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How to get around Japan

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: 

 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 7-day pass for this Smart Route.

7-day Japan Rail Pass: 29,650¥ (approx. €250 - £220)

Click here to consult first class prices or a different number of days.

Important: The "exchange order" for the Japan Rail Pass must be bought in your country of origin. You can buy it either at the travel agencies specified here, or online. We recommend the second option, as they send the exchange order directly to your home and the final price is practically the same as going to the travel agency. For online purchase, we recommend Japan Experience, as they have the best prices and give you a rail guidebook and a network map for free. 

Use this "exchange order" and your passport to obtain the Japan Rail Pass once you arrive in Japan (we shall explain how on day 1 of the Smart Route). 


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.

To obtain a ticket with a seat reservation, just go to one of the Booking Offices or Travel Service Centres in the stations of Japan Rail (JR), tell them the ticket you wish to reserve and show them your JRP. They will give you the printed tickets with a seat reservation. You can also do this at any ticket office and at any time on the trip.

REMEMBER: we recommend that as soon as you arrive on the first day, you should make reservations for all the tickets indicated on the Smart Route.

 English is very often not spoken at these Offices. You should therefore find all the tickets you need at Train Timetables. Print them before travelling and show them at the ticket office. In the details of each day, you will be informed of when you need to catch a train so you may print the timetable.

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 1,580¥ 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. 
Hereby you can download a full map of Tokyo's metro.

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 1000¥ meanwhile the single ticket goes from 210¥ to 340¥, depending on the trip (but normally you will have to pay only 210¥).

Here you have the tube map of Kioto pdf to download.

  Tokio metro map JPG Kioto metro mapa JPG