Tokyo's Subway and Trains: How to Confidently Navigate the Tokyo Metro System

travelers using a Tokyo subway machine

A Context Tour of Tokyo is the perfect way to gain your footing in the city.

Updated May 2024

Navigating a new city is never easy, especially when traveling internationally. Public transportation is a great way to explore a new city, but it can feel intimidating if you aren’t sure how to use it or if there’s a language barrier.

Tokyo's subway system refers to the combined network of the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway. These two separate entities collectively operate most of the subway lines in Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo Metro is a privately-owned subway system that operates nine lines within the central part of Tokyo. Tokyo Metro lines are known for their modern infrastructure, frequent train service, and extensive coverage of downtown Tokyo.

The Toei Subway is a subsidiary of the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation. It operates four subway lines; each assigned a color and a number. The Toei Subway lines complement the Tokyo Metro lines, expanding the subway network to cover additional areas of Tokyo.

The Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway form an interconnected network of subway lines, allowing passengers to travel throughout Tokyo efficiently. The lines intersect at various stations, providing convenient transfer points for passengers. If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, review a map and plan your itinerary to easily navigate the Tokyo metro.

How to Buy Tokyo Metro Tickets

The first thing many people wonder when they enter a busy subway station is how to buy a Tokyo subway pass. Lucky for you, finding where to buy Tokyo subway tickets is easy, as there are several options, including:

Ticket Machines

Ticket machines are available at Tokyo Metro stations. They have multilingual interfaces, including English, and are relatively user-friendly. Follow these steps:

  1. Select your preferred language (English is usually an option).
  2. Choose the ticket type (e.g., one-way, child, etc.).
  3. Select your destination station or enter the fare amount (if known).
  4. Insert the required cash amount or use a contactless payment method (e.g., IC card or mobile payment).
  5. Collect your ticket and any change.

Mobile Payment Apps

Some mobile payment apps, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, or QR code-based apps like Suica, offer the option to pay for Tokyo Metro fares using your smartphone. Ensure that your mobile payment app is compatible and set up with a payment method before using it.

IC Cards (Suica, Pasmo, and ICOCA)

IC cards are rechargeable smart cards used on Tokyo Metro and other transportation networks. Popular examples include Suica, PASMO, and ICOCA. You can purchase and charge these cards at ticket machines or customer service centers in the stations.

Here’s how to buy an IC card for the Tokyo subway:

  1. Find a Ticket Vending Machine: Ticket vending machines are typically available at Tokyo Metro stations and major train stations in Tokyo. Look for machines labeled with the logo of the IC card you wish to purchase (Suica or PASMO).
  2. Select the Language: Most ticket vending machines offer multiple language options, including English. Choose the English language option if available.
  3. Choose "New Card" or "Purchase Card": Look for the option on the ticket vending machine's screen that allows you to buy a new IC card. The wording may vary slightly depending on the machine.
  4. Select the Card Type: Choose the specific IC card you want to purchase – the options should be displayed on the screen.
  5. Decide on the Initial Charge Amount: Select the amount you want to load onto the card as the initial balance. This amount is typically customizable but usually starts around 2,000 yen (subject to change). You can always add more funds later if needed.
  6. Make a Payment: Insert cash into the ticket vending machine equal to the chosen initial charge amount. Alternatively, some machines also accept credit cards or mobile payment options like Apple Pay or Google Pay.
  7. Receive Your IC Card: Once you've completed the transaction, the ticket vending machine will dispense your newly purchased IC card. Take the card and any change provided.
  8. Start Traveling! Your IC card is ready – just touch the card to the card reader at the ticket gate when entering and exiting Tokyo Metro stations or other participating transportation networks. The fare will be automatically deducted from the card's balance.

Remember to keep your ticket or IC card until you exit the station, as you may need it to pass through the ticket gates. If you have questions or need assistance, station staff members are usually available at information counters or ticket offices.

Fare prices for Tokyo Metro tickets vary based on the distance traveled, and ticket options may differ slightly between Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway.

Tokyo Subway App

One of the most helpful travel tools is the Tokyo Subway App, which offers a bilingual map, a journey planner to help you get from point A to point B, step-by-step guides with time estimates, and more.

It’s also full of great travel tips and insights. For example – did you know that on Tokyo escalators, people stand on the left and walk on the right, but the reverse is true in Osaka? The app can help you navigate the logistical and cultural considerations of using the Tokyo subway system.

When Does the Tokyo Subway Open?

The Tokyo subway system generally starts operating around 5:00 AM. However, the exact opening time may vary slightly depending on the line and station.

Some stations may open a few minutes earlier or later, so it's best to check the specific timetable or consult station staff for the most up-to-date information.

Below you’ll find a guide to various ticket types and prices.

24-Hour Tokyo Metro Ticket

You can purchase a Tokyo Metro 24-hour ticket, which is valid for – you guessed it – 24 hours from the time of purchase. If you plan to use the metro quite a bit, this can be a great way to save time and money, as you only have to buy one pass for the day.

You can buy advance 24-hour tickets at Tokyo Metro Pass Offices (except Nakano Station, Nishi-funabashi Station, and Shibuya Station) or same-day tickets at the ticket machines at all Tokyo Metro Stations.

Cost: Adult tickets cost 600 yen and child tickets are 300 yen.

Common One-Day Open Ticket for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway

The Common One-Day Open Ticket allows unlimited travel on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for a single day. With this ticket, you can freely transfer between Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines without purchasing separate tickets for each system.

Your ticket is valid for one day of unlimited rides on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines.

You can purchase advance tickets here:

  • Tokyo Metro: Tokyo Metro Pass Offices (except Nakano Station, Nishi-funabashi Station, and Shibuya Station)
  • Toei Subway: Offices at all Toei Subway stations (except Oshiage Station, Meguro Station, Shirokanedai Station, Shirokane-Takanawa Station, and Shinjuku Station on the Shinjuku Line)

You can also purchase same-day tickets at the ticket machines at Tokyo Metro stations and Toei Subway stations.

Cost: Adult tickets cost 900 yen and child tickets are 450 yen.

Tokyo Combination Ticket

The Tokyo Combination Ticket allows unrestricted travel on all nine Tokyo Metro lines from the first train to the last train of the day, all four Toei Subway lines, the Tokyo Sakura Trams (Toden), Toei Buses (including the Tama area), all zones of the Nippori-Toneri Liner, and all JR lines within the wards of Tokyo.

You can purchase this ticket at ticket machines at all Tokyo Metro stations (except Kita-senju Station [Hibiya Line], Naka-meguro Station, Nakano Station, Yoyogi-uehara Station, Wakoshi Station, Shibuya Station [Hanzomon Line and Fukutoshin Line], and Meguro Station).

Cost: Adult tickets cost 1,600 yen and child tickets are 800 yen.

1-, 2-, or 3-Day Tokyo Subway Passes for Foreign Visitors

Visitors can also take advantage of the 24-Hour, 48-Hour, and 72-Hour passes. You must confirm with your passport that you are a foreign visitor to use these passes.

These tickets are valid for all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hours from the travel starting time. There is an extensive list of places to buy this ticket type, so it’s readily available.


  • Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket – Adult: 800 yen, Child: 400 yen
  • Tokyo Subway 48-hour Ticket – Adult: 1,200 yen, Child: 600 yen
  • Tokyo Subway 72-hour Ticket – Adult: 1,500 yen, Child: 750 yen

Tokyo Metro Lost & Found and Information Services

If you lose a belonging on the Tokyo metro, check with the nearest station office first. After the day of loss, get in touch with Tokyo Metro Customer Relations.

Lost property is kept at the Lost & Found Center at Iidabashi Station for three to four days, then unclaimed property is turned over to the Metropolitan Police Lost & Found Center located near Iidabashi Station. For the best chance at finding your lost item, go directly to the Lost & Found Center at Iidabashi Station.

There is also a Lost Property Inquiry Form that you can fill out online.

Navigating the Tokyo Metro System

Tokyo’s metro and subway systems are fantastic ways to make your way through the city and see more sights. With a bit of pre-planning and research, you can feel confident using public transportation in Tokyo. Mobile apps, maps, and helpful metro employees can help you make the most of your time in Tokyo, so branch out and explore the possibilities of Tokyo.

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