How to move around in Japan:
The best way of travelling around Japan is to use its extensive railway network, which runs quickly and efficiently from city to city. Travelling on one of its bullet trains (Shinkansen) is also an experience you should not miss!
To get around in the cities, just walk and use public transport (buses and the metro). Taking taxis in large cities, especially in Tokyo, is not recommended because of its high cost.
- How to get bullet train tickets
- Train times in Japan and how to reserve seats
- How to catch the bus in Japan
- How to buy metro tickets in Japan
How to get bullet train tickets:
It is best to buy a Japan Rail Pass (henceforth JRP) from your country of origin.
This pass, valid for non-Japanese citizen "temporary visitors", entitles holders to use most trains, plus Tokyo's main railway lines. It is therefore very practical and you soon get your money's worth.
The cost of the JRP depends on the number of days and the class chosen ("green" for first class and "ordinary" for tourist).
First class is not worth it and we therefore recommend ordinary. You will need the 14-day pass for this Smart Route.
14-day Japan Rail Pass: ¥52.960 (aprox. €360-£300).
Click here to consult first other class prices or a different number of days.
Important: You must buy the "exchange order"of the Japan Rail Pass in your country of origin up to 1 month before arrival, and once you arrive in Japan, exchange it for the JRP on paper (we will tell you where to do it in the route of the first day). You can buy this "exchange order" on the official JRP website, on other authorized websites or in person at the agencies indicated here. We recommend you do it on the official website because, even though it is 8% more expensive than the others, by doing it there you can directly reserve the seats for the routes you want, and you can also collect the JRP simply by showing your passport (in the other cases, they have to send you the "exchange order" home, and you have to present it physically in Japan).
To buy it on the official page, go to this page, click on "Create a New Account" and follow the steps indicated until you verify your account. Then "Log In" and press "Purchase a Japan Railpass". You will have to indicate the date of arrival, number of days, arrival airport, number of people (adults and children). On the next screen, insert the data of each traveler (note that the credit card with which you pay must be in the name of the main traveler). Once the purchase is confirmed, it will take you to the payment page for you to enter the card details.
If you prefer to save money and reserve the trains upon your arrival, then we recommend doing so at JRailPass.com, since they send you the exchange order in a single day, and shipping is free for the 14-day pass (€8 pp for the 7 day one). This way you will save about €30 per person on the 14-day pass (for the 7-day pass you will only save a few euros per person, so we do not recommend it).
Train times in Japan and how to reserve seats:
Most trains have cars with unreserved seats that you may board simply by showing the JRP at the door. Making a reservation is nonetheless recommendable to be sure of a seat, particularly on trains that do not have cars with unreserved seats (e.g. Narita Express).
You may change your ticket as often as you wish at no cost whatsoever. Making a prior reservation will therefore pose no problems. On the Smart Route, you will be informed as to whether or not you should reserve your seat, depending on the train and the trip.
If you have purchased the JRP on the official website, you can reserve these tickets online. To do this, "log in" on their website and click on "Reserve a Seat" under JAPAN RAIL PASS LIST. Put the data of the route and tick the passengers. It will give you 3 options that appear in 3 windows. Select the one that suits you best. Then you will choose the seat and when you confirm, they will send you a confirmation email.
If you have not purchased the JRP on the official website, then you will have to go to a Reservation Office or Travel Service Center that you will find at Japan Rail (JR) Stations, tell them which ticket you want to reserve and show them the JRP. There they will give you the physical tickets with a reserved seat. You can also do it at any ticket office and at any time of the trip. ATTENTION: we recommend that you make the reservation for all the tickets that we indicate along the Smart Route on the first day of arrival. In these offices many times they do not speak English, so we recommend looking for all the tickets you will need on this website. Print them before you travel so you can show them to the ticket agent. In the detail of each day, we will notify you when you will have to take a train so that you can print the schedule.
When boarding the train, with or without a seat reservation, always get on through the door with a guard and show the JRP and/or ticket (no entry is allowed through the automatic doors).
How to catch the bus in Japan:
Although both trains and the metro operate very similarly to those in Europe, the buses are different!
- Get on through the back door (unless the bus only has one).
- When you board, take a ticket from the dispensing machine. The ticket features a printed number that is used to calculate the eventual price of the ride.
- A screen above the driver indicates the next stop and the different fares for this stop, depending on where you got on the bus. Calculate your fare by comparing the number printed on the ticket with that on the screen.
- Use the button on the wall to request the stop when you approach it.
- When you get off through the front door, leave the ticket and the exact fare in the tray beside the driver.
- If you do not have the exact change, there are change machines on the bus.
Exception: Tokyo metropolitan buses. Get on the bus at the front and get off at the back. A fixed fare is paid upon boarding (although this is not a means of transport we recommend for Tokyo).
How to buy metro tickets in Japan:
Ticket clerks do not usually speak English and it is therefore easier to buy your ticket from the station's automatic vending machines. As this is not an easy process, some help is given below:
- Find the destination station on the map displayed above the machines. The fare for the jouey is shown on the map.
- Calculate the cost for the number of people travelling.
- Insert this amount or more to activate the machine (it gives change).
- Enter the number of tickets you require.
- All the possible prices then appear on screen. Choose the appropriate price for your destination.
- Once the price has been selected, the machine issues the tickets and gives change.
Insert the ticket in the automatic doors at the entrance to and exit of the station.
If the station maps are only in Japanese, select the lowest possible fare. You may pay the difference using the Fare Adjustment Machines (Norikoshi) at the destination station. This is acceptable practice and a lot of people do it. Insert the ticket and the machine will tell you how much remains to be paid.
In Tokyo, some transport tickets are valid for a whole day. These are not recommended, however, as it is hard to get your money's worth (for the Smart Route recommended here, it is not worth your while).
The main full-day tickets are:
- The Tokyo Free Kippu: covers all Tokyo's metro, train and bus lines. It costs 1,590¥ and provides unlimited use for 1 day. It can be bought at the ticket offices of any station.
- Tokyo Metro Open Ticket: provides unlimited use of the Tokyo Metro trains (not Toei Lines) for one day. It costs 710¥ if bought in Tokyo, and 600¥ if bought at Narita airport, where for 980¥ you may also buy a pass valid for 2 days.
- Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy Pass: provides unlimited use of the Toei and Tokyo metro lines for 1 day. It costs 1,000¥ and may be bought at any metro station.
In Kyoto there are also some full-day tickets available but it doesn't make sense as you should take the bus or subway more than five times to save money. The price of the cheapest full-day ticket is 1200¥ meanwhile the single ticket goes from 230¥ to 360¥, depending on the trip (but normally you will have to pay only 210¥).
Here you have the tube map of Kioto (pdf to download).