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.

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

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

  2. Coronavirus

    Why Asian Countries Have Succeeded in Flattening the Curve

    To help flatten the curve in the Covid-19 outbreak, officials at all levels of government are asking people to stay home. Here's what’s worked, and what hasn't.

  3. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.
    Coronavirus

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

  4. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  5. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

×