Japan Railways (JR)
The Japan Railways
network covers the entire country, over 21,000 km of line and
20,000 services daily. The company is divided into two main companies,
JR East and JR West with lots of smaller regional companies. The minimum fare is
¥130, which will usually do you for one or two stops. All stations
have automatic ticket vending machines. They are quite easy to
use as long as you're able to read the name of your destination
in Japanese. An alternative is to buy a pre-paid or rechargable
(Suica) card for ¥500 up to ¥10,000. If you regularly commute the same
route, you might consider a monthly teiki-ken pass. Most
stations have automatic ticket gates. But if your
ticket is not valid as far as the station you're exiting from,
you'll need to use one of the fare adjustment machines or settle
up with the guy (it always seems to be a guy) at the window.
JR services are generally frequent, regular and efficient. More
and more trains have digital readouts in every carriage indicating
the stops in both Japanese and English. During rush hours, trains
on some lines become almost unbelievably packed, especially into
and out of the major cities. But the train, subway and bus networks
are so extensive that there is often a less crowded, if slower,
alternative. The various networks are also well inter-connected,
with bus terminals outside train stations, for example. But you'll
have to buy seperate tickets for each. JR stations are almost
always centrally located and often have shopping centers and restaurants
in the same building.
A central loop line passes around the center of both Tokyo (Yamanote Line)
and Osaka (Kanjo Line), which, together with the extensive subway systems, provides
convenient access to almost any spot in the city. The main
problem with the trains is that they stop running between
midnight and 1am and don't start again till almost 5am, except
on New Year's Eve, when they run all night.
There are many private railway lines serving suburban and resort
areas. Usually they are shorter than JR lines, less than 100km
in length. The stations are often located away from the commercial
centers. Many of the lines are run by large corporations such
as Seibu and Kintetsu
which also own department stores, travel agencies and even professional
baseball teams. In Tokyo, most of the private lines radiate out
to the suburbs from the central JR Yamanote loop line. The
Kinki area between the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto-Nara metropolis
and Nagoya is well served by private lines - the Kintetsu corporation
is more correctly known as Kinki Nippon Tetsudo (Kinki Japan Railway).
Using both private lines and JR trains means buying two or more
tickets and gets pretty expensive.
A Ginza Line subway
A taxi noriba (stand)
A Tokyo metro bus
With the relatively small land area of Japan in relation to its
population, subways are as much a necessity as a convenience.
Subways in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Sapporo are
operated by private companies. The main inconvenience of the subways
is that, like the trains, they stop running between around midnight
and almost 5am, except on New Year's Eve.
Tokyo has two subway companies, Metro and Toei. The
former was originally called Eidan, but was nationalized on April
1, 2004. It operates 8 lines, while Toei has 4. The lines are color-coded,
making it easy to find the one you're looking for. Between them,
the lines cover just about the whole city. The
difficulty begins when you try to buy a ticket because most of
the machines show the station names in kanji
only. You can get around this by buying a Passnet pre-paid card
(¥1,000 to 3,000) which automatically deducts the fare when you go through the
automatic tickets gates. There are also several types of one-day tickets.
The minimum fare is currently ¥160,
making it a bit more expensive than the train. Some subway trains
have digital readouts showing approaching station names and even
which on side of the train the doors will open!
Many people spend their entire time in Japan without using busses.
Especially in the cities, the train and subways systems are so
good that the busses are not often necessary. But if you happen
to live in the suburbs or countryside, a long walk from the nearest
station, then the local bus comes into its own. Most city busses
charge a flat fare (¥210 in Tokyo), making short journies expensive and long ones
cheap. Suburban and rural busses show their fares above the inside
front window. You take a ticket from the machine at the (rear)
entrance and pay at the machine next to the driver on your way
out. The main problems with busses are that all maps and signs
are in Japanese; travel on the city busses is subject to the rush-hour
traffic congestion; and bus services stop even earlier than the
Taxi fares have become a little cheaper in recent years due to
increased competition. But they are still expensive, usually starting
at ¥660 or more for the first 2 kilometers plus ¥80 for
each further 400 meters or so. After 11pm, rates go up by 20 percent.
So if you miss the last train, be prepared for an expensive trip
home. The 'for hire' sign is a bit confusing - a red sign means
the taxi is available while a green sign shows that it's occupied.
You shouldn't open the rear passenger-side door - it is opened
and closed by the driver. If you don't speak Japanese, you should
have your destination written on a piece of paper. Even then,
the driver will often ask you the best way to get there! There
is usually a taxi-noriba (stand) in front of train stations but there can be a long wait
at night and taxis can be very few and far between, especially
when it's raining.