Shibuya Station
Photo: Filedimage/Shutterstock Shibuya Station

5 most confusing train stations in Tokyo

And Shinjuku Station is at the top of the list

Emma Steen

Let’s get one thing straight: some train stations in Tokyo are so confusing that even locals routinely get lost in them. So you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that when it comes to navigating the underground labyrinth of Shinjuku Station, or finding an exit at Shibuya Station other than the one that leads to Hachiko, everyone is in the same boat. 

To make things more complicated, in the midst of the city transitioning to remote work, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and general urban development projects, many of the stations are undergoing renovations that have partially altered station exits and train lines. That’s why we’ve outlined this guide to the five most confusing train stations in the city.

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Shinjuku Station

With approximately 3.5 million people passing through it on a daily basis, Shinjuku Station holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s busiest train station. But it’s not just the crowds that make this place so hectic – with 12 different train lines operated by five separate railway companies, the enormous station is a convoluted web of shopping arcades, winding passageways and 36 platforms (crikey).

So the good news is that the station is actually getting a major renovation to make it easier to navigate… The bad news is, the project won’t be complete until 2046, which seems like light years away. 

There are over 200 exits in Shinjuku Station, but you only need to know three: South Exit, Central West Exit and the Central East Exit. The Central East Exit will lead you to Shinjuku Sanchome, where you’ll find Kabukicho and Golden Gai

The Central West Exit is where you can transfer from the JR Lines to the Keio or Odakyu Lines. It’s also the exit that will lead you to the nostalgic streets of Omoide Yokocho. The South Exit, on the other hand, is where you should make a beeline for if you’re heading towards Nishi-Shinjuku or Shinjuku Gyoen. 

Shibuya Station

Shibuya Station has undergone several transformations over the past few years that its layout has seen some significant changes – and more are underway. It doesn’t help that each of the railway lines servicing the station are spread out, where only the Fukutoshin and Hanzomon lines can be accessed through the same ticket barriers. 

Looking for the Ginza Line? You won’t find it underground like you would at most other metro stations. Shibuya Station unveiled a new platform for the orange line in January 2020, which requires you to take a flight of escalators from Meiji Dori avenue or via the second floor exit of the Hikarie shopping mall. 

If you’re unsure of where to go, your best bet is to follow signs for Exit 8 (eight is hachi in Japanese), which will take you to the famous Hachiko statue in front of the JR Station.


Ikebukuro Station

It might not be as famous as Shibuya or Tokyo Station, but Ikebukuro is ranked one of Japan’s busiest train stations. In fact, it's a close second to Shinjuku Station. Ikebukuro is also one of just two stations in Tokyo where the Yamanote train is taken in and out of service, with four platforms dedicated to the green railway line.

With eight different train lines and an estimated 1.13 million passengers (based on a 2019 report published by JR East) passing through the station on a daily basis, it’s easy for non-commuters to feel discombobulated when finding their way around. 

While the station’s concourses have been given charming names like Orange Road, Cherry Road and Azelia Road, it takes a while to get from one side to the other. So make sure you know which direction you’re walking in to avoid having to backtrack. 

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station is stunning when viewed from the outside. The Marunouchi side of the station, in particular, boasts the original red brick structure from when the station was first unveiled in the Taisho era (1912-1926). It looks magical when lit up after dark. The inside of the station, however, is a totally different experience. 

There are a whopping 16 train lines running through the massive station, which spans an area of 182,000sqm (that’s roughly the size of three Tokyo Domes). The station is one of Japan’s most important bullet train terminals: with six different shinkansen lines, finding the right platform and boarding the right train before it departs may as well be an Olympic sport. 

To save yourself from a nervous breakdown when taking a shinkansen from Tokyo Station, get to the station at least one hour ahead of time. Treat the station exits like airport terminals and make sure your pick up and drop off points are at the correct side of the station.

For the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen, head to the Yaesu Central South Exit. JR Central ticketing counters are also found near the Yaesu Central South Exit. Meanwhile, JR East ticket kiosks are on the other side of the station by the Marunouchi North Exit.


Otemachi Station

Otemachi Station might be the most straightforward terminal on this list, but as the largest subway station in Tokyo, it still comes with a few quirks. In fact, Otemachi is so big that it even has an underground passage directly connected to Tokyo Station (it takes about 10 minutes to walk between the two stations, with lots and lots of stairs in between). 

The station has five lines operated by Tokyo Metro (and an extra one operated by Toei). However, transferring from the Tozai Line to either the Marunouchi or Hanzomon lines requires exiting the gate once and crossing to the other side of the station. Insider tip? Try to avoid rush hour

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