My 5-year old daughter and I recently took a 3-week trip through Japan. We had a lot of experience using the trains in Japan during our travels. Here is some good information we learned about Japanese trains.
Everyone takes the trains in Japan. From the family going to the zoo – to the daily commuter – Japanese trains are very safe and punctual. It is a massive network of routes and much more complicated than NYC. You might have to take 3 different trains, as we did, to get to the other side of a big city like Tokyo.
Here are some travel tips for Japanese trains:
- Tokyo is the largest city in the world by area – remember that at peak travel times. Rush hour can be very very crazy especially in the direction of Tokyo. There are even times when some push others like sardines into train cars.
- You can eat on local trains but the Japanese don’t.
- Don’t expect young people or anyone to give up their seat for those who need it (as they should).
- On the Shinkansen they do have someone walking up and down selling everything from hot rice bowls to ice cream and coffee, cash only. They may have limited selection so grab something in the station if possible.
- A few train stations did not have elevators or escalators so be prepared to ask for help if you need – I did find a few gentlemen.
- Generally there are nice bathrooms on trains – especially on the Shinkansen. On all other trains don’t expect soap or dryers/towels. Bring hand sanitizer!
- The Shinkansen and a few other trains have electrical outlets – bring a charger and splitter if have more than one device.
- Buy a Japan Rail (JR) Pass if you plan to travel between multiple cities or plan to take several trains. The Shinkansen trains are somewhat costly and a rail pass will cover those as well.
- Until recently you had to buy the JR Pass outside of Japan. They just changed the rule so that it will be cheaper to buy it outside but you can still buy it in Japan. It is, however, only open to non-residents of Japan.
- You may have a JR Pass but you might also need a reservation, particularly during peak times. Also, you might have to pay a supplemental fee depending on the demand.
Kids under 6 travel FREE on trains in Japan – but you may have to pay a reservation fee if it is a very popular time. They can, however, always sit on your lap for free.
- The JR Pass does not work on all trains – be sure you know whether the train is covered!
If you order the JR Pass before departure they will send you a paper that you will exchange for the actual pass. This must be done at one of the main train stations as I found out the hard way. They also sent some handy guides and timetables.
- You can activate your JR Pass before the date you want to start using it, but once you pick dates – they can’t be changed.
- The JR Pass is for consecutive days of travel, unlike the Eurail Pass which is for actual days of travel.
- Trains offer some beautiful sightseeing of the Japanese countryside.
- Sometimes trains have screens announcing the stops and usually verbally announce in English but one or two trains didn’t. Also pay close attention as some stations sound alike – you will end up on other side of city.
I truly enjoy riding trains – particularly in a country like Japan where they’re so easy and reasonable to use, the views are amazing and traveling becomes more relaxing and memorable.