5 useful tips for train travel in Japan

If you have explored the rail system in Japan in any form, this can seem daunting or overwhelming.Compared to the other major cities in the world like London or New York, the rail network in Tokyo is far more complex.But with a little planning and research it's not as difficult as it seems.

Here are some handy tips to help you get started with the rail systems in Japan:

1.Get an IC card

An IC card is an e-money travel card, it's the equivalent of the Oyster Card in London or the Opal in Sydney.This card can be used on all lines and makes it easy to switch between rail networks.

There are 2 different local subway lines in Tokyo, as well as the local JR line and other lines.To use the card, just tap on and off at the gates every time you enter and leave.The travel costs are automatically calculated and deducted.Also most major cities in Japan accept IC cards.

There are many different types of IC cards, but the most commonly used by travelers are the Pasmo or the Suica card.You can buy one from a vending machine at most train stations, including the airport.When you buy a card, a fee of 500 yen is retained as a deposit, but if you return the card at the end of the trip, this fee and any other amount left on the card will be refunded.

These cards can also be used to pay for items in some stores, which can be handy since most places in Japan otherwise only accept cash.

2.Get a JR pass

If you plan to travel around Japan, one of the most common ways is by train.JR pass is only available to foreign travelers and must be purchased prior to travel (you'll need to get organized and such). It's worth getting it before you leave, as train travel can be expensive without it.

Passes are usually available for 1-3 weeks depending on the length of stay and you pay a flat fee for the pass.You can use it on the JR network as much as you like, and it can also be used for some other lines/buses etc. be valid.Buying a JR pass also gives you a bit of flexibility in planning your trip, knowing that you won't have to pay extra for changes in your itinerary.

The JR Pass also lets you reserve seats on your trips.Convenient because the unreserved seats mean you have to queue in advance to make sure your group can sit together etc.


The trains usually don't have much luggage space.All seats have some room up top.A space similar to that on an airplane.If you are lucky, some trains have luggage space at the end of the car, but you can't really rely on it.

So it's worth thinking about how much you pack if you plan to travel a lot by train between cities.

Another alternative, if you are only planning a day trip, for example, is to use the coin-operated lockers at the train station.IC cards are often accepted at most coin-operated lockers as well.

4.Rush hour

If you are traveling by train, be aware of rush hours.These are: 7:30 to 9:30 and 17:00-20:00.

They say it's best to plan your trip around these times, but if you really need to travel during peak hours.Just a few things to keep in mind:

  • Pay attention to the time and where you need to be to catch your train.If you just blindly follow the crowds, you may end up at the other end of the station from where you need to be.
  • When boarding the train, pay attention to the etiquette, line up in 2 rows in front of the manufacturers for the carriage doors and let people off the train before boarding.
  • When boarding, make sure you go all the way into the carriage instead of just crowding around the entrance.

5.Train apps

There are many different apps for the train systems in each city.Hyperdia is recommended by JR, but if you are outside Japan and want to check out this app, you can only use the web version.Other common ones are JR East and Tokyo Subway.Google Maps is also very accurate for public transportation in Japan.