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
新橋 しんばし Shimbashi A10/G08/U01
飯田橋 いいだばし Iidabashi E06/T06/Y13/N10
曙橋 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
江戸川橋 えどがわばし Edogawabashi Y12
And we can see:
千川 せんかわ Senkawa Y07/F07
氷川台 ひかわだい Hikawadai Y05/F05
菊川 きくかわ Kikukawa S12
品川 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
桜田門 さくらだもん Sakuradamon Y17
虎ノ門 とらのもん Toranomon G07
大門 だいもん Daimon A09/G08
御成門 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.
大手町 おおてまち Otemachi I09/C11/T09/M18/Z08
小川町 おがわまち Ogawamachi C12/S07/M19 （includes 川）
神保町 じんぼうちょう Jimbocho S06/I10/Z07
永田町 ながたちょう Nagatacho N07/Z04/Y16
有楽町 ゆうらくちょう Yurakucho Y18
人形町 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.
三越前 みつこしまえ Mitsukoshimae G12/Z09
in front of the Mitsukoshi department store
水天宮前 すいてんぐうまえ Suitengumae Z10
in front of the Suitengu shrine
明治神宮前 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
新宿御苑前 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:
北 きた kita = north
南 みなみ minami = south
東 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