Basic Kanji for Tokyo Station Names

Navigating the trains, both underground and overground, in Tokyo can seem overwhelming at first, but some familiarity with the system before visiting can make it less stressful. There are basically three providers; JR , the two subway operators Tokyo Metro and Toei , and private lines such as Tobu and Seibu.


JR (Japan Rail) operates the overground lines like the Yamanote line, Chuo line, Keihin-Tohoku line etc. Tokyo Metro/Toei operate the subway system. It used to be divided into two separate operations, Eidan and Toei and in some smaller stations, you may still see two different kinds of ticketing machines. The ticketing systems were unified several years ago, so any ticket machine is OK now. Frequent travellers make use of combined transport passes such as Suica and Pasmo, but single ride tickets are not so expensive. You will see people spending a *long* time looking at the transport maps above the banks of ticketing machines; there are often several ways to get from one place to another so decisions, decisions...


There are 14 Metro/Toei lines including the Yurikamome, which is a rubber-wheeled elevated 'railway' taking you across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba.


In this post I want to outline 5 frequently seen kanji for Tokyo stations. If you are new to the language and city, it may all seem too much, but there are patterns to look for which will not only speed up your navigation, but also clue you in a little about the city.


1. 橋 = はし -hashi , ばし -bashi = bridge


When Tokyo was a new town back in the day, it was built up on terraced fields reclaimed from the Tama estuary, the Musashino. Several rivers run through Tokyo, so not surprisingly there are many bridges. Such stations incorporating hashi/bashi include:


日本橋   にほんばし          Nihombashi          G11/T10/A13

橋     しんばし         Shimbashi              A10/G08/U01 

飯田    いいだばし    Iidabashi                     E06/T06/Y13/N10

橋     あけぼのばし     Akebonobashi          S03

江戸川橋   えどがわばし  Edogawabashi            Y12

浅草橋    あかすかばし   Asakusabashi            A16


2. 川 = かわ, がわ = -kawa-/-gawa- = river


Where there are bridges there are rivers. There are few stations with this kanji, but it's worth look.


Above we saw


江戸橋   えどがわばし  Edogawabashi Y12


And we can see:

川      せんかわ    Senkawa                      Y07/F07

台     ひかわだい   Hikawadai                      Y05/F05

川      きくかわ     Kikukawa                     S12

       しながわ     Shinagawa               Yamanote line




3. 門 = もん = mon = gate


After the Shogun moved his base of operations to Edo in 1603, he imposed a residential requirement on his Daimyo or feudal landowners to live there 6 months of the year or 1 out of every 2 years. The Edo based Daimyo built large compounds, the superb gardens of which still exist here and there. The way in or out of the compounds, and thus through the different areas of Edo was through a gate. You can see the kanji for gate 門 mon, all through central Tokyo.


半蔵門    はんぞうもん    Hanzomon           Z05

桜田    さくらだもん    Sakuradamon       Y17

虎ノ門     とらのもん     Toranomon   G07

門      だいもん      Daimon     A09/G08

御成     おなりもん     Onarimon           I06



4. 町 = -ちょう -まち = -cho / -machi = town


As the small hamlets and enclaves of Edo/Tokyo grew and spread, they became towns. There are two ways to say 町。 It is pronounced as cho  or machi. You will see this kanji repeatedly on the Metro map.


大手   おおてまち   Otemachi            I09/C11/T09/M18/Z08

小川町   おがわまち   Ogawamachi        C12/S07/M19  (includes

神保   じんぼうちょう  Jimbocho        S06/I10/Z07

永田町   ながたちょう   Nagatacho      N07/Z04/Y16

有楽   ゆうらくちょう   Yurakucho    Y18

人形   にんぎょうちょう Ningyocho    A14/H13


5. 前 = まえ = mae = in front of


During the 20th century, as the public transport network was being expanded, it made sense to locate stations in front of popular and important places.


三越   みつこしまえ       Mitsukoshimae     G12/Z09

in front of the Mitsukoshi department store

水天宮  すいてんぐうまえ    Suitengumae       Z10

in front of the Suitengu shrine

明治神宮  めいじじんぐうまえ Meiji-jingumae   C03/F15

in front of the Meiji-jingu shrine

東大前      とうだいまえ     Todaimae           N12

in front of 'Todai' or Tokyo University

新宿御苑   しじゅくぎょえんまえ  Shinjukugyoenmae   M10

in front of Shinjuku Gyoen park


All stations are signed in 3 scripts; kanji, hiragana and romaji. Several years ago the Tokyo subway system added an alpha-numeric system too. It makes it easy to count the stations to your stop, though it crowds the map with even more information. But who reads maps anymore? "Smaho appu"; smart-phone apps, and online maps are the new normal. On the Yamanote line, screens placed above the doors will show you the next several stops and how many minutes between each. In-train announcements for the next stop, including which side of the train to get off from, are now routinely made in community languages like English, Chinese and Korean.  Many visitors to Japan initially freak out at the sight of kanji, but learning the first 50 to 100 by usage is not hard  as you see them all the time. Should you decide to  move beyond the basics, certainly reading with kanji is a whole lot quicker and easier than reading long strings of hiragana. On the trains however, don't forget the following:


 きた     kita   =  north

 みなみ    minami  = south

 ひがし    higashi = east

西 にし         nishi = west


入口    いりぐち    iriguchi = entrance

出口   でぐち       deguchi = exit


QUESTION: What does this say?   東出口


I bet you got that right, so fire up that flash card app and get learning. A little goes a long way.


Updated 2017. First posted on DukaDuka 7/26/09


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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Nihon Scope (Wednesday, 27 December 2017 07:14)

    Very helpful! I had to create a list when I moved to Fukuoka for the JR and the Chikatetsu lines.