You may have heard about the superb Japanese train system already. That it’s reliable and always on schedule but also safe, clean and all the staff is knowledgable and helpful. But can something that sounds this good be true?
Yes, it can. But how can you make the most of the Japanese rail service?
Here is a quick guide on how.
Japan is a country of variety. If you find something remarkable, be it a service or a concept of sorts, there is a somewhat high chance that there’s a similar alternative that is just as good.
It is the same with train providers. They are all good but have slight differences. The Japan Rail(JR) group is the biggest. (This is the one you can use the tourist rail pass with.)
The JR group used to be a single service provider, but in the 80ties it got split into six regions. It helps to think about this when looking at the different rail passes. There is the JR tourist only rail pass, with what you can use (almost) all JR services. But there are also various regional passes you can only travel with- in the given region.
It also operates the Shinkansen or the bullet train as it’s known in English speaking countries. The bullet train is fast and comfortable. You can travel across the country in a matter of hours. For example, a single journey from Tokyo to Osaka by plane takes about an hour. By Shinkansen, it is a little over two hours, but you don’t have to travel to and from the airport. The Shinkansen will take you from the city centre to the city centre without the hassle of check-ins and delays.
The Shinkansen has different services on different routes. All quick but some a little more so than others. Most services have two classes, but some have three. It’s pretty much the same as flying- the more you pay, the better it gets.
Different from the JR group are the Private Rail companies. There are more than fifty across the country. The main difference between the Private lines and the JR lines is that often they operate from different stations. They also have different ticket prices and systems.
In bigger Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you also have metro lines. The metro lines are usually not much different from the privately operated lines, except they run underground and are (mostly) run by the local government.
If you plan to visit Japan as a tourist, the JR pass is of excellent value. But if you are moving to Japan, the best thing to go for is a travel card like the Suica, Pasmo or Icoca.
Using plastic railcards is good because the system automatically deducts the fares, and you can easily switch between service providers and lines. All you need to do is keep the card topped up.
There are also electronic options for Android and IOS users.
The trains in Japan really do live up to the hype. You do not hear much complaining about the Japanese rail system. But when you do, it is usually the same thing people complain about- other people.
Be it the number of passengers during rush hour or people pushing in, it’s always us- the passengers that lower the quality of the service.
By making sure we queue up the right way and don’t litter, maybe even plan our journeys to match off-peak times, we can all contribute to making something that is already amazing even better.