Japan is famous for efficient railway system. You can travel almost the entirety of Japan by train.
It's unfortunate that they couldn't come up with an easier way to read train maps...
In the big stations they may have two maps; one in Japanese, one in English. However, most of the time you will not be that fortunate. For those traveling short term and long term in Tokyo, I highly advise having the following train maps printed out and with you at all times.(Especially if you cannot read Kanji)
Listed are the 4 rail systems used in Tokyo:(the link goes to the English train maps)
- JR: Japan Railways is the oldest of all. And has rails going up and down all of Japan
- Keio: Travels from central Tokyo to the far West of Tokyo prefecture.
- Odakyu: Famous for it "romance" series of cars...(Whatever that means)
- Metro: The subway, it's so easy to get lost...and the map is the worst...
If you are riding anything other than the Metro, you need to know what train you are about to ride on. You need to know if it's Local, Rapid, Special Express, or whatever. You follow that line on the map, and wherever there is a white dot, it stops. On the JR and Keio map, the big stations have highlighted names, the trains definitely stop there no matter what.
For the Metro, since they are underground they don't really have a rapid. The map looks absolutely insane, but if you just look at it for a little longer, it will begin to make sense. Every station list which line also runs through there. Fortunately, you can ride the JR instead to the more popular places, except for roppongi.
The new F line(fukotoshin)that just opened will not be in many guidebooks. It hits Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Shibuya it appears extremely convenient, however I do not have first hand knowledge.