Japan Diaries: A Quick Guide To Transport

Trains, Subways, Taxis.

Getting around to your favourite places in Japan is probably something you need to know first, right? So before we get on to the details of my adventure on a whole in terms of location, I'd love to share my opinion on the best ways to get around when moving across and around Japan.

The Japanese transport service truly is (and I know you may have heard it said before a tonne of times) the greatest experience you'll have in terms of efficiency and punctuality. It doesn't stop at trains either; the Japanese bus and taxi services are exceptional with buses being 80% on time at their stop, or 20% early. Sure, if there's a traffic incident then you'll have a slight delay, but TRUST ME when I say it's slight.

By Rail.

As a foreign tourist, you get the luxury of being able to own something called a JR Pass.

Cost per adult: £215 7 Days | £343 14 Days | £439 21 Days

The Japanese Rail Pass offers wonderful value for money, in a country where getting from A to B is often one of the major expenses. It is not available to Japanese nationals or foreigners living in Japan semi-permanently, only to those with a temporary visitor's visa in their passport. The pass allows free travel on all JR train lines (please note private lines are not included on the pass) except for the Mizuho and the Nozomi Super Express - the fastest of the three grades of shinkansen running between Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima.

For the regions of Tokyo, Nagano, and Akita you need a JR Pass EAST. When you want to then wonder a little further, JR offer other options. More on that later.


For travelling around in the subways and buses, there's a card called a PASMO. It works very much the same way as an Oyster Card does in London. You just preload the thing with Yen and tag in and out of underground stations and on and off buses as you please.

The Pasmo card can be used in major cities in Japan for travel on:

  • Tokyo subway lines
  • on buses and taxis with the Pasmo logo

The Pasmo card will not work on express trains or shinkansen bullet trains.

The Pasmo card can also be used as an electronic wallet.
You can use it to make small purchases in combini (convenience stores) or drink vending machines with the IC card logo.
It can also be used to pay for parking and other services in train station

From personal experience, I can honestly say that Japanese trains (both local and Shinkansen, aka bullet trains) are by far some of the most clean and comfortable trains I've ever ridden too. The Shinkansen is truly flawless with leg room any 6ft taller would let out a happy sigh about. Not a scrap of dirt, grim, or litter can be ever seen in sight, no matter which level of train you ride.

Japanese Train Types:

Local, slower trains which stop at every station.

Rapid trains skip some stations (a bit like a Virgin Fast Train in the UK, except there's no difference in the ticket price between these and the slower local trains.

Express trains stop at even fewer stations than rapid trains. Japan Railways (JR) charges an express fee in addition to the base fare so we didn't use these as part of our journey.

Super Express/Shinkansen/Bullet Train
Shinkansen are only operated by JR. Shinkansen run along separate tracks and platforms. A limited express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 800 (£6) and 8000 yen (£60). There are always English speaking JR Employees in every station to help, however.

On any Shinkansen, Rapid, or Express you can pre-book your seats for no charge. It's advisable if you're going long distance.

Transport Etiquette.

Same as any major city, the trains can get a little cramped at times, but there are strict etiquette guidelines to follow when it comes to where you should put yourself.

  1. You should always look to give up or offer your seat to the elderly, pregnant, or disabled. Many 'able bodied' Japanese people stood regardless of empty seats.
  2. If you are seated and carrying baggage, it should not go anywhere other than on your lap, or stored overhead if there are any racks above you.
  3. When waiting for a train, make sure you stand in the conveniently marked out waiting areas. The Japanese are incredible at standing in line, and patiently waiting for people to disembark. You will never be hurried or rushed (or squashed to death by a Londoner).

Travel and Language Barriers.

Not up to speed on your Japanese speaking and reading? English signage and announcements are the norm in major cities, so you're good. Be wary that the more rural you go, the less available these may be, however (there are always English signs, but not always English announcements).

The Hakone Skyway.  The Hakone Skyway.

Outside the realms of the JR Pass.

So if like me you didn't just want to stick around in one district or region for too long, you may find that you begin to wander outside the comfort zone of your JR Pass. At this point in your journey of Japan, you would need to consider other regional options.

The 'Kansai Thru' Pass.

Kyoto and its surrounding region were a must to explore, particularly Koyasan (Links to these tales once I've written them all up), and to do so we needed a Kansai Thru Pass. Working in much the same way as a JR Pass (but looked more like a PASMO card), this ticket could be used on any Nankai line (see, not a JR line), any bus or subway, as well as the Koya-San cable car in the Kansai region.

Cost per Adult: 2 day pass 2000 yen (£15) | 3 day pass 5200 yen (£40)

A few examples of places to visit using your Kansai Thru Pass: Osaka City Subway | Koya-San | Gokurakubashi | Hashimoto | Namba | Nara

Additional bus passes for these areas may be required, if you feel bus is your favoured internal "get around" option. You can request these from the main stations.

The Hakone Free Pass.

Again, same thing, if you're thinking of going onward even MORE like we did, then you might also want to consider the places that the Hakone Free Pass can take you. Hakone is a truly gorgeous region in Japan, and it would be an absolute shame for you to miss out on the likes of Mt Fuji and the natural hot springs (or Onsen). The Hakone Free Pass allows you to free roam the Hakone area, inclusive of all trams, ropeways, and the Tozan Bus. You can easily get to Hakone via JR Train route from Kyoto to Odawara, then you'll need the Hakone Pass to get you around the Tozan Railway from Odawara to Hakone. Again, more on the actual journey in posts to come.

Cost per Adult:  2 day Pass 5140 yen (£40)

Black Cab of Shibuya

Travelling On Wheels

Taxis: Taxis can be a more expensive option when getting around, especially the black and yellow cabs which seem to be more orientated at tourists. Fares work much the same way as England whereby you have a set charge for the size of your party (so for two travelling, the meter started at 260yen/£2), and then you are charged by the km. Typically travelling 2km swipes your pocket for about 700 yen, or £5. When you consider that 700 yen can buy you some of the best Ramen you've ever had in your life, plus drink, and extra pork...you may as well walk.

Buses: Buses. Ohhhh Japanese buses, how I miss you. If you truly want to save money on your trip, travelling by bus is for you. Throughout major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto all carry a 230 yen charge for ANY STOP (prices are clearly marked at the front of the bus) you want to get off at. You can travel one block, or 50 blocks, if it's on the same bus route, it's 230 yen (about £1.80...amazing right?). There's a button to press when you hear your up and coming stop. Announcements are sometimes in English, but not always. Just research your destination beforehand.

A few bus appropriate pointers:

  1. ALWAYS carry the correct change. Not all buses support PASMO (most do).
  2. Enter from the back of the bus, and exit at the front unless instructed otherwise.

So I hope this has helped a little with any thoughts you had on getting around in Japan if you're considering a trip. I'm excited to share the rest of my journey with you in the weeks to come!


1 Comment

  1. 11 November, 2016 / 10:00 pm

    What on earth must Japanese people think of our underground it’s such a joke. People are so impatient. Loved reading this.

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