Japan Orbit: Information about Japanese Culture, Japanese History, and Travel in Japan Japan Orbit: Information about Japanese Culture, Japanese History, and Travel in Japan
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Japan Rail

There are 5 different types categories of trains that can be used in Japan.

  1. Local (kakueki-teisha or futsu-densha) These are the local trains which stop at every station.
  2. Rapid (kaisoku) These are the rapid trains that skip some stations. There is no difference in the ticket price between local and rapid trains.
  3. Express (kyuko) The express trains (kyuko) stop at even fewer stations than rapid trains (kaisoku). In the case of JR (Japan Railways), an express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare.
  4. Limited Express (tokkyu) The Limited express trains stop only at major stations. A limited express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 500 and 4,000 Yen. In case of some non-JR railway companies, no "limited express fee" has to be paid.
  5. Super Express (shinkansen) The Shinkansen (bullet trains) are only operated by JR (Japan Railways). The Shinkansen uses separate tracks and platforms. A limited express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 800 and 8000 Yen.

Seat Categories

Japan Railways offers the choice between two classes, ordinary and green (first class), on shinkansen and limited express trains and a small number of slower trains. Most local trains carry only ordinary cars. Green cars are less crowded and offer more spacious seats, but they are typically 30% to 50% more expensive than ordinary cars.

Most shinkansen and limited express trains carry non-reserved (jiyu-seki) and reserved (shitei-seki) seats, while a few carry reserved seats only. Seats in the green cars are often all reserved. On most local, rapid and express trains, all seats are non-reserved. Seat reservations cost roughly 300 to 500 Yen, but are free with the Japan Rail Pass.

Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is a discount ticket allowing unlimited rail travel throughout Japan over a 7, 14 or 21 consecutive day period. It is available in either an Ordinary (coach class) or Green (first class) version. Because Japan Railways has 12,400 miles of track, it is possible to travel almost anywhere in the country by train.

The Japan Rail Pass can provide you with convenience and great savings if used wisely, but it is a discount ticket and some restrictions on trains do apply. There are no restrictions on date or season. There is no similar pass available within Japan. If you are traveling with any Japanese friends or family, they will have to purchase full-price tickets or look for any excursion discounts available in Japan.

The key to getting the best savings from a Japan Rail Pass is to maximize the distance you travel. It does not matter if you use a seven-day rail pass for only two or three days of actual travel as long as you do enough long-distance train travel during those days.

For example, if you travel from Tokyo to Kyoto one day, from Kyoto to Hiroshima on a second day, and back to Tokyo on a third day, you will have very good savings with a seven-day pass even though you are using only three days out of seven. On the other hand, if you travel extensively only in the area between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka over a two-week period, you will probably not be traveling far enough to have any savings with a 14-day pass even though you may travel on more than seven days.

Tokyo subway

Taking the Tokyo subway system in the beginning can be quite overwhelming. The first thing one can notice is its map. Different lines, some with similar colors, all intertwine with each other. The second thing one might notice is that the stations are gigantic and quite difficult to get around considering the amount of people walking around and all the confusing signs.

The Tokyo metro system along with the Toei metro system, make up the Tokyo subway system. Metro and Toei trains form completely separate networks. While users of prepaid rail passes can freely interchange between the two networks, regular ticket holders must purchase a second ticket, or a special transfer ticket, to change from a Toei line to a Metro line and vice versa.

 The Tokyo subway is quite user friendly for non Japanese speakers. For example:

  • Train stops are announced in both English and Japanese. Announcements also provide connTrecting line information.
  • Ticketing machines can switch between English and Japanese user interfaces.
  • Train stations are signposted in English and Japanese (in kanji and hiragana). There are also numerous signs in Chinese (in simplified characters) and Korean.
  • Train stations are now also consecutively numbered on each color-coded line, allowing even non-English speakers to be able to commute without necessarily knowing the name of the station.

For example, Shinjuku Station on the Marunouchi Line is also signposted as M-08 with the familiar red colored circle surrounding it; even if a commuter could not read the English or Japanese station names on signs or maps, he or she could simply look for the red line and then find the appropriately numbered station on said line.

The Tokyo Metro is extremely punctual and has regular trains arriving less than five minutes apart most of the day and night. It does not however run 24 hours a day. Lines tend to stop service between midnight and 1:00am and commence again approximately 5:00am.



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