Because transportation is a pretty long topic due to having different train companies, different methods of travel, different payments for travel…. Yikes.
Grab some snacks, maybe a notebook and pen, and let’s get into it!
The Japan Rail (JR) Pass is exclusively for tourists or any individual who is Japanese but living outside of Japan (conditions apply). I definitely recommend you to get this, if you’re a tourist visiting Japan, only if you’re using the Shinkansen or the Bullet Train to travel to other areas of Japan.
I was in Tokyo, but I also travelled to Kyoto and Osaka, which required the Shinkansen. The price for a one-way trip via the Shinkansen is not worth it compared to the price of a JR Pass. In fact, getting the JR Pass was just slightly more expensive than a one-way trip.
The JR Pass can also be used on regular subway lines and buses as well, but only under the JR company (very specific), as in Japan, there are many different types of train companies, so the JR Pass only works under the specific JR trains and buses (unsure about buses since I’ve only taken two buses in my entire trip, mostly using train lines).
If you’re only staying in one city/prefecture, then I don’t recommend getting a JR Pass as you can get away with a Suica or a Pasmo card (more on that below). JR Passes comes in the duration of 7 days, 14 days and one more option I believe. It will activate the moment you start using it, and start your countdown from there!
When buying the JR Pass in your home country, what you’ll receive is a JR Pass voucher. You will have to exchange the JR Pass voucher in Japan to attain the actual JR Pass itself. I picked up my JR Pass in the airport from the JR travel center while waiting for the N’EX.
I had a horrible experience with Japan-Rail-Pass. After placing the order online, they sent an email asking for an identification, to prevent fraud and will only send the JR Pass voucher after providing the documents. This wasn’t listed anywhere on the site at all. Plus somehow the full amount of money had been deducted already!!?!! Everything just seemed sketchy, and they’re based in Europe, so they’ll be sending the pass from Europe. I was paranoid to send ID via the internet because of identity theft, especially to a company in Europe.
After emailing them a few times, they thankfully replied and are willing to cancel the shipment. They refunded only 90% within a week and was sly about the 10%… after more emailing, 100% was returned.
What a horrid experience, thank goodness this was about 2 months in advance of the trip or else… I would’ve been in a major panic mode.
In the end, ended up purchasing the JR Pass from JTB since they have an office here in Toronto, and everything was smooth sailing from them.
► More on JR Pass: here
Narita Express (N’EX):
There are several modes from and to the airport that you can take. The mode that I took was using the Narita Express (N’EX) train since I was staying in Shinjuku, one of the major transportation hubs in Tokyo. The N’EX brought me directly to Shinjuku.
When my JR Pass expired, the tickets for the N’EX was bought separately at a JR Travel Service Centre or ticket office. There are many locations of the JR Travel Service Centres around, so you can easily Google for the nearest location.
► More on the N’EX: here
Suica or Pasmo cards:
I’m assuming now that Asia’s transportation services are very much similar to their reloadable touch-and-go card system. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have it, and now I’ve seen it in Japan as well.
Suica or Pasmo are almost one and the same, it just comes down to personal preference. Both these cards could also be used at vending machines, and several other places as well.
It’s quite useful instead of buying tickets, but you do have to keep track of your amount, which I believe every time you tap, it’ll show your balance. I didn’t have the chance to use these cards while in Japan, so I can’t mention much about it.
I used tickets instead, and I will explain more about it below.
As mentioned above, I used train tickets after my JR Pass ended. Buying tickets from the machine were quite easy after you get into the habit of it.
When buying tickets, it is important to know how much to pay towards your destination.
There is always a map shown above the ticket machine counters, on the sides of each subway/train entrance. It will list the price below or beside your destination name.
In this case, I had to pay ¥320 in order to get to my destination.
When buying the tickets using the machine, it will not show the destination name, instead it will show numbers, which indicates the price to get to your destination. Using my example of ¥320, simply click 320 on the machine, and insert ¥320 through the coin slots and the ticket will pop out!
I don’t recall for sure if the ticket machine accepted notes, but I think I inserted notes into the machine once or twice.
On the ticket machine, you can switch it to English as well. If I remember correctly, it is on the top right hand corner of the screen.
When using tickets to pass through the gate into the train area, you simply slot it in and it will pop out on the other side – it is important that you keep the ticket as it is your ticket out as well.
To put it in perspective: I’m at Shibuya Station, travelling to Harajuku Station. I will buy my ticket from Shibuya Station, insert the ticket through the gate and keep the ticket. It will pop out of the other side of the gate. Once I get off at Harajuku Station, I will insert the same ticket through the gates to get out of the station. When exiting, the gate will swallow the ticket, so you do not need to pick it up as when entering.
If you forgot to pick up your ticket… you’re on your own now, hahaha. I will suggest talking to the train conductor and see what he/she can do then.
Just a precaution since I’ve only encountered this once during the entire trip and never had a problem with the transportation until this one occurrence.
Being so used to a train on the same line, that I didn’t notice that two different subway lines were at the same location in the station.
As shown in the photo, at Gate 5, there is the Yellow Line which is the Chuo Line and the Blue line which is the Tozai Line. Getting on the wrong train, I had to U-turn back and get on the right train. The train has a few indications of what line it belongs to – the simplest way to find out is the colour on the train. In the 2nd photo, the train had a yellow strip all across the train’s exterior. Another indication is that, they have electronic signs next to the train doors which indicate the next stop and the last stop of the line.If you want to be sure you’re on the right train, you can also check the stops while inside the train (that’s how I noticed I was on the wrong train). They have electronic signs above each door that show the upcoming stops, etc.
It’s good to check and make sure you’re on the right train or you could end up completely lost!
Subway stations are already confusing enough, and now with tons of different exits, helppp...
It is also important to know which exit you’ll need or else you could end up in a completely new area. This is more important to get the right exit to your hotel or where-ever you’re residing. In some areas, it seems alright to take any exit and explore about! 🙂 But for larger stations such as Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station, I would recommend knowing which exit you’ll need.
Tokyo Station is massive. It is the other main hub in Tokyo besides Shinjuku Station.
I’ve been to Tokyo Station a few times – to travel to Disneyland & DisneySea, to go to and fro from Kyoto/Osaka via the Shinkansen/Bullet Train, as well as to visit Tokyo Ramen Street and Character Street.
Tokyo Ramen Street and Character Street are side by side – Ramen Street is on the right side with about 8-10 ramen stores, and Character Street is on the left with all sorts of different character stores, such as a mini Pokemon store (the bigger one is in Ikebukuro), San-X store (Rilakkuma!!), Hello Kitty, My Melody, Snoopy, Ultraman store, etc… It was really cool to go to both!
Anyways, Tokyo Station is massive, but there as with any other station, there were tons of signs both in Japanese and English to help navigate your way around it. So it also helps to find which subway exit you would like to exit out of.
On the way to the subway line to go to Disneyland and DisneySea, I had to walk through this long-winded corridor towards it, and they implemented the moving walkways here LOL… Only in Japan?
Shinkansen(s) were first developed in Japan, and the technology has moved onto countries such as China, Taiwan and England with foreseeable futures in other countries.
I’ve always thought of this technology as wildly amazing and being able to travel from one part of the country to another in high speed… It has been a dream to be able to experience the shinkansen.
You can buy Shinkansen tickets and reserve your seats through the JR Travel Service Centers (the same offices you’d pick up your JR Pass from). There are reserved carriages and public carriages, where you can sit wherever you like.
Be on time – the Shinkansen literally left on the dot! Not a minute longer or a minute less. It was crazily punctual, but obviously for a good reason.
As the ride towards Kyoto was about 3-4 hours long and had to pass by other stops, each stop has a ringtone to it and then the announcer will notify you of the upcoming stop.
You can buy food and snacks from convenience stores to eat on the train as well since my train was at like 7AM and definitely did not have time for a proper meal so eating on the train it is! If you didn’t, there are a few stores in Tokyo Station that sell food plus there is a cart lady going up and down the train selling refreshments so you can grab some off her as well! Tons of options!!
Don’t worry, there are also designated smoking rooms and washrooms within the Shinkansen. To get comfy, the chairs recline and there are “tables” in front of each seat to eat your meal. There are also plugs/chargers right below the window sides of the train… So if you’re seating in the middle, you might not be able to charge your phone/technology. At the first row of the carriage, there is a plug/charger for each seat in the front, your own personal charger – but I’m not sure if this applies to every carriage.
I know this is very lengthy but I hope I have gone into enough detail to help you with the transportation system in Japan!
Till next time, ♥