Traveling by train in Japan
Traveling by train in Japan Tokyo Reviews
Traveling by train in Japan, JR pass Mar 09, 2008
To go from a part of Japan to another, the train is probably the most convenient way to travel. For foreign visitors, the JR (Japan Rail) pass is a good deal. Check out their web site http://www.japanrailpass.net/
and use the rail route finder web site
to plan your trip.
You have to know about a few terms, like Reserved (reserve a seat) vs Unreserved (free seats, meaning you line up and find whatever seat you can), Green Car (First class) vs Ordinary Car (cheaper). When you get your Rail Pass, you can pay for either Green Car or not. Some local or rural routes in Japan may not have Green Car service or even reserved seats for the time you want to travel. Green Car or reserved seats have roomier seats, perhaps 2 seats on either side of the aisle vs 2 on one side and 3 on the other. If you get a Green Car JR Pass, you have to to to the ticket office (in advance or same day) to get the tickets for the reserved seats (for free, because you have bought the pass).
A seven day rail pass cost 28300 yen ordinary class or 37800 yen for Green Car (and a 21 day pass cost about twice that). Check the JR web site above for the most current information. You can use the train as many times as you want during those 7 days!
People have heard about the bullet trains (called Shinkansen in Japan), but there are other types of trains too. The JR pass is good for the bullet trains except for the fastest kind called Nozomi. For long distance it would make a difference in time saved, but otherwise the difference is only a few minutes, and to tell the truth, once you are on the train, you don't really feel the difference in speed between the different kinds of bullet trains.
Shinkansen has its own platforms in the train station, so if you change from a JR train, but are changing to a Shinkansen, then you will need to follow the signs to Shinkansen, which is marked clearly. Some train stations are large, like Tokyo, Kyoto. And the stations names where Shinkansen stops are often prefixed with Shin-, like Shin-osaka.
There are lots of names for the trains (wide view Hida, Nozomi, etc), and types of services (local, LE limited express, express, etc), so it can be a bit overwhelming, but just pay attention to the times and train number (flight number?) and you should be fine.
The trains are clean, fast, on time (so you have to BE THERE for sure before it comes into the station), but just barely. Most trains stops for no more than 2 minutes, it's incredibly efficient and a great way to travel in Japan.
Part of the Japan and Taiwan 2008 + 4 travbuddies travel blog
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