Japan can boast of having one of the most comprehensive, modern and effective public transportation networks in the world, making it the most convenient choice for tourists who want to travel around the country and easily reach all the points of interest. Frequency of most services is usually high, especially in major cities and attractions, and schedules are tightly executed, so travel itineraries can be safely planned and followed.
Quality comes at a price though, and the Japanese public transportation can be quite pricey in general terms. Luckily for tourists, there are several discount fares and travel passes available for foreigners holding a tourist visa, which should be taken into account if planning to visit several cities.
Trains are the quickest and most comfortable way to travel in Japan, both inside urban areas, where they connect all major spots together with subways, and between cities, with high speed bullet trains and limited express services. Stations and transfer information are conveniently signed and announced in English throughout all of the main lines, so navigation is quite simple even for foreigners.
Contrary to how it works in other countries, the price of train and subway tickets varies according to the distance travelled. When buying a ticket at a vending machine, travellers must choose their station of destination and pay accordingly. Tickets must be validated both when entering and exiting the train. If the amount paid is not correct, the ticket gates won’t open at the exit and commuters should adjust its value at the “Fare Adjustment Machine”.
To check train schedules and combinations, please visit the comprehensive Hyprdia website: www.hyperdia.com
The Japan Railways Group, commonly known as JR, operates most of the intercity and commuter rail services in Japan and offers several rail passes for tourists. This rail passes grant the holder unlimited travel on JR lines in a certain area, providing a great value for money for travellers who want to visit several cities during their trip. Rail Passes are only available to foreigners holding a tourist visa and must be purchased in their country of origin, for none are sold inside of Japan.
Of all the passes available, the Japan Rail Pass (or JR Pass) is the most commonly used among visitors, both for its great value and range: it allows unlimited use of any transport service operated by JR, including the high speed Shinkansen trains (with the only exception of the Nozomi and Mizuho services), throughout all the country for a limited number of consecutive days. The pass can be purchased for 7, 14 or 21 days and comes in two varieties, Standard Car and Green Car (first class).
The JR Pass is obtained by purchasing an exchange order from a travel agency in the visitor’s country of origin. This order is personal and must be exchanged for the actual Rail Pass in one of the JR designated offices once in Japan, during the 3 months following the purchase. Once the Rail Pass has been issued it cannot be returned or re-issued, so travellers should take special care not to loose it.
For more information on the JR Pass visit: www.japanrailpass.net
Bus lines are also a popular means of transport in Japan and are generally used as complimentary services, in less developed areas or in mountainous regions, where train lines or subways cannot be constructed. Intercity and long distance buses are also available as a more economic alternative to high speed trains, but tourists who have the opportunity to use a JR Rail Pass should only contemplate this option if travelling under a strict budget, since travel times are much higher.
As it occurs with trains, in Japan the price of a bus ride usually depends on the distance travelled. Passengers must enter the bus using the rear door, where they have to pick up a ticket from a small machine. These tickets have a number printed on them, which indicates the stop where the bus was taken. On the front part of the bus there’s big luminous display showing the fare to pay, which varies according to the number shown in the ticket. When exiting the bus travellers should deposit both the ticket and the exact fare in a box located next to the driver. Under the paying box there’s usually an exchange machine for 1000 Yen bills in case passengers don’t have the exact amount.
High speed Shinkansen trains are the most frequent way to move around Japan due to its speed and comfortability, but when planning to travel between far located areas flights can be a good option in order to save time. While regular flight fares remain quite expensive on domestic routes, both JAL (Japanese Airlines) and ANA (All Nippon Airways), the dominant Japanese airways, offer interesting discount tickets for foreign travellers. As with the JR Rail Pass, these tickets must be purchased outside Japan and are only available to foreigners.
The available discount tickets are: