Underground Mysteries: a Tokyo scavenger hunt

Who doesn’t love mysteries, puzzles and a good scavenger hunt?  Ever year, Tokyo Metro, the larger of Tokyo’s two subway systems, hosts “The Underground Mysteries”, a scavenger hunt featuring their subway stations and the neighborhoods surrounding them.  This year, the game is now on, and continues through January 31, 2019.  You’ve got to try it!

To play requires purchasing a game kit (JPY2,200) from one of several designated stations and then following the clues to solve puzzle problems leading you from station to station.  Game kits are available in Japanese and English and include a 24 hour subway pass to facilitate your hunt.  Buy a game kit in English from the Tokyo Metro pass office in Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ueno or Kita-senju between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm and start to puzzle it out.

I worked through mine in about five hours (the instructions say it usually takes three to six hours) together with a friend whose help was indispensable.  It also helped to take advantage of the online hints and swap notes with some of the other puzzle solvers we met along the way.

The game kit comes in a clever little plastic “file pack”, handy for carrying it as you go, but also containing vital clues itself.  Whatever you do, don’t lose or discard any of the pieces of the kit until you’ve solved everything!  Every graphic used on every document included in your game kit could be a clue, so be aware of all of them.  Even your 24-hour subway pass contains valuable clues.

Start by checking all the contents of the kit–the complete inventory is described inside the Puzzle Guidebook.  Then set out on your “missions” (there are four, each involving using various clues to solve puzzles).

While it wouldn’t be fair to disclose any answers, or even destinations, I can reveal that as part of the first mission, you must identify two groups of three stations and choose one from each group as your first two destinations.  This results in several possible combinations, so that different players can, in fact, be playing different games.  For example, one couple we met while chasing clues near our first choice of station had chosen a completely different station for their second destination.  Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from visiting all six destinations, but you need only the answers to the clues of one from each group in order to progress to the next destination and the next mission.

Note that if you’re playing as a group, you are not required to buy more than one game kit if you don’t want do.  (Though there is a small gift for teams in which each member purchases a game kit.)  Instead, your team members can purchase separate 24-hour subway passes (JPY600) to play along with you.

Generally there are physical clues in or near each station you visit that help you solve puzzles contained in your Puzzle Guidebook that then lead you to your next destination.  An information sheet also gives you other information about things to see and do near each station, too. I actually picked up new information about some Tokyo neighborhoods I haven’t spent much time in.

At one stage in the game, you must be riding on the subway for several stops to pick up clues that show up on the trains themselves. In another case, you have a timed word puzzle, the time limit being the time it takes the subway to travel from one station to the next.  Some of the clues are found in everyday items, while others are deliberately in place just for the scavenger hunt.

I found some of the puzzles to be quite challenging.  I’m not prepared to say the puzzles were culture-bound, but they were in styles and required forms of analysis and problem-solving that were unfamiliar to me.  Be prepared to think outside the box, or outside the lines (as the case may be), and to stand back and look at both the forest and the trees.  And don’t be afraid to compare notes with your fellow puzzle enthusiasts.  Who knows? You may even make some new friends.

Fortunately, there is also online help in the form of hints for each puzzle.  Both the URL and a QR code are contained in the Puzzle Guidebook.  Sometimes even the hints are obtuse, but once the yenny drops, it’s easy to see what’s going on.

When you finish the “Final Mission”, you have to enter the answer online.  And if you’re right, there is a bonus puzzle to solve.  That one really challenged both me and my companion, and it was just “pure, dumb luck” that he spotted the answer while all our game kit papers were spread on a table in front of us.  Our final reward was a kind of certificate of completion.


But let’s face it, the real reward of any scavenger hunt is the chase itself.  And this one was great fun!  I’m so glad they do this annually.  I’ll definitely try to challenge it again next year!

For more information, and even a sample puzzle, check out their website.

© 2018 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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