Japan: The Ultimate Transportation Guide. One of the most overwhelming aspects of planning our trip to Japan was trying to wrap our heads around the complex transportation system. With dozens of different metro line companies, trains and taxis, we were lost from the start.
In this guide we will break down the categories of transportation, along with our personal recommendation for how to get around the city with ease.
We promise that even if it may seem complicated at first, once you are in the country you will be happily pleased with how easy getting around actually is!
Our first tip to help make finding your way through Japan a bit easier is by having a pocket wifi with you at all times. Rather than your typical SIM card, tourists in Japan purchase a pocket wifi either prior to arrival, or once at the airport. We actually opted to purchase ours just after our flight landed in the Osaka airport and we were able to score an insane discount by getting it in person, rather than before our trip started.
Either way, you will definitely want to have wifi on hand while traveling through the country. Almost all of the signs are solely in Japanese, therefore you will rely heavily on the help of Google Maps to get you from point A to point B. Google Maps is also going to be your best friend when traveling via metro. It will provide you with accurate train times, platforms, and directions for getting around.
Japan: The Ultimate Transportation Guide
Modes of Transportation
Here is our list of the most used transportation methods in Japan. During our trip we used a combination of all the below. Keep reading to find out which type of transportation suits you best.
The metro system in Japan can look complex on the outside. That is because different companies own different lines. However, in short all lines and metro services intertwine at some point and the companies work together. This makes it a lot less of a hassle than what you might think at first.
For the most part, if we were not walking we were using the metro. There are options to purchase daily metro passes, or if you are on a tight budget like us, you can do what we did! Each day we decided what area we wanted to explore. From there, we would purchase our metro ticket one way to that neighborhood and walk around by foot to get around the rest. At the end of the day, we bought our one way metro ticket back to our apartment once we were finished sightseeing. All in all, we spent an average of $12 a day between the both of us to get around.
Tokyo’s Metro System
In Tokyo, we purchased a 3 Day Tokyo Subway Pass. This was really great to have in a big city since everything was spread out. With this pass we were granted unlimited rides on the subway system, however it did exclude the JR lines. To purchase these passes, you need to do a quick Google search of where you can buy them. They are not sold in the Metro station itself, but in surrounding stores and the airport. We got ours at a BIC camera store store next to the station.
One thing we absolutely loved about the metro system in Japan was how clean and efficient it was. All the trains were always on time, people queued up in line respectfully, and trains were kept spotless and clean. Overall, the metro is the best way to get around Japan in a quick and cost effective manner.
You cannot go to Japan without hearing about the infamous JR Rail Pass. We heard tons of mixed reviews on it ourselves and ultimately decided against it after considering our type of trip. However, we took the time to do all the math ahead of time, so if you would like a quick understanding on if it would be worth it for you please read below.
The JR Rail Pass is financially worth it for those planning a trip to Japan for a short period of time. By short, we mean 3-10 days. Essentially, the pass is only valid for 7 days. Therefore, if you are short on time and you want to get around the country quickly, it is a great option. It is also worth the money if you are planning to visit multiple cities during your trip. However, if you are only spending your trip in one city, say Tokyo, then this pass is NOT worth it.
On the contrary, the JR Rail Pass is also not worth the money if your trip is planned to be 10 days, or longer. We were there for 20 days and in doing the math and working out our trips, the pass ultimately did not make the most sense. We did however purchase a JR pass similar called the Kansai Wide Area Pass. This was a 5 day pass that allowed us to get out of the airport to Osaka, embark on all of our day trips out of Osaka, and then finally the train to Kytoto. Another great perk to the Kansai Wide Area Pass is that similar to the JR Rail Pass, you will have access to ride the famous Shinkansen Bullet train.
Japan: The Ultimate Transportation Guide
Important Notes About The JR Rail Pass and Kansai Wide Area Pass
You must purchase these passes prior to arriving in Japan. We applied for ours a week before departure. Generally it will take 3-5 business days for the passes to be shipped out to you. When purchasing, you will need to provide them with an address to mail the passes, along with your passport/travel details. Once received, take the passes to the JR Rail Service desk located in the airport to activate.
TIP: You can have the agent at the dest activate the passes on whichever date you decide. If you don’t want your 7, or 5 day pass to start the day you land, simply provide the agent with the date you would like the passes to be valid and they will make sure they are activated for those specific dates. We also suggest you try to do this at the airport. Although certain metro stations do have agents who can activate the JR passes, queues there are generally much longer and more stressful.
Now we have taken our fair share of busses. If you want to read about one of our longest bus journey click Here. We hadn’t heard much about the busses in Japan, but we figured they must be good, after all it is Japan.
Since we opted out of the JR Rail Pass, we needed to find an alternative and affordable way to get from Kyoto to Tokyo. As a result, we looked into various bus companies that could take us. For $60 USD each, we were able to ride comfortably from Kyoto to the center of Tokyo overnight. We used a bus company called Willer Express and we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of travel.
If you are interested in checking out their website click Here
There are also plenty of taxis you can take if you are visiting Japan. Beware however of their price. They are the most expensive option and we only recommend you take them if it is a necessity. Since we were travelling with my grandmother, we took a few with her due to the fact that they were easily accessible and overall convenient.
As we mentioned before, if we weren’t on the metro we were mostly exploring the city by foot! We averaged between 8-10 miles of walking a day and our feet were killing us, but it was definitely worth it.
Overall, the transportation in Japan can seem much more daunting than it is once you arrive. Do your research ahead of time and take into consideration the type of trip you are planning. From there, you can easily determine which train passes and method of transport will best suit you and your travel needs. We hope that our blog Japan: The Ultimate Transportation Guide has helped you plan for your next trip to japan.
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