Unless you are really rich and don’t mind spending heavy bucks on cab, the only way you can go around Japan is trains. You can rent a car, but there are narrow lanes, busy market areas and a lot of people walking. Driving and finding a parking can be tiresome especially at tourist places. Personally, I would recommend you to be on foot or take trains. Japan has one of the most extensive train networking. Both Inter cities and in city. However, before you plan your travel around Japan with trains, there are some very important factors to be known, understood and planned. Let us start with the most important one
- Be fit: Be fit because my friend you will be walking miles between subways, platforms, in and out stations and of course on road. If you do not travel a lot or not used to walking, then there are two options for you, either start walking or save some extra bucks for the cabs. During our trip, we covered a lot of places every day, so on an average we walked almost 15 kms a day. How much you are going to walk will totally depend on your each day Itinerary. Just be ready to walk. I will provide our Itinerary in a separate blog. Stay tuned for that. Below is our walk for 1 day from google timeline.
Not to mention but wear your most comfortable shoes and carry some bad aids for your feet. I personally love this one from Scholl.
- Japan Transit Planner: Japan Transit Planner is one of the best and easy app for travelling around Japan. Download it now. It will show you various routes and different lines option to take as route number 1, 2 etc. Chose the lowest distance or least expensive. If you have a JR pass or any other specific pass, go the Options and select the same, you will have only those specific lines routes, if such route is available. Along with the train line, app also mentions platform, but it can be wrong at times. So for platform do check the notice boards. Except for few stations we didn’t have any issue in finding the direction for platform. However, some intercity stations are really huge with directions mentioned for various lines and trains. If you ever feel confused, you will find train staff everywhere around the station. Most of them understand English and will guide you well. App also tells you the cash you need based on your selection of passes. For example, you may need to change 3 lines for your destination, one line is covered by JR pass, another by metro subway pass (if you have selected both the passes in options on the app) and third a separate line, app will tell you the cost of only that line. You can plan your daily cash needs accordingly.
- Squeeze in: One very important thing to remember is you will hardly find seat in the train especially if you are visiting Tokyo and during peak hours. Sometimes entering into the train can also be difficult particularly if you are taking a main city line connecting to the work areas. So be ready to do some squeezing and finding your way in. (Caution: be ready to smell alcohol all over the train on weekends, LOL). You will not be able to completely avoid the train crowd, but you can manage the day by planning your trip well and covering the places on the busy lines during off peak hours.
- Do not lose stuff: Japan is safe, there is no mugging or stealing. However, trains and stations are extremely busy and crowded. Especially if you are in Tokyo with thousands of people walking around. Do not carry a lot of stuff around. If you forget something in train or lose at station, there are high chances you won’t be able to find it back. Most important thing to take care of is your JR pass. We lost two of our passes. I would really like if Japan government can make it online with some bar code of the pass on your mobile which you can use, but till then it is a pass in hand. If you lose it, you cannot do anything about it. So protect it like your baby. You cannot punch or scan the pass, you just have to show it to the security person standing next to the normal ticket exit and they will let you out.
- Coffee lovers, good news: There are Starbucks or normal coffee shops at almost every station (the thing I loved the most). Need not worry about coffee at all
- No Eating-Drinking: In most of the trains, eating and drinking is not allowed. Check before you start munching.
- Research: Do your research and buy a pass accordingly. There are multiple type of passes. You will find many websites with description and comparison between different passes suitable for you depending on various factors.
- Reserve your seats on Shinkansen: Most of the cabins on JR network trains are reserved except cabin 1 to 5. Finding a non-reserved seat can be difficult in some trains (these are only for intercity trains). If you have a definite Itinerary or travelling with kids, I will highly recommend, reserve your seats. Reservation is usually done up to one month before.
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Happy hopping trains 🙂