The metro and train system in Tokyo is fantastic – you can set your watch by it (I did, after I lost a bet with Sofia as to when a train would arrive. My watch was wrong, the train arrival was right!). Trains simply arrive on time (to the minute) and if they don’t then the train company gives you a note to show your boss to explain why you are late (otherwise they won’t believe you!).
Unlike Shanghai, taxis in Tokyo are expensive but the metro system is enormous. That’s a complete reverse from Shanghai where taxis are cheap and the metro barely covers major parts of the city.
The metro in Tokyo was particularly cheap, even more so when you consider how expensive Tokyo is generally. I don’t think we ever paid more than about £1.50 to get from one side of the city to the other. You can’t even pay that to go a couple of stops in Zone 1 in London!
Perhaps one of the most confusing things about the Tokyo metro (other than the Japanese writing) is that three different companies run different lines. Two companies run the metro lines and another runs the popular Yamonote Line the circles the city.
The coolest feature of the Tokyo metro system is the in-carriage displays above the doors. Between stations they display the forthcoming stations on the lines, along with the number of minutes it will take to get there. When the train is about to pull into a station, the screen changes to reflect the locations of the exits on the platform compared to where you are on the train.
The other cool thing about Tokyo’s metro system is that they have mobile coverage underground, yet it’s frowned upon to talk on your phone on the train. There still aren’t plans to get mobile coverage on the London Underground, although the July 7 bombings will probably mean it will never happen anyway (remote detonation by SMS, etc).
But the most striking difference between the Tokyo metro and the London Underground is the optimism and trust displayed in the ticketing and barrier system. In Tokyo, the entry/exit barriers remain open unless you insert an invalid ticket. On the London Underground the barriers are always closed by default unless you insert a valid ticket.
On the Tokyo metro, if you aren’t carrying a ticket of the appropriate value to complete your journey, you can simply visit the “fair adjustment machine” next to the barriers to ‘upgrade’ your ticket. On the London Underground, you must visit the ticket window on the platform side of the barrier where you are generally treated like a criminal for not carrying the appropriate ticket at the start of your journey.
Travelling on the Tokyo metro was such a pleasant and inexpensive experience (and I still haven’t mentioned the air conditioning) that I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city. Forget cabs, take the train!