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Thursday, September 18, 2014

7 Tips to Master Japanese Trains

1 comment:
Trains are the most comfortable way of travel in Japan. Planes are faster and often cheaper but boarding takes time and airports tend to be far from the city. Buses are cheaper but they don't offer much comfort. Here are 7 tips that will help you to get the most out of the Japanese trains.

1. There's more than just Japan Railways Group


While JR operates the shinkansen trains and covers most of Japan, there are other companies such as Nishitetsu in the west or Keikyu in Kanto region (including Tokyo). JR Group itself consists of several companies.

It is always advisable to check which company offers the best and cheapest way to get to your destination. Unless you own JR Pass, the non-JR companies are often better (faster, cheaper and also servicing more remote areas). Which leads us to...

2. JR Pass


This is the best option for foreigners and non-residents who plan to use shinkansen a lot. JR Pass offers unlimited travels on JR Group trains and JR operated buses and ships for one, two or three weeks. It can be purchased only outside of Japan. The one week pass costs about the same price as a ticket to Osaka and back. If you are going to do more than this one trip, then it will save you a lot of money. I travelled all the way from Tokyo to Aomori, while visiting Fukushima and then back to Tokyo followed by trip to Kyoto on JR Pass. JR Pass includes free seat reservation.

For more information, check the official website. It lists all official resellers in all countries. There is an online service offering the JR pass and sending it by mail, but I haven't tried it, so I can't say anything about it...

3. JR Pass is not the only pass...


JR Group companies offer their own separate passes and some of them are really sweet deals. For example JR East (covers Tokyo) offers a 5 days pass but those 5 days don't have to be consecutive. JR West has variety of passes and so on. These passes can be purchased in Japan with a valid tourist stamp from the immigration (the sticker in your passport). You can visit all the websites of the companies from the main page of JR pass.

4. Discounted tickets are often better than the passes


A lot of people don't know about these tickets and that includes the Japanese. There are shops at major stations that sell discounted tickets. Not just train tickets but buses, concert tickets and so on. Usually they come from people who sell them for whatever reason. The shops also hunt for bulk discounts and then resell those tickets.

For example JR Kyushu offers special group and return tickets. They are called "juumaikippu" (literally: ten piece ticket). This ticket is available from JR on some routes (such as popular Fukuoka - Nagasaki). 10 piece ticket costs cca 25700 yen, therefore 2570 per piece. Single ticket is 4500 yen. The shop sells the ticket fora bit more than 2570 yen and makes everybody happy. If you can't find it, you can still purchase "X - mai - kippu" yourself from JR. Useful when travelling with a group!

This is how such shops look like. The first example is easy, because it says: "TICKET"

The second example is more tricky, because it says Chiketto Fukuoka only in Japanese.

5. When lost, find the place where they exchange JR Passes at the station


All major stations have a place that changes the vouchers for passes. Check the official website for locations. These little kiosks always have English speaking staff and they can actually make all your reservations for any kind of JR trains. There are also shorter queues!

6. Use Hyperdia


Japan has a route planner for public transport called Hyperdia. The website is great and it can find all trains, buses and domestic flights between two points for you. And it's in English. They also have apps, but the apps can only be purchased in USA and Japan and you have to pay for them monthly.

7. Need internet?


Free wireless internet is still not a standard in Japan. Because Japanese telco operators were very quick in providing Wi-Fi for their customers, there was no need for the free one. The good news is that some of the convenient stores now provide free Wi-Fi and they are located at most of the stations.

Two notable examples are 7/11 (7SPOT) and FamilyMart (Famima_Wi-fi). Other konbinis are not as easy to use or are paid. You can find instructions how to connect to Famima_Wi-fi here. However the easiest way is to ask the staff. While they most likely won't speak English, here's a simple broken Japanese phrase for you: "Intaanetto oh' oshiete kudasai" which means "teach me internet please". You will have to login each time you will be using the internet, so pay attention.

Note that Starbucks, some information counters, tourist areas and hotels now also provide free wi-fi.

1 comment:

  1. Japan is one of the most nicest place and I want to visit this soon and try their foods and also visit their nicest tourist spot. Sugarcreek


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