Generally speaking, transport in Japan is efficient and regular.
It does tend to be on the expensive side but airfares, for example,
have been falling in recent years due to increased competition.
For the short-term visitor, it is definitely a good idea to arrange
domestic flights or buy a Japan Rail Pass before coming.
The latter is particularly good value and convenient
if you plan to travel around the country. There are 7, 14 and
21-day passes available in two types, Green (1st class) and Ordinary.
An exchange voucher for the pass has to be bought outside Japan
so the price depends on the exchange rate. Adult prices vary from
28,300 yen for a 7-day Ordinary pass to 79,600 yen for a 21-day
Green pass. There is a 50 percent discount for children under
Japan has several international airports. The main ones are Tokyo
International Airport, usually referred to by its location in
Narita, and Kansai International Airport in
Osaka. The latter is an ideal point of arrival for visitors
to Kyoto. There are other airports in such cities as Naha, Kagoshima,
Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Niigata and Sapporo which serve mostly
domestic traffic. Tokyo's second airport, at Haneda,
is a conveniently located domestic hub. It also serves the Taiwanese
China Airlines, which did not want to use the same airport as
Air China when Narita Airport was opened.
The main airlines, JAL
(Japan Airlines), ANA
(All Nippon Airways) and JAS
(Japan Air Systems) were joined by Skymark and Air Do
in the late 1990's. Skymark was the first airline to enter the
domestic market in 35 years. Air Do offered significantly lower
prices for its limited number of domestic flights, mainly to and
from Hokkaido. The major airlines fought back with price reductions
of their own and the result was more affordable airfares. The
main factor in pricing is still timing. There is a huge difference
between peak times, such as at New Year or during the summer Bon
holiday, and off-peak. Savings can be made by buying tickets at
discount outlets, which also sell shinkansen and other tickets
and coupons. There are also fly-drive packages and even ones for
groups of three or more women and middle-aged couples, for example.
Check with travel agencies for the latest deals.
The Sado Island jetfoil
A JR Green Window
Introduced at the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the shinkansen
'bullet trains' are one Japan's most famous symbols. They're also
a great way to get around the country. The fact that there has
never been a fatal shinkansen accident is also reassuring. All
are operated by JR (Japan Railways),
which is divided into two main companies, JR East and JR West.
Until recently, there were three routes across the country from
Tokyo: the Tokaido line to Osaka, which continues as the
San-yo line to Hakata in Kyushu;
the Tohoku line to Morioka and the Joetsu line to Niigata.
JR East added the Yamagata, Akita and Nagano
shinkansens during the 1990's. The former two are extensions
of the Tohoku route and the latter branches off the Joetsu route.
The Tokaido route provides the best scenery, including a great
view of Mt. Fuji. It is named after a road that for centuries
was the main transport artery between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto.
The following table shows the typical shinkansen travel time and
fare from Tokyo to some of the major cities (The fares are subject
to seasonal surcharges of up to 500 yen. The faster Nozomi shinkansen
on the Tokaido/San-yo route is up to 2,000 yen more expensive).
|From Tokyo to:
||One-way Fare (yen)
1 hour 40 mins
2 hours 30 mins
3 hours 50 mins
4 hours 50 mins
1 hour 50 mins
2 hours 40 mins
3 hours 50 mins
Several types of trains run on each of the routes. The names indicate
the type of train and the number of stops it makes. The trains
also have varying numbers of carriages so, even though the carriage
numbers are indicated on the platforms, it can be a bit confusing
to work out exactly where to board your train. Platform and onboard
announcements are made in English as well as Japanese.
When you travel by shinkansen, you actually have to pay for the
ticket and a surcharge, usually meaning that you have two 'tickets'.
The surcharge is higher if you go for a shitei-seki (reserved
seat) as opposed to a jiyu-seki (unreserved seat).
As the trains sometimes run at over 200 percent
of capacity, the shitei-seki is a good idea if you can afford
it. If you have a Rail Pass, you just have to get a ticket to
confirm your seat reservation. The Green Rail Pass also entitles
you to a seat in the Green Car, a kind of first-class
section. All train reservations can be
made at JR Travel Centers or at any station where you
see the Midori no Mado-guchi (Green Window) sign.
Tickets are available one month before the departure date.
If you're looking to save on transport costs and aren't pressed
for time, local trains can be a cheap alternative for longer trips.
JR has several types of dicount and excursion tickets. For example,
seishun-juhachi is a set of five one-day tickets which allow unlimited travel
on non-express trains, and waido shuyu-ken is a ticket
to one of the main islands (Hokkaido, Kyushu and
Shikoku), which includes unlimited travel on the island for up
to 20 days. The main drawback with these tickets is that they
are seasonal and so not always available.
There is an extensive bus network throughout the country. The
Rail Pass is valid on the express busses which use highways for
the major routes but they are quite a bit slower than the shinkansen
(8 rather than 2 hours between Tokyo and Sendai, for example).
If you don't have the Rail Pass, busses do offer a cheap alternative,
costing about the same as the regular trains. Local bus networks
tend to have all signs in Japanese only.
Japan is an archipaelago made up of four main islands and thousands
of smaller ones. The main islands are all connected by bridges
or tunnels these days. But most of the smaller islands are only
accessible by air or by ferry. Ferry is the cheaper, and often
more pleasant, option. Travel between the southern island of Kyushu
and Osaka, which can be done by road or train if you're in a hurry,
is better enjoyed as an 11-hour cruise through the Inland Sea
National Park. Sado, the biggest of Japan's 'other' islands, can be reached from
the mainland in 2 hours by ferry or just one hour by jetfoil.
Public transport is good in the cities and long distances are
best covered by air or train. Car rental is quite expensive so
it is best kept for travel to remote or rural areas. Combined
deals, where the car is picked up at a distant airport or train
station, are a good option. The major Western rental companies,
such as Hertz (who have a tie-up with Toyota Rent-a-car) and Avis,
operate in Japan alongside local companies like Orix, Budget and