Japanese Transport, the Shinkansen, Hikari, Nozomi, Rail Pass, and Taxi

Japanese Trains

This article is about Japanese Transport and we’ll start with Japanese Trains which are just the best. Period! The buses and trains all run on time and if they are late at your station, they won’t be at the next station. The local trains are always clean and punctual, if sometimes they get a bit crowded.

Don’t expect to get a seat in rush hour in Toyko or any of the other large cities as on most local trains, the seats are folded away during rush hours, so that more people can get on the train during these busy periods.

Older Skinkansen
This perhaps what most people think of when they think about Japanese trains, thanks to the famous picture of the Shincansen bullet train passing over a bridge with Mt Fuji in the background.

This is however the old Shinkansen and newer and faster models now exist demoting the above type of Shinkansen to local Shinkansen duties. These travel from major train stations in the local area to the main Shinkansen Station. Where passengers then transfer to the newer trains. The old Shinkansen are still remarkably impressive compared to UK trains.

Oh! Newer Shinkansen, Shiny
Yes this is a train, its one of the newest Shinkansen, the Nozomi. Its very fast. Very quiet, very clean and looks like it will take off at any moment. At 300kph+ I´m surprised it doesn´t!

The long distance trains or Shinkansen (bullet trains) are just amazing. For a start they are spotlessly clean as they are cleaned at the end of each journey. Then all the seats are turned around to face the direction of travel.

Stepping inside the Shinkansen is like stepping inside a large plane. The seats are nice and roomy, there is loads of legroom and they recline back more than your average airline seat.

This is the best way to see Japan, as you won´t be waiting for trains as they´re nearly always on time. Train Announcements are in Japanese and then in English so even if they are late you will be informed. Signs are also in English so your not left guessing which train leaves from where, however get rural and signs in English get limited.

Note: If you can get tickets I would recommend the Hikari Super express. This train is very fast and looks like a rocket on wheels. See picture below left.

Japan Rail Pass

If you are traveling to Japan and intend to do a lot of traveling around, it´s worth investing in a Japan Rail Pass, which you can purchase here in the UK. These are available from:

Japan Travel Centre
212 Piccadilly
London
W1J 9HG
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 1388
Fax. +44 (0)20 7287 1082

or

Japan Travel Bureau
95 Cromwell Rd
London
SW7 4JT
Tel. +44 (0)20 7663 6153
Fax. +44 (0)20 7663 6135

or

Creative Tours Ltd,
No. 1 Tenterden Street,
London,
W1S 1TA
Tel. +44 (0)20 7495-1775
Fax. +44 (0)20 7499-7699
Web: http://www.creativetours.co.uk

A list of other UK agents and European agents can be found here.

http://www.seejapan.co.uk/transport/rail/agents.html

The advantage of this pass is that it allows unlimited travel on nearly all JR rail lines and all JR buses on the island of Honshu. You purchase the ticket here deciding how long you´ll need it for, 1 week, 2 weeks or a month.

When you get to Japan and want to use your ticket you just go and activate it. This is done at one of a number of specific train stations within Japan. A leaflet supplied with the tickets tells you which stations. Once done you can then use the ticket for your specified duration.

Train ticket machinesThese tickets can also be activated at the two main Japanese airports, Narita in Tokyo and Kansai in Osaka.

A 2-week pass is about £250. Believe me you would spend more than that on a return ticket, Tokyo to Hiroshima.

There are also other advantages to having this ticket as well, such as discounts in JR hotels. These can be found in most major cities and the ticket can be used to get a 10% plus discount in these hotels.

Eligibility for the pass is limited to:

  • Foreign nationals visiting Japan as a Temporary Visitor for the purpose of sightseeing.
  • Japanese nationals living abroad who – are qualified to live permanently in that country, or have been living in that country for ten or more years, or are married to a non-Japanese person who is residing in a country other than Japan.

Either way this pass makes major sense if your travelling around Japan.
It WILL save you money!

Local Trains and Subway

If your in a major city such as Tokyo, they will have local train lines which run across the city on platforms raised above the streets. They will also have subways. These are just as reliable and clean as the long distance trains and are very rarely late.

Just be aware that running for your train in Japan is generally frowned upon and usually unnecessary, (unless it’s a Shinkansen) as if you miss your train the most you will probably have to wait is 6 minutes. Most city trains run closer schedules than this and most services are from 4am to 2am.

If you don’t like crowds avoid the main train stations at rush hour. To give you some idea how busy the train stations get, Shinjuku station in Tokyo has 1 million people pass through every hour during rush hour. Despite this its always clean and tidy!

Buses
If you wish to use Japanese buses then around town these are 200 yen per journey, although some cities charge more or less. Buses however are subject to the traffic jams and can arrive late and are usually very crowded.

In some cities the bus is the best way to get around as traffic is light compared to other cities and the bus service is good and reliably on time. Kyoto is a good example, however if visiting some of the temples then you may have to walk a little from the closest bus stop.

Taxis

Japanese Taxis in HiroshimaTaxis are good if you don’t know where you’re going. They have a flat rate of 710 yen and then a mileage charge on top of this flat fee. If you hail a cab be aware that Japanese taxis have automatic doors and the driver opens these. The driver will also open them when you go to get out of the taxi as well. So don’t be surprised if you can´t open the door.

Japanese Taxi drivers are also some of the smartest on the planet, with their white gloves and shirts and ties. Their cabs are also very clean, infact there spotlessly clean. This makes a refreshing change to the slobby drivers and filthy cabs in the UK.

If you can afford it then Taxis are an excellent way of getting around the smaller cities.

Driving & International Drivers License

What about driving in Japan. The Japanese drive on the left hand side of the road as we do in the UK, and you can drive in Japan on your UK license. You will, however need to apply to the AA or the RAC to get an international drivers license. In my experience the RAC are always quicker and the phone call is free!

Traffic in Tokyo

Traffic in Tokyo

Ring them up, (AA on 0870 240 1456) or (RAC 0800 55 00 55) and ask for an international drivers license application form.

The RAC have an online form which you can download, print out, fill in and send back at http://www.rac.co.uk/pdfs/IDP.pdf

Send the application form back with a cheque for £4 and a passport sized picture of yourself (decent quality printouts from your Digital Camera will do) and in return they will send you an international drivers license, which allows you to drive in Japan for a period of 1 year. Is an offical document and you DO need it for legal/insurance purposes. If your pulled for a driving offense and you dont have this document and your drivers license then you can be procecuted!

Speaking of which, Insurance is a must in Japan as they have a higher accident rate than the UK, even though their speed limit is lower then ours! If your hiring a car make sure you get insurance with it!

If you are driving around smaller towns or suburbs of cities then pay special attention to the road markings at junctions as some Japanese have a tendency not to stop at these smaller junctions.

Motorway driving is frustrating as there are nearly always traffic jams or the traffic will speed up and then very quickly slow back down again. The Japanese motorways are also tolled and if you travel a great distance the money will soon mount up. Average toll is 720 Yen. (£4 approx).

The motorways in Japan are very heavily speed camera´d up as well but don’t dispair, anyone who gets caught sppeding in Japan would have to be driving round with their eyes shut as most speed cameras can be seen a fair distance away as they are on overhead gantrys spanning the road/motorway and road signs warn you when you get close to one. Plus the cameras don’t work too well in the dark if your doing over 140kph, I’M TOLD!! However they take a picture of the front of the car, not the rear, so slow down before not after.

Mopeds at the local station

Mopeds at Asagiri Station.

If you plan to live in Japan and want to buy a car then you will be limited to which cars you can buy by the amount of space you have to park it. You will have to prove to local authorities that you have a parking space big enough for the car you wish to purchase otherwise you can only buy one of the mini cars which are limited to 660cc. If you have parking but only of a small size your local authorities still might only allow you a 660cc car.

Cycles and Mopeds

Mopeds are very big in Japan as are bicycles and hundreds of these can be seen parked outside train stations all over Japan. Surprisingly, most of these aren´t locked or if they are, aren’t locked to anything.

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