Getting around

Paying for public transport

 

    • When arriving in Japan, we will exchange our Japan Rail Pass (JRP) vouchers for the real thing (We usually do this at the JR station in the airport terminal). To make sure this will go quickly, after passport control,  your guide will  obtain all the passports of the group, and pick up all Rail passes at once (in this case, it’s ok to hand over your passport. It’s the only time we request it).
    • our Japan Rail Pass is valid on all trains operated by JR travelling on JR track. The only exceptions are some overnight trains and the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen trains on the Tokaido Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen line. Green Cars are also off-limits; these can be recognized by the green clover-symbol on the wagon itself. Why: the Nozomi and Mizuho trains are commuter trains, especially intended for business travel and Green Cars are First Class cars. The JRP you bought is what they call a leisure pass, in your case, also second class. When you buy a first class JRP, which is possible, you can use Green cars, but Nozomi trains are still off limits. A First Class JRP has very limited advantage over a Second Class one.
    • Your Rail Pass is a powerful tool for your travels within Japan. Hold on to it, as in case of a missing JRP, a replacement can not be issued. To use your JRP on JR trains, just look for the manned gate, show them your Pass and off you go.
    • In some cities, your JRP is also valid on local buses, but these need to be operated by JR for the JRP to be valid (use is very limited).
    • You will have to pay separately for the subway, most buses and some local or private lines that are not a member of JR or if the JR trains travel over track which is owned by a different company, like the Tokyo –> Nikko route.
    • Local trains, the subway and buses work with a base fare, ranging from ¥140~270; the additional fare increases slowly, depending on the distance. Usually, there is a map of the local train/subway system which indicates the cost of the trip. If you’re not sure on how much a trip will cost you, buy the cheapest ticket for adult and use the Fare Adjustment Machine at your destination.
    • To avoid having to buy a ticket every time you want to travel locally, buy a Suica (Tokyo and surroundings) or Icoca (Osaka and surroundings) card valid on most local transport, including subways and buses in their respective area. Both cards can also be used on JR trains in several other area’s, however, JR trains are covered by your JRP for most of your holiday, depending on the type of JRP you have bought (2 or 3 weeks). These cards are mainly interesting for use on Subway and private rail. We recommend that you buy them both. It might come in handy to get a Suica & N’EX-combo at Narita airport. ¥3.500 gets you a cheap ticket for the Narita Express (regular price ¥3.110 to Ikebukuro) and a Suica charged with ¥1.500. You get the card at a ¥500 deposit, which will be returned once you return the card. You can recharge Suica and Icoca cards on most JR stations and Icoca card on subway stations in the Osaka area as well, which saves you a trip to a JR station. These cards can be recharged in units of ¥1.000. You put them on a contact sensor on the gate (the sensor is sensitive enough to see your card in your wallet), the computer will subtract the base fare and lets you through. At the end of the trip, you pass a gate again and the computer will subtract the remaining fare, if applicable. A side benefit of these cards: you can pay with it at some station stores, which is convenient for a fast snack before running to the train you want to catch (limited to use in their respective regions and JR stations/stores only).
    • Most cities also offer one day-passes which allow you to go around town as much as you like for a fixed amount. This might be cheaper than using regular tickets and cards and might come in handy in cities like Osaka, Nagasaki or Fukuoka. On Friday’s you can get a free day pass for the Osaka subway and busses for 650 yen.

 

Travelling by public transport

 

  • Most trains and subways have priority seats. You should give this seat up to the elderly, disabled or pregnant people. In general, it may be fun to shaming the Japanese into oblivion if ‘you’ as a foreigner give an elderly person your seat, whatever type of seat that may be. Also, some cars may be for women only. This will be clearly indicated.
  • There are several types of trains in Japan; apart from the local trains in larger cities, there are Intercity-like trains; divided into Rapid and Special Rapid and Limited express (Progressively less stops). Signs on the platforms indicate which variety stops where. For some of these, you will need to reserve a seat. Please check before departure to avoid not being able to travel with the train you want. The fastest trains in Japan are called Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train.
  • The Japanese railway system is one of the most punctual in the world. Don’t assume the trains leave at approximately the indicated time; if you are late, the train will be gone. Take this into account if you plan on taking the last train back home!
  • Please note that the last few trains to depart are usually Kodama, which are slower trains that may not reach your intended destination. They may also be Nozomi trains, which you are not allowed to use. So make sure you check when the last train leaves. The different types have different colours on the destination displays at the platform: Kodama (こだま) will mostly be blue, Hikari (ひかり) is displayed in red while the Nozomi (のぞみ) is indicated in green or yellow/orange.
  • In order to reserve a seat on a Shinkansen or express train, we have created a small form to make a reservation. This form is enclosed in your travel documents. Please use it, as it will save you time in a usually crowded Reservation Office (Such an office can be recognised by the green sign with a person in a chair in a white circle).
  • MetrO. It’s free software for most smart phones and cover cities like Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Tokyo and Osaka. Use it, because it will get you home if you are lost.