After 3 free & easy trips to Japan, I’ve compiled these “lessons learnt” when traveling on Japanese trains – subways, JR trains, private rail and shinkansen.
- Make Hyperdia available at all times – once you have determined your travel itinerary, use Hyperdia to check train timings, train types (local trains have more stops, rapid and express trains have less stops), names and number of stops, platform number to board the trains and train fare.
- Get in and out of ticket gates at the right exit – train stations in Japan have multiple entry and exit points. Check which platform number to board the train before tapping your card to enter. After alighting from a train, check the signboards for the place/road/exit number you want to go before tapping your card to exit.
- Queue at the general carriage type at the train platform – when queuing on the train platform, check the signage whether the carriage you are about to enter is one with priority seating (elderly, young children, expectant mothers). If you are travelling in a group and the distance is long, get into a general carriage instead of one with priority seating, so that you can secure seats.
- Use fare adjustment machines to keep your prepaid card amount at a minimum – if you are using prepaid cards like Suica and ICOCA, and the amount left is insufficient to cover your remaining train fares, you will need to top up a minimum value of 1,000 yen. This amount may be too much if you are only short by a few hundred yen and you do not intend to keep the card. What you do is to find a fare adjustment machine located near the ticket gates. Before you tap your card to exit, insert your card into the machine and key in the top up amount that you want. If you are short of 300 yen, top up 310 yen. Always maintain a value in the card so that you can adjust the amount as you wish.
- Buy train passes for great savings – there is a myriad of train passes available for tourists. Check which pass covers your itinerary. Compute the travel cost of your itinerary. Compare the cost with the cost of the pass. Besides savings in train fares, the passes often come with discounts for hotels, shops, restaurants and attractions. If you decide to get a pass, note the following:
- some passes, like the JR Kansai Area Pass, is cheaper when you book online before the trip.
- factor time needed to get the passes into your travel schedule. Passes are collected or bought at ticket counters and tourist information centers in train stations and airports. Check opening hours and locations of these places. There is usually a queue and you need to fill in forms for the passes.
- passport is needed to get the passes.
Every trip I learn something new about train travel. I am sure there will be more lessons to learn the next time I visit Japan.