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. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  2. Perspective

    Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm

    In cities like New York, Paris, Rotterdam, and soon San Francisco, car-free streets are emerging amid a growing movement.

  3. photo: A Lyft scooter on the streets of Oakland in July.
    Transportation

    4 Predictions for the Electric Scooter Industry

    Dockless e-scooters swept cities worldwide in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, expect the battery-powered micromobility revolution to take a new direction.

  4. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

  5. photo: Dominque Walker, founder of Moms 4 Housing, n the kitchen of the vacant house in West Oakland that the group occupied to draw attention to fair housing issues.
    Equity

    A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing

    The activist group Moms 4 Housing occupied a vacant home in Oakland to draw attention to the city’s affordability crisis. They ended up launching a movement.

×