Welcome to Part 2 of Nihon ni Ikimasu, our new ongoing series providing tips on traveling to Japan to watch professional wrestling.
In Part 1, we gave a broad overview of the series concept, highlighted common areas of concern among fans that we’re going to attempt to cover, and then gave some potential cost-saving tips to help you afford the trip. Today we’re going to talk about one of the most important parts of any trip: how to get around once you’re there!
Most of today’s post will focus on travel in Tokyo, Japan’s most important city both in general and certainly when it comes to professional wrestling as well. Whether or not you choose to explore the rest of the country, Tokyo should almost certainly be the home base of your trip, as the most promotions run it with the greatest frequency. We will discuss travel outside of Tokyo as well, but our first (and main) focus will be on how to get around in the city, especially between the various wrestling venues.
I have a question for you, dear reader: do you use public transportation in your own home country, especially trains and subways? If you use it all the time, Japan will in many ways seem like a more efficient, better-running version of what you’re probably already used to. There is not a huge cultural barrier here: the signs for the various train stops are all available in English, as are the machines you use to purchase tickets and cards to ride them. The Japanese system is very fond of color-coding as well, similar to many lines in many American cities I’ve been to. If you’re already used to riding trains and subways or at least have done it a few times and have that experience to draw back on, you’ll probably be able to pick it up pretty quickly once you get the general orientation down.
However, if you have never used public transportation before—if you’re the type of American who drives everywhere and never leaves the suburbs—you will probably have a more difficult time adjusting. Tokyo is extremely unfriendly for cars, even well beyond the unfriendliness of Manhattan or elsewhere here, and many other Japanese cities are reportedly almost as bad.
In addition to the usual issues you might expect—heavy traffic and a distinct lack of parking (parking in Tokyo is a nightmare even beyond Manhattan, and street parking generally is not even possible in many of the downtown areas)—consider the fact that most roads in Tokyo do not even have names and are extremely narrow as well. Renting a car can be a decent option to explore rural areas of Japan that are not easily accessible via public transportation, but it is extremely inconvenient at best and an active hindrance at worst when it comes to getting around in Japan’s biggest cities.
The bottom line: if you’re not comfortable with public transportation, you’ll need to adjust before coming to Japan. I would even advise you, if practical, to try using it in your own home country before you come here, instead of trying to use it for the very first time in your life in a foreign country.
With all that out of the way, let’s talk about train travel in Tokyo. You will use trains and subways more than any other transportation method, as most of the city (and certainly nearly all of the major tourist attractions) is easily accessible via conveniently located train stations. Trains run very frequently as well, with many running as few as 3-5 minutes apart. The only real downside is that train systems are not 24 hours (as they are in New York and a few other major cities worldwide); service on most train lines in Tokyo stops sometime between midnight-12:30, with some major JR lines running until just after 1 am.
If you miss the final train, there are other options to get you back to your hotel, most notably taxi service, but this will be far more expensive than taking the train. Train fares are based on distance traveled but are generally very inexpensive. Remember that 100 yen is a little under $1, and then consider these are some sample ticket prices on the popular Yamanote line:
- Tokyo Station to Ikebukuro: 200 yen
- Shibuya to Ikebukuro: 170 yen
- Ikebukuro to Ueno: 160 yen
I think you get the idea. You’re looking at very cheap fares to travel between most of the major neighborhoods. Taxis in Tokyo on the other hand start at a base fare of 410 yen, then charge an additional 80 yen per 237 meters. It’s worth noting this is actually a new fare system compared to when I went last year; as you can read about in this article, the base fare used to be a higher 730 yen but the per meter fare was lower. The change is an attempt to drum up new business, as most people riding around in Tokyo itself will save money this way; on the other hand, anyone using it to take further trips outside of the city will end up paying more. But even under this new fare system, trains are still much cheaper than taxis, so try not to miss your last train!
There are also buses as an option, though I never used them during my time there. If you’re trying to travel to more obscure areas of the city, I can see why you might end up having to take a bus. But during my entire 10 days in Tokyo last year it never once came up as an option that I needed to take (sometimes I would occasionally see a bus involved as one of several possible routes to get to my destination when looking on Google Maps, but there would also always be a route that involved train travel only). From what I understand, buses have less English support than the very English-friendly train systems, so you may want to avoid them if possible.
Let’s talk now about the various different types of train lines in Japan. There are basically four different types of trains used throughout the country, and all four are present in Tokyo. It is important to put them in distinct categories for a number of different fare-related reasons, most importantly whether or not the Japan Rail Pass will cover them (more on that in a bit).
JR Lines: JR stands for Japan Rail, and was once the nationwide, government-run train line. In 1987, Japan Rail was split up into six private companies that, today, collectively comprise the JR Group. This means little for you, as everything except regional passes (i.e. passes you can purchase that only work in one JR company’s region, like the Kyushu pass which provides you unlimited access to JR Kyushu lines only) is cross-honored across all JR lines. So whether you’re riding a JR East or JR Central line only really matters to you if you’re a train nerd; there’s no real practical difference to it. Also, it’s worth noting that even though the various JR Group companies are technically now private railway companies, when Japanese people refer to “private railways” (a term you will see and hear repeatedly if you look into Japanese train travel), they are almost always referring to all non-JR trains.
In Tokyo, JR East operates a number of very important and convenient train lines that you will use repeatedly throughout your trip. The most important of these by far is the Yamanote Line. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you stay somewhere along the Yamanote Line, you could easily use it and it alone to reach upwards of 80-90% of your destinations in Tokyo. It’s a closed loop that also is extremely important for understanding the orientation of Tokyo train travel in general, as many of the other train and subway lines essentially run in the middle of the circle, filling in the gaps. In the below picture, you can see all stops of the Yamanote, which is the green circle. Trains marked in English as “Outer” run clockwise along the circle (so from Tokyo station to Shinagawa to Shibuya and on), while trains marked as “Inner” run counter-clockwise (from Tokyo station to Ueno to Ikebukuro and on).
The other line in the above picture is the Chou-Sobu Line, which will probably be particularly important to wrestling fans. This line is actually made up of two separate, much longer lines (hence the name) which briefly converge in Tokyo to become one, and it will likely be one of your main lines if you plan to go to Korakuen Hall. As you can see, it runs directly in the middle of the circle, across from Shinjuku to the other side, making a number of important stops along the way. The Suidobashi stop on the Chou-Sobu line is just steps away from Tokyo Dome City, where Korakuen is located. This is also the line that runs to the Ryogoku stop, again just steps from Sumo Hall. The line is convenient for reaching many areas that the Yamanote does not (with a number of easy transfers from Yamanote at major stations like Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Tokyo).
These are the two main JR lines you will probably take in Tokyo; there are a couple other lines that simply run parallel with either side of the Yamanote circle (Keihin-Tohoku Line on the east side of the circle, running from Tabata to Shinagawa; and the Saikyo Line which runs parallel on the west side, from Ikebukuro to Osaki), with both lines continuing either north or south of the Yamanote. You may take them if you’re exploring a more obscure area, but otherwise you can safely ignore them for the most part. But the Yamanote and Chou-Sobu will likely be essential parts of your stay in Tokyo.
The next most common type of train in most of the downtown Tokyo areas is subways, run by two separate companies: Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Tokyo Metro operates 9 lines, while Toei operates 4. Both generally run in areas not easily covered by the Yamanote line; one example is the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. The Ginza Line runs directly between Shibuya and Asakusa, two popular tourist destinations in their own right, and as the name implies also provides direct access to the major shopping neighborhood of Ginza (one of the few major downtown neighborhoods that the Yamanote line doesn’t reach directly). Meanwhile, if listening to the Roppongi Vice rap for all these years has made you desperate to see the namesake district for yourself, your best option for getting to Roppongi could be something like the Toei Oedo Line, which runs direct to Roppongi from major hub (and Yamanote stop) Shinjuku.
I didn’t include an image of the entire subway system because honestly, if you look it up yourself you’ll see that it’s kind of incredibly daunting and I don’t want you to panic!
The subway lines run all across Tokyo and densely connect with and pass each other, especially within and around the Yamanote circle. It is not necessary at all for you to learn how all 13 subway lines work or study the very daunting subway map. Instead what I would recommend is, once you figure out where you’re staying in Tokyo, looking up what subway stops are near you and seeing what lines they’re on. Getting to know those lines that will be close to your location is key, since they may provide faster access to certain parts of Tokyo than the main JR lines. But don’t worry about subway lines that won’t be anywhere near your location.
Private railways in Tokyo and Japan refer to any non-JR above ground railway lines, as there are many other railway companies that operate trains. Examples of private railway companies which operate lines in and around Tokyo include Keisei, Keio, Tobu, and Tokyu. The vast majority of these companies specialize in getting commuters into Tokyo for work from outer suburbs, and there’s few reasons why you would need to use any of those lines as a tourist. There are, however, a few private lines you might actually find useful in downtown Tokyo, so let’s discuss those briefly.
First, there is the Keisei Skyliner, one of the two major lines connecting Narita Airport with downtown Tokyo. Narita is considered one of Tokyo’s two major airports (the other is Haneda) and in fact is the one you’re more likely to fly into, as it deals with more international flights. But it’s actually located quite far from downtown Tokyo, to the east in nearby Chiba prefecture (Haneda, on the other hand, is only about 20 minutes south of Tokyo and is much closer). To get from Narita to Tokyo, you essentially have two convenient train options: the JR Narita Express and the Keisei Skyliner. Which one you should take depends entirely on where you’re trying to get in Tokyo. Generally, for areas in the northern side of Tokyo, the Skyliner is faster- it reaches Nippori station in just 36 minutes, and Ueno only a few minutes later. But for areas in central or southern Tokyo, you’re usually better off taking JR’s Narita Express line, which reaches more stops without a transfer and provides faster access to many major neighborhoods in the city. It depends heavily on where you’re going, though; if either one would require a transfer to reach your final destination, the Skyliner could be faster even if you’re going to the very southern tip of Tokyo. Look it up first with a service like Hyperdia (more on that later), or even Google Maps (though the timetable information may not always be accurate, it’s usually pretty good at finding a number of different routes between two points).
One area of possible interest that you can’t reach by either subway or JR line is the island of Odaiba in southern Tokyo, a completely artificial island created in the late 80s that features a number of tourist attractions, shopping malls, and arcades. If you want to go to Odaiba, you have two options, both of which are private railways: the Rinkai Line, run by a company called Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit (it is their only line, in fact), and the fully automated New Transit Yurikamome. Both serve different areas of southern Tokyo and both are reachable via different parts of the Yamanote line- the Yamanote connects to the Yurikamome at Shimbashi station, while the Yamanote reaches the Rinkai Line at Osaki.
But other than these examples and perhaps some other far-flung attractions off the beaten path, so to speak, you are unlikely to use private railways much during your trip, so don’t spend too much time worrying about them.
One last little thing about all these different types of trains: sometimes you will find gigantic stations that house multiple different types of train lines, but these are the exception rather than the norm. Let me explain what I mean: in Shinjuku station, one of the most famous train stations in Tokyo, all of the various lines except for a few are housed in one giant, connected building. So you can walk from the JR lines to the subway lines to the private railway lines without leaving the building. This is true in some other stations too, like Shinagawa for one.
However, in many other areas, stations that have the same name (based on the district they’re located in) but are run by different train companies will be physically separate from each other, and sometimes actually quite far away. One of the best examples of this is Suidobashi, where the JR Suidobashi station is located quite far away from the Toei Suidobashi subway station, requiring you to exit one and walk about 5 minutes to get to the other. Just wanted to warn you of this so you know it’s a possibility; just because two train stations with two different train lines have the same name, doesn’t mean they’re always located in the same building. In fact, the opposite is usually more likely.
The fourth and final type of train line present in Tokyo is one that I would bet you’ve probably heard of: the Shinkansen, or bullet train. These are the famous Japanese trains that go from one city to the next at breakneck speeds; current trains reach a max speed of 200 MPH (320 km/h), with plans for future trains that can hit a max speed of 375 MPH!
As you can see in the image below, the Shinkansen is an easy way to access all sorts of different cities from Tokyo. Thanks to the new Hokkaido expansion, it can even get you off of Japan’s main Honshu island (the one Tokyo is on!) and onto the northern island of Hokkaido. Sadly though the major attraction of Hokkaido, its largest city Sapporo, is still quite far from Shin-Hakodate, which is as far as the Shinkansen will take you right now. The local train ride from Shin-Hakodate to Sapporo is an additional 4 hours; to put that in perspective, Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate via the Hokkaido Shinkansen is only about a 4-5 hour journey, even though the distance is greater. Eventually the Hokkaido Shinkansen will be extended all the way to Sapporo, but not until 2030 at the earliest.
What does all this mean for you as a tourist in Tokyo? Well, if you don’t plan on leaving Tokyo at all, it means absolutely nothing: the Shinkansen is only good for long-distance travel in Japan. It is completely useless to you if you plan on staying in Tokyo. On the other hand, if you plan on leaving Tokyo and exploring other major cities, it is a very convenient and easy way to travel between them.
Basically you have three options for long-distance travel in Japan: Shinkansen, domestic flights, and long-distance highway buses. Buses are your cheapest option (with some interesting options like overnight buses available) but also take by far the longest; a bus from Tokyo to Osaka would take about 8 hours total, but can be as cheap as 3500 yen each way (about $30-35 USD). A Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Osaka would cost about 14,000 yen each way (about $120-130 USD), but takes just 2.5-3 hours depending on which line you take. So basically you’ll pay more to get there much faster. There are some economical options available for travelers, most notably the JR Pass (that we’ll talk about later). Meanwhile, a flight from Tokyo to Osaka would take about an hour, with the price varying wildly depending on a number of factors (which airports you use, when you fly, what airline you take, etc.) It comes with all the normal hassles of air travel as well, but it is an option if you don’t mind putting up with that. Generally, I think the Shinkansen is easier just because you can hop right on from a number of convenient stations in Tokyo, you don’t have to go through a long show of security theater to board, and you similarly almost always end up very close to downtown in your destination city, instead of anywhere from 30-90 minutes away from downtown at an airport.
As far as where to board the Shinkansen in Tokyo, all Shinkansen lines run out of the main Tokyo station. In addition, the Tokaido Shinkansen line heading west (toward Kyoto and Osaka) also stop at Shinagawa, and the various lines running east and north like the Joetsu and Tohoku also stop out of Ueno. So if you’re going to Osaka, Kyoto, and other points west, you can board at either Tokyo station or Shinagawa. If you’re going to Sendai or the like, you can board at either Tokyo station or Ueno.
Now that we’ve established what types of trains are available in Tokyo, let’s talk about how you actually go about paying for your trips and riding them. First, let’s discuss the Japan Rail Pass.
One thing I’ve found when discussing Japanese travel with people is that the Japan Rail Pass is very well-known; many people who know little else about travel in Japan seem to have heard of the Japan Rail Pass. Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion as to what the JR Pass actually does and whether or not you need it, so let me clear that up right now.
The JR Pass provides you unlimited travel on nearly all JR train lines (with one major exception that we’ll get to), including the various Shinkansen lines, plus some buses and a few ferrys, for a flat fee. The fee is based on the length and also varies based on what class of pass you buy; the price fluctuates with the current exchange rate, but as I’m writing this a 7-day standard pass runs $256, a 7-day Green pass (allowing access to the Green cars onboard Shinkansen, basically a first class with more seat room and various other amenities) is $342, and a 14-day standard pass is $408 (a 21-day option is also available). The way it works is basically you purchase an exchange order outside of Japan (since it is only available to foreign tourists; Japanese nationals cannot purchase this, as you must show your foreign passport as proof when you go pick it up in Japan), exchange it for the actual JR Pass once you arrive in Japan, and set a start date. From that start date, you have 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days of unlimited travel on JR lines, depending on which pass you bought.
It only works on JR trains (and a couple of affiliated trains, but nothing in Tokyo); any private railways or subways will not accept the JR Pass. In addition, I said there’s a major exception and here it is: each Shinkansen line has several different classes of trains: a super-fast express that skips many stops, a super-slow local that stops at every single stop, and one in between. The bad news here is that on the most famous Shinkansen line, the Tokaido Shinkansen that connects Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, and points further west, you cannot take the fastest Nozomi class trains. Nozomi trains take just 155 minutes to get from Tokyo to Osaka, but they are not covered by the JR Pass. You can take the middle option, the Hikari class trains, but this takes a full 3 hours to go from Tokyo to Osaka. In addition, Nozomi trains run much more frequently than Hikari ones; generally during a non-rush hour there are about 4 Nozomi trains per hour vs. just 2 Hikari trains (there are more of both during rush hours, but still more Nozomi than Hikari). This is a bit of an inconvenience but ultimately shouldn’t be viewed as a total deal-breaker.
So should you get a JR Pass? You just need to ask yourself a few important questions about your trip to figure it out:
- Are you planning to travel outside of Tokyo at all? If the answer is no, then immediately you should not purchase a JR Pass. Travel inside of Tokyo basically runs about $2 per ride; even if you ride all over Tokyo every single day you’re there, you will never make up the value of a 7-day JR Pass. If you are planning to travel outside of Tokyo, move on to the next questions:
- Where are you planning to go? And how many trips are you planning to make? These will ultimately be the biggest questions on whether or not the pass is worth it for you. There’s a great online tool available to help you figure this out, by comparing the cost of purchasing each Shinkansen ticket separately vs. the cost of a Japan Rail Pass. Just enter in each trip you plan to take and it will automatically calculate whether or not the JR Pass pays off for you.
If you want to make things even simpler, based on common itineraries: if you just go from Tokyo to Osaka and back, that’s about the cost of a 1-week JR Pass. However, since the JR Pass doesn’t let you ride on the faster Nozomi trains (as we discussed above), you might as well just forego the JR Pass in this case (it’s really up to you, though). If you add in one other trip, for example a trip from Osaka to Nagoya, or a trip further west than Osaka and back to Tokyo, or basically anything else, at that point the 1-week JR Pass will start to pay off for you. Just keep in mind of course that you have to fit all that travel into 1 week!
If you decide to get a JR Pass, just keep in mind that it is a personal pass for you only and cannot be shared with another person. Your name on the JR Pass has to match the name on your passport, and you need to travel with your passport at all times (you’re supposed to do this when you’re in Japan anyway) because the guard at the manned ticket gate when you go through may occasionally check to make sure they match.
Finally, one last note on the JR Pass: you can use both non-reserved and reserved seating on Shinkansen trains with a JR Pass. In the case of non-reserved seating, which are the train cars that anyone with a general Shinkansen ticket or pass can board and are first-come, first-serve seating, you just show them your pass to get through the gates, head to the station platform marked non-reserved (don’t worry, it says it in English), and line up for your train. This is fine if you’re traveling during off-peak times and days, but keep in mind that weekend and rush hour trains can get quite crowded, reducing your chances of getting a non-reserved seat.
If you want to reserve a seat in one of the reserved cars (again, marked as such in English on the platform), you just have to take your JR Pass to a ticket sales counter or office at any JR station. The counter, also called a midori no madoguchi (literally “green counter”), will allow all JR Pass holders to reserve tickets on any available Shinkansen train for free (except the Nozomi class trains, as per above). At that point, you’ll get a ticket along with your JR Pass, go through the gates like above, but be able to head for one of the reserved cars and head to your designated seat, guaranteeing you a seat on the train. Of course, the downside to this is that you have to plan your train trips ahead of time instead of just boarding the next available train whenever you feel like; it is considered very rude to reserve tickets on the Shinkansen with your JR Pass and then not show up for the train, so even though there’s no real penalty to you for doing so you should try to avoid it if possible.
In addition to all of that, remember that you can also purchase a Green JR Pass that allows you access to the first-class Green cars. All seats in the Green cars are reserved only, so you just need to take your Green JR Pass to the counter, same as above, and reserve a seat on the Shinkansen you want. While the extra leg room and such is nice, the real benefit of getting the Green pass is train availability during peak holiday times. If you are traveling in Japan during a holiday, especially Golden Week in May or Obon in mid-August, you should seriously consider a Green pass for this reason. Standard reserved seating on many Shinkansen trains will sell out days ahead of time during these peak periods, but Green cars generally remain much less crowded (due to their increased cost) even during these times. It may be worth the extra money just for the peace of mind of knowing you’ll almost certainly be able to get a train when you want one, instead of seeing all reserved seating sold out for the day you want to travel, forcing you to line up for non-reserved and hope for the best instead.
And that’s everything important about the JR Pass. Phew. The bottom line on it is you might need one, but you very likely do not unless you plan extensive travel outside of Tokyo. However, there IS a different type of train pass that you absolutely, 100% should obtain in Japan, pretty much no matter what: IC cards.
IC stands for Intelligent Card (so yes, just like with “PIN number”, you’re technically being redundant when you say “IC card”, but this is still what the entire internet seems to call it anyway so just roll with it) and, in Japanese terms, refers to a series of preloadable smart cards used primarily for basic transportation. The one pictured above is the one you’re most likely to run into first, the Suica card sold at all JR stations, but there are many others as well. See the image below:
Which card you get depends on what station you purchase it at. In Tokyo, as mentioned you’ll get the Suica card if you buy it through a machine at JR stations. If you use any non-JR station in Tokyo, either one of the two subways or any private railway, you’ll get a PASMO card instead. Other cards are sold at other cities in Japan. But here’s the good news: nearly all IC cards are nearly 100% cross-compatible! There are some very tiny exceptions, but for the most part you can use any IC card you want at any station, even if they sell a different IC card. So in another words, if you purchase a Suica card at a JR station and want to ride the Tokyo Metro subway, you just go ahead and use your Suica card on the gate where it says “IC” (you just have to hold it over the sensor, similar to how the T subway gates in Boston work now) and you’re good to go. You can even recharge your card at any machine you like, so if you buy a PASMO card and find yourself out of money at a JR station, just go to a JR machine marked “Suica” and reload it there. And if you find yourself in other Japanese cities that take IC cards, you can go ahead and use your Suica or PASMO to ride the train there too. It’s extremely convenient, making this by far the easiest way to use the trains in Japan (much easier than the other option, purchasing individual tickets each time you ride). This cross-compatibility is a fairly recent phenomenon, only dating back to about 2013, so traveling by train in Japan has literally never been easier than it is now.
Let’s quickly walk through how to purchase an IC card. We’ll use a Suica card at a JR station as our example, but purchasing a PASMO card at a subway or private railway station should be about the same thing. You’d just be looking for a pink PASMO machine instead of a green Suica one. Make sure you see the Suica or PASMO logo on your machine, because not all the machines are equipped for IC cards (some are ticket only).
The button to put the machine in English isn’t at all obvious at first, but it’s hiding up there in the upper right hand corner. Obviously you should hit that first thing. At that point, it’s just a matter of following the on-screen instructions, inserting bills and coins, and taking your new card. Suica and PASMO cards both cost a 500 yen deposit fee, but the convenience of not having to deal with complex tickets for different rail systems is more than worth this small fee. Just remember that when you purchase your card, the initial value on the card is whatever you put in -500 yen. The minimum is 1000 yen (which would be a 500 yen card), but you’ll almost certainly want to put more than that on there anyway.
At the end of your trip, you can turn your Suica or PASMO card back in (there are manned ticket windows at virtually every station, just take it there) and get your 500 yen deposit back along with whatever remaining value you have on the card. Here’s the one thing that’s different about a Suica and PASMO card: there is a very small 220 yen fee to trade in your Suica card (so for example, let’s say you have 720 yen left on your card: you’ll get 1000 yen back when you turn it in, 720 + 500 deposit – 220 processing fee), while there is no such fee on a PASMO card. In addition, this is the one and only way the two types of cards aren’t cross-compatible. You don’t have to return to the station you originally bought it at, but if you have a Suica card you can only turn it in at a JR station, and vice-versa for PASMO cards (they can only be turned in at a subway or private railway station). Honestly though, I didn’t even bother turning mine in. I kept it as a souvenir of the trip, also knowing that they don’t expire for ten years anyway, so if I went back to Japan I could always use it again. Obviously though if you somehow ended up with a lot of money still left on your card at the end of your trip, it’s good to know you would always have that option to turn it in and get your money back.
Now let’s look at what Japanese ticket gates look like so we can explain how to actually use the cards:
Japanese trains are a double gate system, so you flash your card on the IC card reader on the way in (see the circled image of a Suica card in an example of a JR gate above; keep in mind you can still use PASMO or any other IC card as well!) and on the way out too, and the system uses the distance you traveled to determine your fare. That fare is then deducted from your IC card. Pretty standard stuff here. If you don’t have enough money on your IC card to cover the fare, the gate will flash red and not let you through. In that case, you just have to go over to one of the nearby machines called a “Fare Adjustment Machine” (there will be signs in English marking the way), to go put more money on your card so you can exit. One thing to keep in mind is not all gates are the same: some take IC cards only, some take paper tickets only, and some take both, so just pay attention when you enter and exit and make sure you’re going to the right type of gate. In the picture on the right above, you can also see where the manned gate is (it’s the little window with the group of people standing around it); that’s where you have to go if you’re using a Japan Rail pass, as discussed earlier.
There is just one major restriction on IC cards: when you use them, your station of departure and your destination must be in the same city. You cannot use IC cards to travel from one city to another. So you can use your IC card to get around all of Tokyo, but if you want to take a short day trip to Yokohama (only about 25-35 minutes from Tokyo), your IC card will not work. In that case, you just need to go purchase a paper ticket. However, once you got to Yokohama, you could resume using your same IC card to use trains within the city. Fortunately the process of buying a ticket is not difficult, as you can either use the machines (which support English, remember) or go to one of the ticket sales counters if you like instead. With paper tickets, you insert it into your entry gate and then retrieve your ticket on the other side once you walk through. When you exit at your final destination, you insert your ticket again and this time the gate just keeps it.
And that about covers it when it comes to how to use Japanese trains! Get an IC card, fill it up with money, and get going! One last thing: you should try to avoid traveling during rush hours in Tokyo on pretty much any train line, as you are very likely to find yourself on one of the famous “you’re squeezed so tight a station worker has to come over and push you in to get the doors to close” trains. Rush hour generally lasts longer and is more intense in the morning than the evening. Peak in the morning is from 8-9 am, and in the evening from 5-6pm. Generally after 9 am/6 pm you’ll be fine.
With that out of the way, let’s talk now about the various wrestling venues in Tokyo and what’s nearby them, as well as what train stations and lines service them.
Tokyo Dome/Korakuen Hall
The Tokyo Dome and Korakuen Hall are located right next door to each other, both in a large amusement complex called Tokyo Dome City. There are a number of different train stations very close by, with most being just a stone’s throw away from the large bridge that leads up into the complex. Once you’re in the outdoor Tokyo Dome City area, Korakuen Hall is just down the stairs, next to a TGI Friday’s (of all things). The Dome itself is, well, obvious.
Of course I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but there are a lot of professional wrestling shows at Korakuen Hall (as well as MMA and other combat sports as well). It is not uncommon to see multiple promotions running Korakuen in the same day, let alone the same week. The Tokyo Dome, on the other hand, is used only once per year for pro wrestling, by New Japan on January 4th. If you travel to Tokyo outside of that time, you could still see the inside of the famous building by going to a baseball game; it is the home ballpark of the Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s most popular baseball team. Many anime-related concerts are held there as well, if that’s the sort of thing that might interest you.
Tokyo Dome City is considered part of the Suidobashi area, an interesting neighborhood of Tokyo that, while not quite residential, isn’t as well known or touristy as many of the more famous ones. You’ll find a lot of good food options nearby, especially izakaya (Japanese pubs), as well as a number of karaoke establishments. All pretty standard stuff, but generally just a bit quieter than most of the other major districts. It’s not a bad place at all to stay, because besides being so close to Korakuen you’ll just generally feel like you’re in a more relaxed area than some other parts of the city.
- Suidobashi (JR): The JR Suidobashi station is served by just one line, the Chou-Sobu Line. The good news is it’s just two stops away from Akihabara, one of Tokyo’s biggest train stations that provides a fast connection to the Yamanote line. It’s also only four stops away from Ryogoku, the train station for Sumo Hall. In the other direction, you’re eight stops from Shinjuku, Tokyo’s busiest train station that provides connections to a plethora of different train lines (as well as highway buses to all sorts of places, like Mt. Fuji and others). This makes Suidobashi a more than capable “home base station”, so to speak; if you’re staying nearby, you’ll be able to easily access most of the city, if not from the Chou-Sobu line than from your quick transfer to the Yamanote.
- Suidobashi (Toei): As mentioned earlier, this station is quite a bit away from the JR station; to find it, take the east exit and ignore the Tokyo Dome City bridge, walking past it instead and then across the street. This station is also served by just one train line, the Toei Mita Line, and honestly the Mita line itself does not stop at many interesting tourist areas. However, it is just one stop from Kasuga, where you can transfer to the much more popular Toei Oedo line. This line will provide you with relatively quick access to Roppongi and the Shiodome, two big tourist attraction areas.
- Korakuen: The Korakuen station is located on the other side of Tokyo Dome City, and is a subway station that serves two different Tokyo Metro lines. Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line provides quick access to the glitzy Ginza neighborhood, while the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line can get you to another part of Roppongi at Roppongi-itchome station.
- Iidabashi (JR): Another JR station that’s a slightly further walk than Suidobashi, probably about 10-15 minutes depending on your walking speed (Google Maps says 17, but in my experience in Japan they almost always overestimated walking time there). It is only served by the Chou-Sobu line, however, so there’s not much of a point to getting off here unless you want to transfer to the nearby subway station.
- Iidabashi (Subway): Again separately located just outside the JR station, though much closer than the two Suidobashi stations, is the Iidabashi subway station. It is served by four different subway lines: three Tokyo Metro lines (Tōzai Line, Yūrakuchō Line, and Namboku Line) as well as the Toei Oedo Line. We talked about Oedo and Namboku already. Tozai will take you directly to Nakano, a popular shopping and food area that features a lot of old-style izakaya as well as Nakano Broadway, a famous shopping mall for otaku. There’s not much worth noting about the Yurakucho Line.
- Jimbocho: The last station we’ll talk about is also the furthest; Google Maps says it’s 19 minutes away, so expect it to be about 15-17 if you’re an average speed walker. Jimbocho is another subway station providing access to a number of different lines: from Tokyo Metro, you can board the Hanzomon Line here, and from Toei you can board the Oedo or Shinjuku Lines. Hanzomon is a very short line but provides direct access to Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s biggest and most lively neighborhoods (especially at night). The Shinjuku line provides, as you would expect, relatively quick access to Shinjuku. And hey, speaking of Shinjuku, let’s talk about our next arena!
Shinjuku FACE is another very popular venue (especially among smaller promotions), one you are very likely to head over to at least once during your trip. It is located in the heart of the Shinjuku district, one of Tokyo’s most bustling downtown districts featuring all sorts of things to see, do, eat, drink, etc. There are a number of food options right across the street from Shinjuku FACE, mainly soba (noodle) and sushi shops. Google Maps lists the walking distance here from Shinjuku station at just 10 minutes, so expect it to be under that.
Near Shinjuku Station is a couple of interesting drinking landmarks: Omoide Yokocho (“memory lane”, also known as Piss Alley) is a network of alleyways directly northwest of Shinjuku station. It features a number of tiny, authentic Japanese eateries and drinking establishments, mainly tiny izakaya and yakitori, ramen, and soba stands.
Meanwhile, the even more colorful Golden Gai (pictured above) is another series of alleyways a little further away from the station, basically on your way to Shinjuku FACE. It features mostly tiny bars, some of which can seat as few as 1 or 2 people, that resemble “old Tokyo” (the buildings themselves clearly are quite old!). Some of the tiny bars here are for regulars only, and do not allow any “walk-ins” at all (you must actually be referred by another regular); however, many of the bars do allow anyone to walk in, and some even cater directly to curious foreigners by posting their menus in the window in English. Generally, there’s almost zero chance any establishment that’s bothered to put their menu or other signage in English in their window is a “regulars-only” joint, so it’s probably safe to go in any of those. Just note that pretty much all of these establishments don’t even open until 9 pm or later; if you walk through Golden Gai in the middle of the day or even the earlier evening, it will be a ghost town.
In the building housed by Shinjuku FACE itself is a rather large arcade just a few floors down, a perfect spot to kill time before or after shows there.
Let’s talk about the many train lines available nearby. The only station you really need to concern yourself with here is the titular Shinjuku Station. Shinjuku is the busiest train station in the entire world, serving over 3.5 million people per day! It features a ton of different train lines, including many we’ve talked about already. Here’s all of the JR and subway lines:
- JR Yamanote Line
- JR Chou-Sobu Line
- JR Chou Rapid Line (an express line that runs along Chou-Sobu, skipping many stops including Suidobashi)
- JR Saikyo Line (the line that runs parallel to the Yamanote on the west side of the circle)
- JR Shōnan–Shinjuku Line (a commuter rail that can eventually get you to Yokohama; there are faster ways to get there from Tokyo than this, though)
- Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line
- Toei Ōedo Line
- Toei Shinjuku Line
In addition to these JR & subway lines, there are a number of private railway lines from Odakyu and Keio. These are generally commuter lines for people who live outside of downtown Tokyo to get to work, but there are a couple of reasons why you might take them as a tourist. The Odakyu company runs a special limited express service called the Romancecar that is designed with leisure in mind, to take you to areas just outside of Tokyo like the Hakone mountains or the coastal town of Odawara. But for the most part, most of these are just commuter lines.
Besides the enormous train station, directly across the street is also a large bus station that provides a number of convenient highway buses to locations that might interest you (and unlike local city buses, these highway buses are a little more tourist-friendly). One in particular I’ll note is the Fuji Q Highland bus, a bus that runs directly from Shinjuku to a popular Japanese theme park located just at the base of Mt. Fuji. You can easily purchase a package that includes round trip bus tickets and admission to the theme park, which features a number of really awesome roller coasters if that’s something you’re into (one of them is the current world record holder for steepest drop!).
Overall, if you stay in Shinjuku you’ll have plenty to see and do, with very easy access to the rest of Tokyo as well. Even if you don’t end up staying here, this is a neighborhood you’ll want to check out and spend plenty of time in.
Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall)
Finally, the last venue we’ll talk about today is Ryogoku Kokugikan, probably more commonly known to Western fans as Tokyo Sumo Hall. Sumo Hall features a number of big wrestling shows every year. NJPW runs Sakura Genesis (formerly known as Invasion Attack), King of Pro Wrestling, and the last 3 nights of the G1 at the venue. DDT has their yearly Peter Pan show there, BJW does Ryogokutan every year, AJPW will be running it for the 2nd straight year this year in what looks like a regular thing going forward, and even WWE does a yearly show there (although why you’d go all the way to Japan to see a glorified WWE house show I have no idea, but hey, whatever floats your boat).
Of course, normally the Sumo Hall is used for, well, sumo, which the Ryogoku district reflects. Most of the sumo stables are based here, and some of them will allow you to come in and watch them train and spar if you like. There’s also a number of restaurants nearby run by retired sumo wrestlers, serving the traditional chanko nabe hot pots that sumo wrestlers eat.
There’s a couple other notable attractions that have nothing to do with sumo as well, but of these my favorite is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This is a very interesting museum dedicated to preserving what Tokyo looked like in the past; its name comes from the fact that Tokyo was called Edo until 1869. It features a lot of very interesting, large visual exhibits recreating Tokyo (or Edo) in various decades, making use of everything from scaled down models to life-size rooms.
There are two different Ryogoku train stations, both very close to Sumo Hall itself (we’re talking like a 5-minute walk at most from either), both featuring just one train line. The JR Ryogoku station is served by the Chou-Sobu Line, which means you have direct access back and forth from Suidobashi. This is very good news if you find a promotion you really like is running Korakuen Hall on the same day as a Sumo Hall show you’re going to (this happens all the time, actually; on the day of the G1 finals this year, for example, STARDOM is running Korakuen at noon and then Big Japan is running Korakuen at 6:30, and I’m planning to try and make all 3!). The trip between Suidobashi and Ryogoku on the Chou-Sobu Line takes just 9 minutes, so you can leave one and get to the other very quickly; even if you leave after a show’s scheduled start time you’ll at least know you won’t be missing much in transit (Japanese train lines are among the most reliable in the entire world when it comes to being on time, with delays being very rare, so that certainly helps too).
That’s going to do it for this week’s edition of Nihon ni Ikimasu!
Next time, we’ll talk all about how to buy tickets to the various wrestling shows, which will hopefully be a much shorter topic than this one. If you came away from this with any questions, feel free to either e-mail me ([email protected]) or tweet me (@toshanshuinla) and I will be happy to answer them for you if I can. See you next time!