Japan is for travellers from Europe or America mostly big unknown. We also had some small concerns what to expect before our journey to Japan. Can they speak English? How can we order food? Will we be able to withdraw money from ATM with our European card? Is the public transport marked well and we’ll get where we need? How can travel by Shinkansen? In this part we present useful information about transport in Japan.
After arrival to Japan
We arrived in Tokyo – Narita airport from Doha around 7pm. local time. On the plane we were given two forms to fill out (Customs declaration and Arrival card). We submitted the Arrival Card at the immigration control and Customs declaration at the customs control. If you don’t receive the forms on the plane, never mind. There are lot of forms before the immigration control at your disposal. We always carry pen so we are ready to fill out forms 🙂
The officer that directed people which line to stand, handed over to us a small piece of paper with actual time. We had no clue what that meant. It was our first meeting with Japanese perfectionism. The officer who controlled our passports filled on the same paper time he actually ended the control. In my case it took exactly 2 minutes from standing in the line up to the end of the immigration control! Unbelievable. Probably nowhere in Asia during our travels have we met with such effective work and fast immigration control.
Transport in Japan
Save money on Shinkansen by using Japan Rail Pass (JRP)!
We knew that we would be mostly travelling around Japan by train. Especially, the one called Shinkansen or in other words the “Bullet-train”. Therefore one month before our arrival to Japan we had ordered Japan Rail Pass. From placing order via internet till the delivery of the voucher by post only 2 working days passed (delivery from Paris).
So you don’t have to rush with the order. Japan Rail Pass cannot be bought in Japan. You can buy it only outside the territory of Japan! Since it is not a cheap thing, you should consider: how will you be traveling in Japan? By trains? What distances you expect to pass?.
You can use Japan Rail Pass on shinkansen trains (Hikari, Sakura or Kodama). Japan Rail Pass is not valid fro public transport. However you can use it in Tokyo for Yamanote Line, which is JR Line.
How and where to exchange your JRP voucher
After you arrival to Japan it is necessary to activate the JRP. This means that you exchange the voucher for valid Japan Rail Pass. Only after the exchange you will have valid Japan Rail Pass. It is possible to do it in the JR (Japan Rail) office at the airport or if you don’t make it on time because your flight arrives too late (as was in our case), you can activate the JRP on main train stations in the cities. List of cities is stated where you can exchange your voucher is in the documents delivered to you with the voucher.
In Japan there are more train companies. Always check whether you can use particular train company with your JRP. If the train is Japan Rail there is of course no problem.
This was our dream to travel with shinkansen (“bullet-train”). It is supermoder train that made Japan famous. It can achieve velocity more than 270km per hour. We used Shinkansen on our travels several times. The first time we travelled with shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto (without JRP on this track you would pay for one-way ticket approx. 117 EUR!). Distance between this cities is around 460 kilometers and the train Hikari have made it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. From Tokyo-station the train had 6 stops from which one other stop was within Tokyo – Shinagawa.
Attention! JRP is not valid for the fastest trains Nozomi and Mizuho.
Shinkansen trains have separated platforms.
At the entrance to shinkansen part of the station there are gates where people with non-JRP tickets pass. If you have JRP go straight to the officer and show him your JRP. He/She will allow you to proceed to the platform. Before the ride it is useful to make reservation (you will get it free of charge with JRP). Most coaches of the train are reserved so it is good idea to do so. Trains on the Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo and return are often full despite the fact the go frequently.
You can travel also in something like business class is on the planes. It’s “green coach”. We did not use it on our travels 🙂
Before entering the train follow the lines on the ground 🙂
There are paid lockers where you can store your luggage on almost all train stations. Prices are different for different size of the locker (the larges 600 JPY).
During our visit to Hiroshime the lockers were out of order. It was because of historical visit of american president Obama. Necessary precautions were adopted 🙂
We are standing in Kyoto in front of a ticket vending machine and looking at a board above it. It takes a little time to understand the system of selling tickets. There are only Japanese characters on the board and lot of numbers. At last we found out. It is two stops to the station where we want to get off. There is number 210 (i.e. price is 210 JPY). Vending machines are also in English language but it was not clear at first how to proceed. In the first place you have to set the price of the ticket, then number of tickets and then insert appropriate sum of money. We mark the ticket in turnstile and forward to the platform.
Subway stations in Japan are marked from number 1 and so on. You can then count numbers where you can get off. At the exit from the stop you have to insert the same ticket so that the turnstile will let you pass.
The signs in subway are otherwise very good marked and also in English language.
The prices for bus ride are fixed in the big cities like Kyoto, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Osaka. No matter if you go only one stop or from the first stop to the last one. The price in Kyoto was 230 JPY for a ride. You enter the bus from the rear door. Tickets are not sold on the stops. There are no vending machines. Near the bus driver there is machine where you put your money for a ride when you are getting off the bus. Of course you can buy daily tickets which you just present to the bus driver.
We used trams in Hiroshima. It was great experience. There are lot of tram types in this city. From the ones that were made in fifties to the modern ones. You also pay for a ride in tram at the exit. You cannot buy tickets at the tram stop.
Taxi and Uber
Taxis in Japan are way too expensive. For example the journey from Narita Airport to the Tokyo city center can cost up to 300 EUR. Which is almost the price for our return airticket 🙂 We quite logically chose other types of transportation.
We considered also Uber. However, it was not a bargain and transportation by subway was time saver and cheaper as well.
In Japan cars drive on the left side of the road. There are number of rent-a-car companies in the country. If you want to rent a car remind that you need international driving license.
As on every travels you should adhere to some basic safety precautions. Watch your luggage. Don’t abandon your luggage. Not because someone could steal it. But due to risk of possible attacks in the whole world also Japan adopted safety precautions so the abandonned luggage could be checked by pyrotechnist or eliminated. And nobody would like that 🙂
maps.me – offline maps application as from the name you may have notice. It directs you to your destination even without internet connection. Download appropriate maps of the territories where you want to go/use it.