arm and a leg.. (from NRT)

    Yes.. Shinkansen.. man they are ontime !!!

    Shinjuku.. or Tokyo Central.. can be overwhelming at the first sight.. like the NYC roads.. but once you get the hang of it.. they are easy to navigate.. inspite the language issue, people were friendly.. and tried to help..

  7. Raj

    Thanks for reminding me about R2I stuff.. I want to get back to that series.. It has been a while..and Kaps also gently reminded me about it today..