Hints for Travelers: Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is second perhaps to Shinjuku Station as a landing point for international travelers once they arrive in Tokyo. Some travelers prefer to base out of smaller stations like Shibuya or Shinagawa. Although quite large and potentially overwhelming, a few navigation basics can help you get around Tokyo Station like a pro.
Tokyo Station is basically shaped like an “H” with three main entrances or gates on each side. The Marunouchi side, with the beautifully restored Tokyo Station Hotel, and the more modern and recently renovated Yaesu side both have North, Central and South Gates. The most common way to refer to locations of almost anything both inside and outside the station will be to use the side and gate location, such as the “Yaesu South Gate”, where the highway bus terminal is located. Tokyo Station is an ideal, central spot for access to highway buses, metro trains, and the new Ueno-Tokyo Line, which now allows boarding northbound trains like the Hitachi Express on the Joban Line, or other trains to Utsunomiya and Takasaki, without changing at Ueno.
Here are the best tips, tricks, and services for travelers in and around Tokyo Station.
Japan Rail Pass Pickup
Of course, you can buy tickets, train passes, and ask questions at the JR and other train line entrances around Tokyo Station. If you couldn't pick up your JR Pass when landing at Narita Airport, or if you arrived via Haneda, you can pick it up at Tokyo Station. The main Japan Rail Pass Exchange Office is located at the Yaesu Central Gate. You can also trade in the rail voucher you bought before coming to Japan and pick up your 7-21 day pass at many locations within the station. The main JR East Travel Service Center is in the Rotunda of the Marunouchi North Gate. Just look to the left as you enter. Or, if you arrive by train, look just outside the ticket gate to the right, next to the Tokyo Station Gallery. To learn more about train travel and the Japan Rail Pass, read here. Or download this English cutaway map of Tokyo Station, including Japan Rail Pass and JR East Pass exchange and reservation locations, from here.
Suica and Pasmo
Use any of the station ticket machines that say Pasmo or Suica at the top to get a rechargeable IC Card. Either brand works well, but Suica has the cute penguin mascot.
You can use these handy cards on trains, subways, and buses. IC card benefits are many. No need to calculate your fare or buy separate tickets each time your ride – just wave your card over the automated ticket gate and the fare will be deducted when you get off the train. You can also use your Suica or Pasmo card as a cash alternative in convenience stores and many shops and restaurants around the stations. The machines are easy to use and have an English interface. Be sure to add your name and register your card: If you lose it, the card can be returned to you. This process usually requires a phone number. Use your hotel number if you don't have a Japan mobile. After you create your card, you can recharge and add money to it at these ticket machines all over Tokyo, and again the interface is available in English!
NEX – The Narita Express
Finding the NEX at Tokyo Station -- Photo by Josh Fields
When your trip comes to an end, you can catch the NEX train from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport, or take an express bus from the Yaesu side bus terminal number 7. The Narita Express is easy to locate in Tokyo Station; follow the red NEX marks to the Marunouchi side, underground. Use your Rail Pass or buy your NEX ticket in the JR Reservation Area or from the Reserve Ticket Machine (ask the staff for help if you need it). The NEX staff provide a handy sign in English to tell you how to get to the platform for your train.
You can find both coin and Suica card lockers throughout the station. If you plan to explore the area and don't want to carry your gear, this is a great option. Be aware, the lockers do fill up on holidays and weekends. Maps show where the various lockers can be found. Although written in Japanese, these maps are very easy to understand because of their simple graphics. Some of Tokyo Station's information booths also feature Suica multilingual touch screen portals explaining where coin lockers are.
Police and Tokyo Station Kobans
If you need help, you can visit the police box (Koban) near the Yaesu South Gate at Gran Roof, next to the South Gate on Marunouchi side, or about midway in the passage between the two sides which runs at ground level. In this small room, people can always find police officers on duty to help. Those stationed here are skilled at dealing with questions and concerns from travelers and locals alike.
Tokyo Central Post Office at Kitte (Marunouchi side JP Tower)
Kitte is Home to the Tokyo Central Post Office -- Photo from Flickr cc by wongwt
Across the street from the South Gate is Tokyo’s Central Post Office, co-located with the refurbished original Japan Post building, now a beautiful, modern shopping center called Kitte, (Japanese for postage stamp). This is an important spot for travelers for several reasons. You can get stamps from vending machines to mail postcards home. (International postcard rate is ¥70 and international regular size letter rate is ¥110.) More importantly, perhaps, are the Postal ATMs, which accept most international debit and credit cards if you need cash. These machines feature an English interface for all basic functions, and are open 24 hours, unlike most Japan Post ATMs.
The Kitte building is also home to a hip shopping and dining area noted for its rooftop garden deck with sweeping views of the station and trains, and of the Imperial Palace. The design is breathtaking as the center of the building is empty with the stores and restaurants set around the asymmetrical design of the building all the way to the glass roof.
Inside the Marunouchi North Gate area you will find a money exchange window that can turn your foreign cash into Yen. Opening hours are quite convenient, and the automated machines handle major currencies, as do 7-Bank ATMs, which accommodate almost any cash card.
Getting Around Tokyo Station
Inside Tokyo Station, you’ll find lighted information “towers” with multilingual maps and other services and destinations listed on yellow directional information boards, with easy to understand guidance and icons. They’re very hard to miss.
All major JR stations now have free WiFi. Just look for the JR East WiFi signal. If you need help, ask at any of the information desks. For easy access to Free Wifi throughout Japan check out these readily available apps.
SNACKS, SHOPPING, AND MORE
Ekiben from the Tokyo Station Eki-Benya -- Photo from Flickr cc by Slick Vic
On the main level of the station in the central passage area, located between platforms 6 and 7, you’ll find the very famous, very busy EkiBen-ya shop. Eki-ben or eki bento (station lunch boxes) are regionally specific lunches, traditionally available only from the station in the area where they are made. The EkiBen-ya shop brings together eki-ben from all across Japan, listing them on a giant sample board with the name of the station where they are from. While the choices are seemingly endless, making a decision is certainly agonizing. Riding the Shinkansen and eating eki-ben is certainly a rite of passage for Japan first-timers.
Inside the station's basement is a huge mall with ready to eat foods of all types. Fresh bread, sushi, meats, fruit, cakes, fancy seasonal treats – the list is endless. Take out a bento (lunch box) and explore the neighborhood, while having an al fresco meal. You'll also find numerous fast-food type shops from Thai to sandwiches, and sit-down restaurants, from traditional Japanese yakiniku grilled meat to Western-style fare.
Tokyo Station First Street (outside the ticket gate area, Yaesu side)
Tokyo Station Ramen Street -- Photo from Flickr cc by Owen Lin
Here, among the myriad of coffee shops, Japanese stand-up sushi bars and just about everything else, you’ll find the wild popular Tokyo Station Ramen Street, where famous ramen shops from all across Japan in one convenient hallway. Depending on the shop you may be in for a bit of a wait. But that’s how it goes when you want to taste the best of an entire food genre! Find a map of the shops and choose which one you’d like to try. At each location, you’ll find a ticket vending machine, where you’ll select the specific preparation. At some shops, you’ll wait in line to get to the machine, while at others, you’ll get your ticket and then wait for your spot at your table.
Also in the same area of the underground level, you’ll find the "Character Street" shopping area with dedicated shops for almost every well-known mascot character around Japan. Chief among them are all of the major TV broadcaster mascots and other well-known character brands. Japanese people love cute, cuddly characters. And more than that is “meeting” said characters for a photo op!
NEARBY SHOPPING AND SIGHTSEEING
Tokyo Imperial Palace -- Photo from Flickr cc by Nezzen
Outside the Yaesu gates and just a few minutes walk to the west, is the home of the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Palace. A large part of these magnificent grounds are open to the public year-round and are worth the short walk.
Hato Bus Sightseeing (Marunouchi South Gate)
Hato Buses Leading Away from Tokyo Station -- Photo from Flickr cc by jun560
If you’re thinking about a more formal bus tour, you can check out Hato Bus Tours, just a few steps from the Marunouchi South Gate. Some tours are in English; others have accompanying English audio for tours conducted in Japanese.
If you can never pass up a good book or are on the lookout for a good souvenir calendar or stationery, try Yaesu Book Center across the street from the Express Bus terminal. The store has nine floors, including a basement with a coffee shop. A large selection of books in English and other languages can be found on the seventh floor. A truly great find for bookstore lovers!
Daimaru Department Store
Pappabubble Demonstration at Daimaru, Tokyo Station -- Photo by Josh Fields
Also accessible from underground, you’ll find famous department store Daimaru, connected to the Yaesu North Gate. At the basement level, you’ll find souvenir and gourmet fare, much like the other shopping areas inside the station. One fun and interesting shop here is Papabubble, a small candy kitchen where the staff make simple fruit-flavored hard candy by hand. Part performance and all candy-making skill, a small crowd is always on hand to enjoy the process. The high-end shopping one expects at a major Japanese department store can be found on the floors above. The genius of the design in all of the underground areas of Tokyo Station is that everything seamlessly joins in wide, open passages, making it easy to forget you’re leaving one building and entering the next.
Fuji Soba (Yaesu Gate location)
Fuji Soba Katsu Don -- Photo from Flickr cc by Jetalone
If you’re looking for something typically Japanese and cheap to boot, check out Fuji Soba across the street from Daimaru near the Yaesu North Gate. You can also use Exit #17 or #18 from the underground shopping area. The restaurant chain serves Japanese soba noodles and other staples such as katsu don (pork cutlet rice bowl) and curry rice. Most dishes can be had for less than ¥500! And perhaps the best part, Fuji Soba is open 24 hrs.!
Independent travelers often seek out ways to "live like a local" while making their way from one adventure to the next. Using one of the larger train stations in the area you intend to visit as a hub, like Tokyo Station, a convenient, intermodal place from which to access much of the rest of the country and with access to the nearest regional or international airport, lets you do just that. Additionally, while "at home" near these larger stations, you'll have access to easy shopping and daily necessities like supermarkets, laundry, and even office supplies and services.
Now that many recent renovations have been completed, Tokyo Station and its surrounding area is very easy to navigate. Once you take some time to get accustomed to the surroundings and learn the two sides and north, center, south orientation, you’ll be making your way around like a local in no time. You'll find plenty of ATMs throughout the station and at nearby shopping centers and convenience stores. And, virtually every merchant in the station complex will accept Suica/Pasmo as payment.
Now that you're more familiar with Tokyo Station explore the rest of the city!