Navigating Japan's Trains: Your Ultimate Guide 🚄

Navigating Japan's Trains: Your Ultimate Guide 🚄

So you’re going to Japan! These are our best tips for navigating the trains on your first trip to Japan!

 

Getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo 🛬

If you’re like us, you’ve probably arrived at Narita Airport, which is the airport furthest away from the city but also normally the cheaper option to fly into.

You have a few options to get to Tokyo from the airport: bus, taxi, shuttle, and multiple train options! The best and fastest of those options is the Keisei Skyliner. You can simply book the tickets at the airport counter, and it will take you directly to Ueno Station. From there, you can easily transfer to wherever you need to be.

The next best option is to take the Narita Express (or the N’EX, as it’s also known). If you have an activated JR Pass, your fare is included because the NEX is part of the JR rail system.

You can also purchase tickets for the NEX from the counter. The biggest advantage of the NEX is that it offers many more stops than the Skyliner. It can take you all the way down to Yokohama, so depending on where you are staying, this may be the better option.

 

JR Pass: To Get or Not to Get? 🚆

So, what's the 'JR Pass' (Japan Rail Pass), and do you need it? Good question! There are multiple rail passes available across Japan, but we are going to focus on the most popular one, the JR Pass.

This pass allows you to travel all over Japan using the JR lines, including local trains and some bullet trains known as 'Shinkansen.'

If you're planning on leaving Tokyo and traveling around the country, you might want to consider the JR Pass. However, if you're only staying in and around Tokyo, you definitely do NOT need a rail pass!

Many travel agencies or booking sites will tell you it's a must, but even for a standard 7-day rail pass, it costs ¥29,650, which is roughly AUD $310! That's if you're traveling before October 2023. After the new price increase, the standard 7-day pass will cost a whopping ¥50,000! This significant increase should really make you think about whether the pass is truly worth it for saving money.

 

Pasmo & Suica Cards: Tap & Go! 🚃

The two available transit passes are essentially the same; they serve the exact same purpose. So, don't worry too much about the name differences.

These passes can be purchased at train stations all over Japan and might be called different things depending on where you buy them. You can load them up and simply tap on and off at the stations. This greatly reduces the hassle of traveling around and saves a lot of time. It's even more convenient than buying one at the stations after you've arrived in Japan.

You can be extra prepared and effortlessly add it to your smartphone's wallet before even leaving for Japan! We've got Suica cards in our Apple wallets, and getting started was as easy as topping up with some ¥ Yen.

However, please be aware that there are currently some issues with certain cards not being accepted for payment when getting Pasmo and Suica cards.

We used our regular Mastercards issued here in Australia and found that they wouldn't work to get the Pasmo card at all.

 

Navigating the Train Maze 🗺️

Navigating the numerous train lines all over Japan, especially Tokyo's extensive network of stations and train lines, can be quite daunting if you aren't accustomed to public transportation.

Fortunately, there are several apps to assist you, including Japan Travel, Tokyo Subway Navigation, and, of course, the trusty old Google Maps!

We relied on Google Maps for all our train navigation, and it was incredibly user-friendly. All the lines and stations are colour-coded and clearly marked. Announcements and signage are primarily made in Japanese first, followed by English, so you don't have anything to worry about.

 

Packing Smarts: Bag Size Matters! 🧳

Here's another important train tip you need to be aware of: Since 2020, some of the bullet trains have introduced size restrictions for luggage.

If you're traveling with larger bags, you'll now need a special reserved seat to ensure you have extra room for your suitcase. These restrictions apply to luggage with dimensions between 161cm and 250cm when you combine the length, width, and height.

Luggage smaller than 160cm doesn't require a reservation, while luggage larger than 250cm is not allowed on the trains. But don't worry if your bags are on the larger side; you can always arrange a simple luggage transfer between cities.

 

Ekiben: Taste the Journey! 🍱

Lastly, we can't forget my favorite Japan Train Travel tip! Don’t forget to grab an Ekiben! Ekiben is a special type of Bento, which is a Japanese boxed meal, sold at train stations and on trains.

These delightful bentos come in various types and flavours, so make sure to keep an eye out and give them a try, especially during your longer journeys between cities.

Final Thoughts: Enjoy the Ride! 🌸

With these tips in your pocket, you're ready to conquer Japan's incredible train system. Remember, it's not just about getting from A to B; it's about the journey itself. Soak in the scenery, savor the Ekiben, and make unforgettable memories. Have a blast and travel safely!


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