Maps

Would This Insanely Complex Diagram Help You Navigate a Subway System?

Tokyo made a guide to its labyrinthine underground network. But despite their good intentions, it may as well have been drawn by M.C. Escher.

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Navigating the Tokyo Metro can be a challenge.

Together with the Toei Subway, Tokyo’s is the busiest metropolitan transit network in the world, with over 3 billion annual riders. The Metro’s nine lines have 179 stops, where travelers can transfer, in addition to the Toei, to dozens of privately owned rail lines, dozens of Japan Rail commuter trains, and of course, the Shinkansen bullet trains. (See the "Transport in Greater Tokyo" Wikipedia page for more.)

Are you confused yet? Try transferring at one of the world’s busiest stations.

The Tokyo Metro has by and large done an excellent job helping locals and tourists alike parse this labyrinthine underground network. Digital screens in every train car display the design of the approaching platform, adjusted to correspond to your current car, so you can see which way you’ll have to walk to the elevator, escalator, or transfer points.

And then there is the Tokyo Metro Navi booklet, free for the taking at every station, which maps out both the street geography surrounding the busiest stations and the architecture of the stations themselves.

These latter diagrams are of particular interest, for despite their good intentions, they might have been drawn by M.C. Escher. Is this a navigational aide or some mad artist’s blueprint for a subway station? You decide.

Akasaka-Mitsuke station

Ginza station
Ikibukuro station

Kasumigaseki station

Iidabashi station
Kokkai station
Shibuya station



Top image: Otemachi station. All images courtesy of the Tokyo Metro Navi.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.