Greater Tokyo Rail Map

This thing is huge.

This thing is huge. There are probably a hundred thousand mistakes.

GOALS

As anyone who’s been there knows, Tokyo has the most byzantine railway network in the world. Thirteen subway lines, thirty-something JR lines, at least as many private commuter rail lines, and a half-ton of people movers, monorails, and streetcars, all connected in a maze of terminals and through services designed specifically to make the amateur cartographer’s head spin. This system is fundamentally unmappable.

That’s a problem because the Tokyo network’s complexity is directly matched by its incredible ease-of-use. I have visited Tokyo twice, and have taken the train both times, and was amazed at how incredibly easy it was for this bumbling foreign tourist to get around. A good transit map of the Tokyo area should reflect this ease-of-use by clearly outlining what types of services exist (JR, private/third-sector, metro, &c.) and how they relate to each other (through services and so forth). Where you can go in one seat, essentially.

INSPIRATION

The design of this map draws from three main sources. The first is Massimo Vignelli’s famous 1972 New York Subway map (and its successor, the 2008 Weekender map), which will always be my favorite transit map of all time, simply because the New York subway has all the complexity of the Tokyo train system, but on a smaller scale, and this person managed to untangle it and make something simple and refreshing along the way. This map was made in the Vignellian spirit. Vignellian. That’s a word now.

The second source is a stylized geographic map of the Tokyo rail network from Flickr user quashlo, which managed to be a more successful transit map than most official maps because there was no distortion at all. Your average Tokyo rail map is pretty geographically accurate in the center (i.e. within the Yamanote line), but once you gofurther afield things are smooshed and stretched and distorted something awful. This wouldn’t be a problem with most cities, but with Tokyo that’s Bad because among the areas considered “further afield” is Yokohama, second-largest city in Japan and home to its own small tangle of rail lines. There’s even a subway! It’s almost insulting what most maps of the region do to that city.

(Also, the Flickr map gave me most of the station names—“Kodomo no Kuni” instead of “Kodomonokuni”—and those “B” and “R” bullet things for the Yokohama subway, sooo…)

The third source is a very well-known map not unlike this one, the famous FML map, which does a lot of what I’m setting out to do, except it doesn’t outline mainline through services, doesn’t differentiate between modes and Yokohama is still squished. But it’s been going for about ten years and is probably the most well-known unofficial Tokyo rail map in existence.

METHODOLOGY

One thing that’s bothered me about how people usually map Tokyo’s train network is how they differentiate between different modes. You have to differentiate between the following, usually in this order: JR lines, private lines, subway lines, and people mover/monorail/streetcar lines. Folks usually delineate the JR lines by dashing them, which I find extremely visually unpleasant. So, I’m kinda amazed that most people don’t just use different line thicknesses and leave it at that.

How I drew the through services depended entirely on what those through services did. If the through line functioned just as an extension of the subway line, I blended the two lines together (ex. Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line [Z] to Tokyu Den-en-Toshi Line [DT] at Shibuya Station). If the through line is associated with a particular service pattern, I drew the subway line alongside the through rail line (ex. Tokyo Metro Tozai Line [T] to JR Chuo Line [11/12/14/15] at Nakano Station). Sometimes both happens, like with the Toei Subway Asakusa Line [A] at Oshiage Station. Some Asakusa Line trains run only to Aoto or Keisei Takasago, but some run the entire length of whatever Keisei line they’re running on.

Every line is given a number (JR lines, excepting the NX Narita Express) or [a pair of] letter[s] (everything else), and that’s what primarily used to identify each service here. For example, the Tokyu Meguro Line is not identified here as the Tokyu Meguro Line, instead, it’s the MG. This was done because (1) it’s easier to differentiate between lines that way, (2) it’s easier to index in the legend, and (3) just about every single railway line in the Tokyo area has been assigned a pair of letters as part of a station numbering scheme, so why not use that to your advantage? (The holdouts are the JR lines [which were assigned whatever numbers they were given on the official JR map of the Tokyo area] and a couple of lines way out in the boonies [for which I improvised]).

The font is Futura, because that’s what the Tokyo subway uses on a lot of its signage. It does present some readability issues (is that a small ‘a’ or a small ‘o’?), but it’s still pretty much the only concession to Tokyo’s “identity” I allowed. For some reason my version of Inkscape doesn’t have Futura in bold. Alas.

I did not draw the Shinkansen lines on the main map. To me, those are for traveling extremely long distances, like out to Osaka or Nagano or Sendai or someplace like that. I wouldn’t take the Shinkansen to Atami or Takasaki. Nor did I draw most of the named trains (excepting some of the airport access trains), because that just seemed needlessly complex.

I drew in the prefectural borders because I find it helpful when orienting myself in the map space.

FUTURE

I tried to future-proof this thing as much as I could. As it is now, the map should be current between 2015 and (at the earliest) 2018. The fourth file linked to in this post (the Google pdf, also from quashlo) gives a really good overview of what could be in the coming decades.

I included the Ueno-Tokyo rail link and the Sotetsu JR link here, neither of which are complete as of this writing. I don’t know what the service patterns will look like on the Tokaido/Tohoku lines ones they’re done, so this is only an uneducated guess. (There is, for example, approximately zero evidence that Tokaido Main Line services will run through to Omiya.) I hear at least once source says the 17/18/21/22 JR lines are set to go to Ofuna (!) after the thing opens, but that screwup would be relatively easy to fix. We’ll see when it opens, yeah?

I didn’t include anything related to Tokyo’s preparations for the 2020 Olympics (i.e. Yurikamome extension, new JR rail line to Haneda Airport) because those plans haven’t advanced far enough along yet. I don’t even have concrete opening dates. The good news is it shouldn’t be too terribly hard to include them. Below are some stylized maps of hypothetical express services from both airports and service for a hypothetical Haneda Airport Line.

Messing around with curves for fun and profit.

Messing around with curves for fun and profit.

Station names between Tamachi and Seibijo are entirely speculative.

Station names between Tamachi and Showajima are entirely speculative and almost certainly inaccurate.

LESSONS

The first thing I learned was precisely why so many of the places further afield (like Yokohama) are distorted as much as they are: the farther out you go, the stations are spaced really far apart relative to the center, and if you’re attempting to at least pay lip service to geographic accuracy out there, the stations on the map will also be spaced really far apart. This isn’t exactly a good thing if your canvas isn’t infinite (the finished product clocks in at 15000 x 15000, a size only manageable on mobile apps) because when you attempt to squeeze a network this big into a small space the first thing to go will be geographic accuracy (cf. whole system strip maps on top of train doors). The sole upshot, of course, is that it makes future proofing easier (for example: an earlier draft left out the Yumemino station on the JS Joso Line; the stations were spaced just far enough apart that I could squeez it in without too much trouble).

The second thing I learned is more fundamental: a big reason the Tokyo trains are a map designer’s nightmare is the network is not at all suited to a map where everything’s set at 45-degree angles. Tokyo was built as a series of concentric circles. (The Yamanote Line describes one circle, the Oedo Line another, while the Nambu and Marunouchi Lines describes a third. There’s at least one more further out.) That’s probably why the best map of the Tokyo railway system is ZEROPERZERO’s. Their map celebrates Tokyo’s inherent, er, circularity by reveling in how all those rail lines twist and turn and loop every which way. I’m not entirely sure of its success as a transit tool for the region, as all the JR Lines and private lines are one color, and Yokohama got squished again, but it’s still a trillion times better than any other Tokyo transit map in existence.

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About theoditsek

I like going places.
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3 Responses to Greater Tokyo Rail Map

  1. Bernie Ng says:

    Hi Theodore,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a few years now – I am a fellow transit and cartography enthusiast and I really admire your work! I don’t see many other comments on your work on the blog but I hope your maps get the attention they deserve, because there are some maps on an epic scale that you’ve put together. (I came across your site when doing some research for my own attempts at drawing the railway systems of the Kansai Region and the Greater Tokyo Metro area.)

    I’d be delighted to share a couple of my maps if you are interested – feel free to let me know if there’s a preferred location I can send some PDFs to. I grew up in Sydney, Australia but I’m now based in Hong Kong, so many of my maps are of these two cities. I have tried my hand at drawing a Tokyo Railway Network map some years back after seeing the ZeroPerZero effort and I think it got somewhere, but having recently realized that JR is rolling out station and line numbering, I wanted to give it another shot as this just makes it that much harder to visualize everything in such a small amount of space. This is why I came back to your page about your Tokyo Railway Map from 2014 and why I dropped you a note to say hi!

    Again, keep up the great work! I always enjoy seeing your latest work.

    Best,
    Bernie

    • theoditsek says:

      Hey, Bernie!

      I’d love to see more of your work! The best place to send stuff to me is theoditsek at gmail. The Kansai and Hong Kong maps have me intrigued. It’ll also be really cool to see what you’ll do with Tokyo this time!

      Cam’s featured your Singapore, Melbourne, and Stockholm maps on his blog, and I’ve seen your Sydney and Tokyo maps drifting around elsewhere, but do you have a Behance or a Flickr or something where all your maps are in one place? My Google-fu is failing me.

      Your maps of Tokyo and Singapore are easily the best ones either city has ever had!

      • Bernie Ng says:

        Hello Theodore,
        Thank you for your note and your (way too kind!) feedback. I have not gotten around to setting up my Behance / Flickr streams but I’m going to do it soon – better late than never, right? In the meantime, I’m going to drop a few maps to your email, and of course I welcome any feedback and comments you have.
        Cheers,
        Bernie

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