Tokyo is the city of ubiquitous metro lines bringing you close to wherever you want to go. The dense population density ensures a metro stop in walking distance. A city is though best explored above ground, and trams (as a European I prefer to use the word tram instead of streetcar) are one of the best ways to do that. And no, not by bus, traveling by bus is awful.
In Tokyo there are still 2 tram lines in operation. The focus of this article is the Toden-Arakawa Line that runs over 12.2 km from Waseda (in the north of the Shinjuku Ward, close to the famous Waseda University) towards Minowabashi (in the northern Arakawa Ward, 2km north-east of Ueno Park). The other tram line in Tokyo is called the Tōkyū Setagaya Line, a short 5km line running west of Shibuya from Sangen-Jaya to Shimo-Takaidō.
The oldest section of the Toden-Arakawa Line started running in 1913. Most of the Tokyo tram system was shut down in the 1960s.
Inside of the Sakura Tram
Through this line, you can explore some of the lesser known places in Tokyo. The tram is especially popular in cherry blossom season and therefor dubbed the Tokyo Sakura Tram (its official nickname since 2017). However, make no mistake, the tram will not take you to any well-known centres or sight-seeing spots in Tokyo, you will rather see the capital’s older suburban side. Riding this tram is an opportunity to see another side of Tokyo, a view quite different from Shinjuku, Shibuya or Roppongi.
How to take the Sakura Tram
Getting on: get on at the front and pay the fare.
Getting off: get off at the back, but first let the driver know you want to get off at the next station by pushing the stop button (in the same way as bus transport works)
Tickets: You can use your pasmo/suica cards in the same ways as you use any bus transport in Tokyo. You pay the fare when you get on. If you do not have a pasmo/suica card, you can put your fare (exact change) in the box in the front of the car. A one-day pass can be bought for JPY 400 (see the Toei transport company website for more info and other options).
Price: One fare is JPY 170 (children JPY 90), no matter how long you stay on the tram. If you use a pasmo/suica card the fare is slightly cheaper. A one-day pass is worthwhile if you intend to take the tram more then 2 times on the same day. You can buy this when you get on the tram, the driver will be thankful if you have exact change. See the Toei transport company website for details.
Operating hours: from around 6:00 until around 23:00. Note that in the early morning and late at night there is often more than 10 minutes in-between trams.
There are a couple of sights along the Toden-Arakawa line worth stopping by. Most are minor such as the Kishimojin temple (Kishimojinmae Station). Many itineraries are available to explore sights along the tram line, written in Japanese and then translated in English. From a Japanese perspective these make sense, but if you want to see something special (from a foreign point of view), these are all minor sights. If you do get outside, I recommend you the below 3 sights.
1. Asukayama Park (Asukayama Station)
Park in the north of Tokyo that was one of the first major hanami spots in Edo. A scene from the park has been immortalized in one Ukiyo-e from Hiroshige in his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856–59). Best to visit during sakura season late March/early April. Read more.
2. Sugamo Jizō-dōri: Harajuku for old ladies (Kōshinzuka Station)
800 meter long traditional shopping street that has a wide range of clothing, grocery and furniture stores, as well as restaurants and cafes. In particular it has numerous (cheap) clothing stores catering to senior citizens. Its history goes way back as part of the Nakasendō route and presence of Kōganji temple. Read more.
3. Zōshigaya cemetery (Zōshigaya Station)
One of three famous cemeteries in Tokyo established at the end of the 19th century. Many famous people in Japanese history have found their last resting place at this graveyard: Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), Nagai Kafū (1879-1959) and John Manjirō (1827-98) among many others. Read more.
Names in Japanese:
飛鳥山公園 (Asukayama Park), 巣鴨地蔵通 (Sugamo Jizō-dōri), 雑司ヶ谷霊園 (Zōshigaya cemetery)