As to be expected in tech-savvy Japan, getting around is a zippy affair with its bullet trains capable of up to 300kph. Airports, too, are state-of-the-art and even though at first it takes some getting used to, things move along at a satisfyingly rapid pace. If you have time, be sure to apply for a train pass. This can only be bought outside Japan and the scheme is exclusively aimed at visitors.
Tokyo - Arriving at Narita Airport
Narita Airport is some 60km outside of Tokyo. To travel into the city by taxi will cost upwards of Y22,000 depending on the traffic heading into Tokyo. Buses are a cheaper alternative but are much slower, alternately there is the Narita Express (N’EX) travelling non-stop in some luxury to Tokyo station in less than an hour. Board the N’EX beneath the terminal building.
After experiencing Tokyo you can travel on to Yokohama, Fuji, Takayama, Nagano, Northern Honshu up to Hokkaido.
Osaka - Arriving at Kansai Airport
Kansai Airport is located on a man-made island 5km off the coast in Osaka. Taxis, limousine buses and trains are all efficient ways of getting in to Osaka. From here you can easily travel on to Kyoto, Shikoku, Hiroshima, Nagoya and the island of Kyushu.
Travelling by Train in Japan
Japan is a world leader in train safety, efficiency and comfort. The network of interconnecting train lines is impressive and the punctuality of the trains is nothing short of amazing.
The vast network of shinkansen affectionately known as ‘bullet trains’ operate between major cities across the main island of Honshu, and Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. There are three types of shinkansen operating throughout the network. The fastest and most expensive Nozomi has a top speed of 300km/hour and stops only at major stations. Mapping the same route but travelling slightly slower is the Hikari shinkansen. The Kodama shinkansen is the slowest ‘bullet train’ stopping at many stations en route.
In addition to the shinkansen the Japan Railways (JR) lines are serviced by other regular trains. Trains covering the same routes are classed, in descending order of speed, as Tokkyu (limited stop express), Kyuko (express), Kaisoku (rapid) and Futsu (local, stopping all stations).
Train Ticketing Machines
Train tickets for short distances can usually be purchased at a ticket machine. At major stations English route maps can be found that show the prices for each destination zone. At smaller stations it can be quite daunting. If you are in doubt you can always just purchase the cheapest ticket then pay the excess when you reach your destination. You will see a Fare Adjustment machine somewhere near the exit, simply slide your ticket into the machine and pay the difference shown or you can take your ticket to the staff to do the same.
Tickets for longer distances can be purchased at the midori-no-madoguchi (green windows) at JR stations, where you should also reserve your preferred seat for a small fee.
The JR Japan Rail Pass
For all the comfort and efficiency of cross-country Japanese train travel you pay a steep price, unless you invest in a Japan Rail Pass, designed specifically for visitors. Available only from outside Japan and for periods of 7, 14, or 21 days, the pass effectively allows you unlimited travel on all JR trains, buses and ferries including the N’EX connection from Narita Airport to Tokyo, all city centre JR trains and the shinkansen with the exception of the Nozomi super express.
City subway systems are not owned by JR and as such are not included in the JR Japan Rail Pass.
Travelling on the Subway in Japan
Under each major city in Japan there is likely to be a vast subway system linking all parts of the metropolis. The maps are colour-coded and each station is numbered so it is less intimidating than it first appears to use the Japanese-only ticket vending machines. Charts by the machines will show the station numbers and how much to pay. Just punch the corresponding fare key on the machine and insert the money. To get through the turnstiles just slip the ticket through the slot, get through the gate and don’t forget to take it out again. At your destination the ticket will be kept by the machine.
If in doubt about what fare to pay, simply purchase the cheapest ticket then adjust the fare at the other end using the Fare Adjustment machine near the exit. Slide the ticket into the machine and pay the difference shown. Take the adjusted ticket through the turnstile.
Using Taxis in Japan
There are a number of private taxi companies operating in each city, however all registered taxis have green license plates. The cost of catching a taxi is not cheap, comparable with that of New York city, and luggage space is limited.
Also beware the automatic doors, the driver will operate them from the driver’s seat so you should not open or close the doors by yourself. As most drivers do not speak English, it’s advisable to have your destination written in Japanese by your hotel.
Travelling by Bus in Japan
The excellent train services throughout Japan mean that few visitors attempt to use the local and long-distance buses however in the absence of a JR Rail Pass this is the cheapest form of travel.
City buses charge either a flat rate deposited into a coin machine near the driver as you board, or a fare based on the distance traveled. In this case when you board the bus, take the small numbered ticket dispensed at the centre or back of the bus. The number on the ticket corresponds to a fare listed on the lighted panel at the front of the bus. When you wish to disembark simply drop this fare into the box by the driver as you exit.