Japan’s trains, metros and buses are every bit as slick as they are famed to be, and the country’s public transport system is unrivalled anywhere in the world for efficiency, cleanliness and coverage. You’re likely to use several modes of public transport during your Selective Asia holiday in Japan, simply due how everyone in the country travels. It is, without doubt, the easiest way to get around.
Navigating public transport can feel a little confusing at first, but with clear signage and announcements (often in English as well as Japanese) you shouldn’t have any problems getting around independently once you get the hang of it.
Riding public transport is an integral part of the Japan experience - we encourage you to dive in and get on the move, and our Japan office is always on hand should you need any assistance.
Trains are definitely the easiest way to travel around Japan. Train stations are well signposted in English and announcements on all major routes are made both in Japanese and English. And, yes, they’re every bit as punctual as you’ve heard.
There are two approaches to multiple-journey train tickets, either travelling via point to point tickets or the Japan Rail Pass. At Selective Asia, we almost always arrange point to point tickets, and your itinerary will clearly state if a rail pass is being used. Continue reading to learn more about both.
As the same suggests, these are individual tickets for each journey. Whilst the flexibility of the rail pass can initially seem attractive, there are many advantages to the point to point (and we favour this approach in almost all instances). For many journeys, they work out as better value, however the key advantage is convenience and comfort. You are pre-booked on your train and are often allocated specific seats. Your tickets will not only have your specific seat numbers on them, but also the location on the platform that you should stand in order to board your carriage.
If you miss your pre-booked train, you can just hop on the next in the unreserved carriage (many bullet and express trains in Japan have reserved-seat cars and non-reserved seat cars).
We typically arrange pre-booked point-to-point tickets for our clients’ convenience. The following information, however, is provided for travellers interested in how Japan Rail Passes work
Your JR Pass entitles you to unlimited travel on any trains in the extensive Japan Railways network, including most of the famous Shinkansen 'Bullet' Trains, the JR Miyajima ferry, local JR Buses, and the Tokyo Monorail. It’s worth noting, though, that it can’t be used for travel on Nozomi & Mizuho trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.
You must book your rail pass before you arrive in Japan. When you book a JR Rail Pass you are given an ‘Exchange Order’. To redeem your rail pass you need to present this voucher, along with your passport, at a Japan Rail Pass exchange office, which can be found in any major JR station. We would suggest you do this on arrival at the JR station at either Tokyo or Osaka airport. At the time of exchange you will need to specify the date that you wish to start using the pass – this CANNOT be changed subsequently – and your 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days of travel (depending on the length of pass purchased) begin from this specified date.
Many bullet and express trains in Japan have reserved seat cars and non-reserved seat cars. Having exchanged your voucher for the JR Pass, you will be able to make seat reservations. However, reservations are not possible during peak holiday seasons.
You can change a seat reservation once free of charge, and there is no obligation to use a reserved seat if you change your mind at the last minute. If you miss the train you have booked a seat on, your ticket is valid on the next train on non-reserved seats.
In Tokyo, the best way to get around (at least for those who prefer to travel above ground) is by train, and you get to see the city from a whole new angle. That said, the underground Metro does have the advantage of more signs and maps, and it’s very good value - you can get across the city for just 200 yen. The easiest way to pay is with a prepaid smart card, such as IC Card (further details can be found below)
If you thought the London Tube map was confusing, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! There is no denying that, initially, working out the Tokyo or Osaka Metro map takes a moment or two. However, with a little careful studying (and perhaps some assistance from a helpful local) you’ll soon get your bearings.
Using a transport app, such as those mentioned in our own app, makes getting around much more straightforward. If you need pointing in the right direction on the spot, there are English speaking assistance points at most major stations too.
Buses are a common mode of public transport in Kyoto, and are a good way of exploring the city, but they can be slow and crowded. Usually, you get on at the back and off at the front (which is also true of trams in Hiroshima and Kyoto). The easiest way to pay is with a prepaid IC Card (see below for details); simply swipe your card on the machine next to the driver.
For a single journey paying by cash, collect a numbered paper ticket dispensed from a machine as you board the bus. The number corresponds to a number on the electronic display above the driver. Check this number just before you wish to get off to confirm how much you need to pay.
Pay when you get off by dropping the exact change into the transparent box next to the driver. Use the change machine at the front of the bus if necessary; if possible, organise the correct change before you reach your destination.
Alternatively, you can buy a paper day pass at major stations before boarding. The first time you use it, place the card in the slot in the machine by the driver, where it will be stamped with the date. Then, show the dated card to the driver before getting off the bus.
Day passes and pre-paid smart cards can be bought from ticket machines at bus terminals.
A pre-credited IC Card is included as part of your Selective Asia travel arrangements, and you will be given your pass on arrival. In the unlikely event that you use all of the credit, you can easily top it up.
The IC Card is a pre-paid, rechargeable card that can be used on trains, buses and the subway in most of Japan’s major cities (including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Fukuoka), which saves you purchasing separate tickets for each journey. IC Cards can be bought at participating train and subway stations, shops, and many airports.
You can use the IC Card on trains throughout Japan (not the Shinkansen), most buses and even when paying for parking, lockers, and goods from vending machines and participating convenience stores. You simply press the card against the card reader at the ticket barrier as you enter the station, or as you get on a bus, and again when you exit, so they’re very simple to use.
The credit balance is shown on a small display when you pass through a ticket gate and can also be checked at ticket machines. IC Cards can be recharged with more money at ticket machines found at railway stations and other strategic locations, and you can also top up your IC Card wherever you can buy one.
If you are visiting Hakone, this is included in your Selective Asia travel arrangements and you will be given the pass on arrival.
The Hakone Free Pass entitles you to unlimited use of transport in the Hakone area and discounted admission to selected tourist attractions on two or three consecutive days.
This includes use of the Hakone Tozan Railway (Odawara-Gora), the Sounzan Cable Car and Hakone Ropeway between Gora and Togendai, the Hakone Sightseeing Boats on Lake Ashinoko, Hakone Tozan Buses and Odakyu buses within the free area, and Numazu Tozan Tokai Buses between Mishima and Moto-Hakone.
If you are visiting Hiroshima, this is included in your Selective Asia travel arrangements and you will be given the pass on arrival.
This covers unlimited street car journeys around the city, as well as the ferry to and from Miyajima.
You can hail a taxi from marked taxi ranks in multiple locations. Doors will open automatically, so there’s no need for you to pull the handle!
It’s normal for passengers to sit in the back, unless there are four (or sometimes three) of you travelling, in which case one goes in front with the driver.
There’s no need to tip in a taxi, but some drivers appreciate it if you let them keep the change (although we’ve experienced some quite angry reactions to this, with the driver insisting we take the change, so tread carefully!) Try to have close to the correct money, as many taxi drivers do not carry much change.
Have the address of where you are going written in Japanese, unless it is a famous location like the Golden Pavilion or the Skytree in Tokyo. An address written in English might not be easy for a driver to understand.