I’ve slightly updated the first post as I forgot to mention that Japan is pretty much a cash-based country. Some places accept credit cards but it’s best to make sure you have lots of cashola with you!
I still have a tonne of reviews to write up for all the places we visited, so I can’t do a city-by-city post just yet. So this post is about using public transport (trains) as well as some train etiquette.
This is primarily about trains as we only caught a bus once the whole time we were there! (I hate buses. I feel like they’re really inefficient. I won’t go into a bus rant here though.)
We flew into Narita airport (Tokyo) and used the Keisei Skyliner to get into Tokyo. I believe it’s the quickest option and is also the most expensive, but it went to Nippori and Ueno which was perfect for us. Buying tickets for this is easy as there’s a counter and the staff speak English.
Using the trains to get around while in Tokyo (and other cities) can be challenging at first but once you work it out, it is super easy.
Step by step:
- Look at the map first. The station you are currently at will be marked in red with an arrow or large circle. Then work out which station you are going to and the fare will be indicated underneath. So looking at the map below, you are currently at Gojo station and you want to go to Kitaoji (K04). You can see two amounts – 260 and 130 – bottom amount is for children. So you will need to buy a ticket for 260.
- Now you can use the ticket machine and get your ticket/s. I’ve annotated the picture below with a step-by-step. (1) Put your money in first – machines take notes and coins. Some machines are totally electronic whereas others are the olden style like the picture immediately below. (2) You can also buy more than one ticket at a time. (3) Make sure you put in all the money for the fare for the correct fare to light up and once you push this button, the tickets will be issued.
If you get the fare wrong, don’t worry too much – they have fare adjustment machines at the station so you can pay the difference at the end of your journey (genius!).
- If you have a JR pass, you don’t need to buy a ticket on the JR lines – you just show your ticket to the person at the gate.
- You can also buy a Suica card which you top up with credit. We were happy to just buy individual tickets for each journey though.
- Always wait until you’re at the correct gates for the line you’re using before buying a ticket – different companies operate different train lines and we sometimes wasted a ticket by buying it from the wrong company.
- Always keep lots of change as you can get rid of it on the ticket machines.
- Keep a hold of your ticket as you need it to exit the gates again. And if you need to pay an extra fare, go to the fare adjustment machine just before the gates.
- The operation of the subway will be slightly different from city to city but mostly we didn’t have any issues once we remembered how to use the machines (it hasn’t changed in 7 years I was glad to see).
- If you can, wait until after 9am to use the subway to avoid peak hour.
- Save your home location (accommodation/hotel) on Google maps by dropping a pin and marking a star.
On the platform there are marked areas for waiting in queues to get on the train. Make sure you stand in the queue as otherwise you might be in people’s way as they get off the train.
You’re not meant to eat/drink (on local trains), and there’s announcements about not using your mobile phone. Keep it on silent and don’t speak on the phone – you can use it for texting, browsing etc. I’m not quite sure why but speaking on the phone is quite a big faux pas in Japan and people will get up to leave restaurants etc to take a call etc. Don’t sit in the areas reserved for people with priority needs and give up your seat to older people/someone who needs it more than you.
Longer train trips (e.g. between Tokyo and Kyoto):
We didn’t have JR passes so instead we paid to get the super fast Nozomi from Tokyo to Kyoto. The downside was that was had to wait in a queue for about 20 minutes to buy a ticket. It’s best to get reserved seats for longer journeys.
If you do have a reserved seat, your ticket will indicate the car number. When you’re on the platform, look for the signs on the ground/walls to indicate where to wait for your car when the train arrives at the platform. This will make life so much easier if you have luggage as you can get right on the train where you’re sitting.
Eating and drinking is ok on longer trips. So make sure you buy a bento box before you get on the train! Each station will have a selection of bento shops and I made sure we had plenty of time so that I could get one for the journey. They didn’t seem to be selling them on the train and literally every person on our carriage had one – I’d have been crying if I was the odd one out (and starving).
Again though, the phone thing is a no-no and people will move to between carriages to take calls. You’ll also see the train staff moving between each carriage and bowing as they enter/exit.
I was going to write more in this post but I think that’s already pretty epic so I’ll leave it there – thanks to everyone who asked questions on the first post so please do let me know what you want answered in upcoming posts! I will answer everything the best I can and have started a list of all your questions. I’m really enjoying re-living our amazing holiday and if you really can’t wait to hear more about it, you can read my reviews over on Yelp – I’m adding a few new ones every day! I might also write a whole post about Japanese stationery if anyone might be interested in that?