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Transportation

Transportation in Japan

The main transportation in Japan are trains, subways, buses, taxis, and airplanes. These transportation are all very time punctuated which may be quite surprising for some people. Also, the trains and subways run very often during the day, so you won’t have to worry even if you miss the previous one.

Trains / Subways

With more than 80 train lines and over 700 stations, Tokyo’s public transportation may be one of the most complicated in the world. Despite how busy the trains and subway lines are, the public transportation in Tokyo are quite accurate and they also run at a very frequent pace. It is not exactly the same when you are not in a big city, but overall, the public transportation in Japan are very reliable and convenient.
Even though it is useful, the train lines and transfers are quite complicated, especially in Tokyo.

In this case we would highly recommend using a smart phone app while traveling.
The app that we will recommend is:

NAVITIME for Japan Travel – Transit Guide, Wi-Fi Search & Train Route Map
→Language: English, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese

Bullet Trains

Bullet train runs faster than 200km/hr, it can bring you to your destination in a short period of time. Despite its speed, the train ride is very cozy and you won’t feel much jolting and it is very quiet; the quality of the bullet train is very high. Other than that, you won’t have to arrive to the station 2 hours before the train like the airplane, so it is much more convenient than the airplane. The only problem is that the tickets are quite expensive. But as a visitor, there are many choices available which can make the price much cheaper for you when you use the bullet train. Please go to the JR Pass section for more information.

(In 2027, there will be a new central bullet train that will run from Tokyo, Shingawa station to Nagoya station, it is planned to take only 40 minutes from this two stations where it usually take about more than 1 hour. The speed of the train will go up to 505km/h!!)

There are two types of cars on a bullet train which are ordinary cars and green cars (first class cars). You can choose to buy tickets for either cars, but green cars will be more expensive than the ordinary cars. For the ordinary cars you can choose to book open tickets or tickets with reserved seating.
You can buy the tickets at the stations on the ticket machines but we would recommend you going to the ticket counters (Midori no Madoguchi) in the station for them to help you since it may be more complicated when purchasing bullet train tickets. It is not a cheap purchase so it is best to have someone professional to help.

Important Information When Using The Trains / Subways

Tickets

You can get tickets for the JR rail and subway at the ticket machines located in the stations. You will have to first check the map that is located on top of the ticket machines; it will show the price of tickets you will have to get for your destination. The machine and map will look similar to the picture below:

Train Ticket Machine
Train Map

You will have to find your destination and look at the price that is written next to it and buy the exact amount for the tickets. The JR trains and subways are run by several different organizations so the tickets are not used for all of them. When you travel on more than one line ran by different organizations, you will have to purchase the tickets again when you transfer. So, instead of buying tickets each time, we would highly recommend you using IC cards. IC cards costs 500 yen each card and you just have to top up for traveling. The price of traveling is cheaper when you use IC cards. When you are preparing to leave Japan, you can return the IC cards at the offices at the stations and the 500 yen will return to you. However, the unused top-ups will not return to you, so try your best to leave as little money in the card as possible. But you can always keep the cards for the next journey to Japan! The IC cards are used all over Japan so you can use them even if you are in a different city.
Not only you can use the IC cards for traveling, you can also use them to pay your Taxi, food you buy at the convenience store, drinks you buy at the vending machines, and much more. If you do not want to bring much cash on you, you can also top-up the amount you would like to use in your IC card so it makes it more convenient for you.

Other than IC cards there are JR passes or Metro passes that you can buy for cheaper traveling. For more details, please go here.

Just be aware that the ticket machines do not accept credit / debit cards, they only accept cash.

Manners when riding the train / subway

On the trains in Japan, it is not very polite to talk on your phone. You will almost never see anyone talking on the phone while riding the train. If you really have to call someone or answer a phone call, just make sure you lower your volume so you don’t distract other people around you. It is also the same when you talk to someone on the train. It is especially that way during the rush hours in the morning when everyone is in a bad mood when heading to work.

Rush Hours

Rush hours in Japan usually run from 7am to 9am in the morning and 5pm to 8pm in the evening from Monday to Friday. Tokyo’s rail / subway system is especially packed during the rush hours.

If you need to catch a flight it is best to give yourself a bit more time for traveling. It will also take a lot more effort to get on to the train if you have big suitcases.

Around the morning rush hour, until about 09:30am, on most lines there is a “Women Only carriage,

Those carriages are usually located at the very end of the trains, just be aware of it while you travel during the rush hours. The carriages will have stickers looking like this image.
It is not illegal for men to travel on those carriages during the rush hour, but you may not be very welcomed by the women in the carriage. Other than the morning rush hour period, the carriage is the same as all other carriages and is available for everyone to use.

Discount Tickets For Foreigners

Japan Rail Pass

JR lines run through the whole country but it is separated into sections due to the geography; including East Japan, Central Japan, West Japan, Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido. The JR Pass could be used all over Japan and it is also available for the Tokyo Monorail for going to Haneda airport.

Prices of Exchange Orders (as of March 2016)

In order to purchase the Japan Rail Pass, you will have to buy the Exchange order in your home country and bring it with you to exchange it into a Japan Rail Pass before you start your visit.
There are two types of JAPAN RAIL PASS: Green (for first class Green cars), and Ordinary. Each of these types is available as a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day PASS.

Type:
Green
Ordinary
Duration
Adult
Child
Adult
Child
7-day
38,880 YEN
19,440 YEN
29,110 YEN
14,550 YEN
14-day
62,950 YEN
31,470 YEN
46,390 YEN
23,190 YEN
21-day
81,870 YEN
40,930 YEN
59,350 YEN
29,670 YEN

Other than the main one which you can use anywhere in Japan (excluding Okinawa), there are 10 different ones you can choose from depending on the area you are traveling to. You can travel with the most economical way with the JR passes.
From North to South the passes include: Hokkaido Rail Pass, JR East Pass (Tohoku area), JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area), JR TOKYO Wide Pass, JR West Rail Pass, All Shikoku Rail Pass, Kyushu Rail Pass.

For example, in the East Japan area, including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Saitama, Chiba, and North East Japan, there are three main types of JR passes that you can choose from.

Tap this to show the tableClose
Japan Rail Pass JR East Pass JR TOKYO Wide Pass
Place of Purchase CANNOT purchase in Japan!!Have to purchase Exchange Order before coming to Japan and exchange it in Japan. Available for purchase in Japan Available for purchase in Japan
Place of exchange Available to exchange at the major stations such as Tokyo station, Ueno station, Shinjuku station.The most convenient is exchange at the airport’s JR pass exchange. Available at most major stations. Available at most major stations.
Usage Available for the 6 JR groups covering Japan (other than Okinawa). It is available to use certain buses and ferries as well.But you are not allowed to use it for Nozomi and Mizuho bullet train. There are two types of these passes which will include either,East Japan area + Tohoku areaOrEast Japan area + Nagano, Niigata area It includes the Tokyo area, Chiba, Kanagawa, Izu, Mt. Fuji, Yamanashi, Karuizawa, Gunma, Nikko, Ibaraki, and more.
What do you need
Exchange order
Passport
Passport
Return flight ticket
Passport
Details Please see above for the price details. Adult: 20,000 yen / Child: 10,000yenCan use for any 5 days within a 14-day period starting with the date of purchase or exchange. You have to determine the 5 travel dates at the time of purchase. Adult: 10,000 yen / Child: 5,000 yenAvailable for 3 consecutive days

Other than the main ones there are various types of tickets you could pick from depending on what your travel plans are. For example, East Japan + Hokkaido and Hokuriku arch pass. There are cheap one way / one day tickets that could be used accordingly as well. These tickets are constantly changing so it is best to do some research and visit the ticket offices at the stations for the professionals to help you find the best ticket for your traveling plan.

For more details, please refer to the link below:

Tokyo Subway Ticket

There are three types of tickets: 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours. Within the hours, you can take unlimited rides on all Tokyo metro and Toei subway lines.

Tap this to show the tableClose
Adult Child
24 hour 800 yen 400 yen
48 hour 1,200 yen 600 yen
72 hour 1,500 yen 750 yen

There are several places where you can purchase them; you can also purchase the exchange order in your home country.
Please refer to the details here: Tokyo Subway Ticket

Other than the Tokyo Subway tickets, there are other discount tickets which you can choose from so you can make the best out of them while you visit Japan along with the JR pass.

Please refer to the following link: Discount Tickets

Taxi

Taxis in Japan are quite safe and clean comparing to some other countries.

The basic fees are usually 410 yen when it is within 1.052km; within Tokyo 23 wards, Musashino city, and Mitaka city, the taxi fee increases 80 yen every 237m (Price changed from 2017/1/31). The price will vary depending on the city you are traveling in.

The doors of the taxi usually opens on the left, and it is automatic so you do not have to open it yourself when getting in or getting out of the car. But the door on the right does not open automatically so you will have to open that side yourself.
If the taxi uses toll roads or parking for sightseeing, the guest will have to pay the extra plus the price shown on the meter. High ways in Japan are not free, so usually the driver would ask you if it is okay not to use the high way, if you do not want to pay extra money, make sure to tell the driver.

The method of payments would be cash, credit card, debit card, IC card; however, there are still some taxis that only accept cash. It is better to double check with the driver before getting onto the taxi.

Uber in Japan

It is against the law for people to use one’s private car to drive people around with a charge. So Uber in Japan is a bit different, basically it is a company that is accepting the requests. The company uses nice cars and professional drivers; so using Uber is actually more expensive than using normal taxis.

There’s another app called Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association (スマホdeタッくん) is also owned by Tokyo taxi association, this app is also used to call and pay for taxis

Car Rental

Since public transportation are very well developed in Japan, you do not really need to drive by yourself. Especially in bigger cities, we would recommend using the public transportation rather than trying to drive and get stuck in traffic. Unless you are traveling to places more countryside, you do not really need a car. Though there are cases that driving would be faster than taking public transportation since you won’t have to stop by other places on the way. In Japan, the steering wheel is on the right and you drive on the left side.

Car rentals in Japan usually start from 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours or countering by days when it becomes longer than 24 hours.

The pricing varies depending on the car type. Cheaper ones would include insurance, expensive ones will be without and you have to add it in if you need insurance, which we would highly recommend.
Pricing could start from ¥6,000 for six to twelve hours; ¥7,500 for 24 hours and ¥6,500 per day afterwards.

Airplane

Other than the rails and bullet trains, there is also the option of airplanes for people to go around Japan. When you are visiting a city that is further away, you can either pick from airplane, bullet trains, or normal trains.

Overall, airplane would bring you to the destinations in the shortest time and normal trains would take the longest. The price would vary depending on how and where you are traveling to since there are so many options for people to pick from.
Low-cost carriers (LCC) are growing bigger and bigger these days and flights between Tokyo Narita airport and Kansai airport (KIX) could be less than 10,000 yen. The flight takes about 1 hour.

By looking at this flight time, it may seem the best choice since it is cheaper than the bullet train as well. But you will have to calculate the waiting time and the time for getting to and from the airport as well. Since airports are usually located further away from the city center, it takes time and money to travel to and from the airports.

Take Tokyo to Kyoto as an example. The overall time spent for airplane would be longer than the bullet train; it is also more complicated and less convenient since you will have to change the transportation several times while pulling your luggage. Depending on how far you are staying from the airport, the price and time may be a little different but usually the total price for traveling by the airplane would be about the same when using the bullet train. Don’t forget that LCC also causes extra for luggage. Also, if you are planning to travel to more than one city in Japan, we would highly recommend you purchasing the JR pass since it would be much more cost efficient for your visit. In that case, the bullet train will definitely be the best choice.

Bus

Buses are very convenient in some area such as Kyoto and Kamakura. Buses in Tokyo may be quite complicated to understand so we would recommend taking the trains and subways instead.

The prices could either be one price during the whole ride or the price changes depending on how far you are going to. Due to the difference, there are two different rules for payments.

When the price stays the same during the whole ride, you enter from the front door and pay when you get onto the bus.

on the other hand, if the price changes depending on where you are going to, you will usually get on to the bus with the door in the middle of the bus and get off at the front door and pay when you get off.

Most buses would have signs in English as well but it may be best to follow the people around you when you ride the bus.

Coach

For people who have a smaller budget, backpackers or students! Other than the bullet trains and railways bringing you to further places, there are many kinds of coaches that go to numerous destinations. You could basically travel around Japan with coaches, you just need to have enough time and energy to use them.

Night buses going from Tokyo to Osaka could be only 1,800 yen, comparing to the 15,000 yen by Bullet train.
The price is much cheaper when taking coaches; however it will take about 8 hours from Tokyo to Osaka comparing to about 2.5 hours by bullet train.

Bus Tour

The last part would be bus tours that are available in Japan.

A lot of them are based in Tokyo but there are also bus tours that are outside of Tokyo such as Kyoto, Osaka, and much more. The tours could be one day, half day, or even just a few hours; you can choose the ones that will fit with your schedule the best for you to enjoy the city the most.

The ones we would recommend would be the following:

Credits for images

Updated: 2017/03/23