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Friday, October 21, 2005

Tips for traveling by rail in Japan


Shinkansen bullet trainThe Japanese rail system is second to none in the world for efficiency, as is attested to by what in any other country is the impossible feat of running the trains on time, all the time. Trains are frequent, usually fairly new and comfortable, accidents are extremely rare, and ticketing is straightforward.

However, station staff know little more English than numbers, and to the foreign traveler there are pitfalls.

Here are 14 useful tips if you’re traveling by rail in Japan.

1. Consider buying a Japan Rail pass if you will using the trains in Japan for more than a week. (NB These are not available in Japan and must be reserved within 3 months of intended use. See Japan Rail pass information at the end of this article.)

2. If you will be in the same city for more than a few days and plan on using the subway a lot, buy a 1000, 3000 or 5000 yen subway pass, depending on how much you expect to be using it. You will save a lot of time spent otherwise calculating fares, stopping at vending machines, and fiddling with small change.
(CAUTION: unused portions of these cards are not refundable. However, shortfalls in the amount remaining can be made with cash at the fare adjustment machine just inside the ticket wicket. Also, if your card is nearly finished, you can simply buy another card, put them on top of each other, and insert them in one of the ticket wickets - usually the one(s) nearest the station attendant’s booth - especially designed to take two. The new card will automatically make up for any shortfall in the old card.)

3. Buy any snacks or other items you may want while traveling beforehand at a convenience store. Stores inside stations are generally more expensive, especially for bento (i.e. traditional boxed lunches). However, while more expensive, station bentos are often better quality.

4. If possible, always carry a memo with the name of your destination and the name of the line it is on written in Japanese characters. Handing a piece of paper to station staff is a lot less traumatic for both parties than trying to exchange foreign tongues.

5. Locate the fare to your destination on one of the fare charts posted above the ticket vending machines. Sometimes these charts can be confusing. On occasions there may even be more than one showing different information. You may have trouble locating the right chart, or even finding your station on the correct chart if there are no English transliterations. If so, show your destination to the station staff and ask ‘ee-koo-ra?’ (‘How much?’). Staff can also be summoned by pressing the (usually) red ‘Call’ button located on each ticket vending machine.

6. Insert your ticket in the ticket wicket opening and take it back out as you pass through. When exiting, insert your ticket in the ticket wicket and pass through. Paper tickets do not come back out when you’re exiting the ticket wicket; commuter passes and rail passes do.

7. Take careful note of where you keep your ticket. Do not lose it. Not only will you need it when you exit your destination station, but a guard may wish to see it, particularly if you're in a reserved seat.

8. Especially when traveling on local trains, calculate the number of stations you will stop at before reaching your destination, and keep a careful count when traveling. Many Japanese station platforms are sparsely signposted, most local trains do not have electronic in-carriage displays, and station announcements are often too brief and muffled to catch. A line information chart with the stations laid out is posted above at least one of the doors in each car.

9. Also, as much as possible, try to find out beforehand what train you can transfer to, if any, to speed your journey up. A combination of local and express trains will save you time, but knowing where to change and what train to transfer to is crucial. You can ask the station staff ‘No-ree ka-eh ga aree-mas-ka?’ (‘Are there any transfers?’)

10. Allow a couple of minutes to find the right departure platform. The information you need will usually be posted on an electronic bilingual bulletin board above the main ticket wicket. However, stations can be mazelike, are not always well signposted, station staff may be busy with other passengers meaning you’ll have to wait a little to enquire - if you have to. In other words, give yourself time.

11. Even once you get to the platform that staff have directed you to, confirm it by checking the platform bulletin board or by showing the name of your destination to staff on the platform, or to other passengers. This is because staff can sometimes get flustered when dealing with foreigners and sometimes make mistakes.

12. Allow plenty of time for changing trains. If you’re lucky the line you’re changing to will be on the adjacent platform; however be prepared to follow signs (hoping they don’t ‘fade out’ as they occasionally do) for up to 5 minutes, sometimes more, often up and down several flights of stairs.

13. Pushing and shoving is par for the course on crowded trains. Don’t take it personally or let it faze you. As with anywhere, a polite attitude gets a polite attitude back.

14. Put any backpacks up on the luggage rack, especially in crowded trains.

Japan Rail Pass information

Not available in Japan and must be reserved within 3 months of intended use.
• Valid for all JR Group local & regional trains except ‘Nozomi’ (the fastest Shinkansen Bullet Train).
• JR run local and highway bus services
• Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry (Hiroshima Prefecture)
To qualify for this, before coming to Japan, you must show you will be a temporary visitor to Japan. Show passport.
Before travelling, buy an exchange order at a JR licensed travel agent and exchange this for your pass at any JR exchange office throughout Japan.
Prices in Japanese Yen.

The passes also entitle the bearer to a 10% discount on JR Group Hotels.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [Ordinary] Green Car [Child] Child [6-11 Ordinary]
7 day 37,800 28,300 18,900 14,150
14 day 61,200 45,100 30,600 22,550
21 day 79,600 57,700 39,800 28,850
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JR East Area Pass
The JR East Area Pass gives you unlimited use of the following services throughout Eastern Japan (Tokyo and areas to the North and East).
• Nagano, Tohoku, Joetsu, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen services
• Local and regional JR trains
Prices in Japanese Yen.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [25+] Youth [12-25] Child [6-11]
5 day 28,000 20,000 16,000 10,000
10 day 44,800 32,000 25,000 16,000
Another option is the Flexible 4-Day Pass which entitles you to unlimited travel on any four consecutive or non-consecutive days within a month of the date the pass was issued.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [25+] Youth [12-25] Child [6-11]
4 day flex 28,000 20,000 16,000 10,000
- top
JR West Sanyo Area Pass
The JR West Sanyo Area Pass gives you unlimited use of the following services throughout the Sanyo region (Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima and Hakata area).
• All Shinkansen services (including Nozomi trains)
• All local and regional JR trains
• All JR run local and highway bus services
• Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry (Hiroshima Prefecture)
• Local and regional JR trains
Prices in Japanese Yen.
Period Adult Child [6-11]
4 day 20,000 10,000
8 day 30,000 15,000

More information on Japan rail travel and rail passes. (JapanVisitor/Japan Travel/Travel within Japan)

1 comment:

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