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Narita Express & JR Rail Lines
If you are flying into Narita Airport, as most people from outside of Japan going into Tokyo do, I would highly reccomend buying a JR Rail Pass. It can be used immediately on the Narita Express, which will get you into Tokyo and to Tokyo Station.
The Pass is also helpful if you plan to make day trips to places like Kyoto or Sendai. It is also much faster and much less expensive than taking a taxi from the airport.
A JR Rail pass can be purchased from the following web site Japan Rail Pass. The site offers passes for sale and has 7 different langauge pages to choose from.
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From Kyoto I came to Tokyo by train.
I took the popular Shinkansen which takes 2 hours and 20 minuts to reach the capital from Kyoto.
The ticket was about 120 euros one way and it's impressive the quantity of bullet trains that run betwen the two cities, one every 10 minuts.
You can reserve the seat payng about 5 euros more or simply take the ticket and get the first useful train minding to go in the not reserved seats wagons, usually they are the first 3, anyway they are well advised in the stations.
With the combination of JR and other subway system, you can actually travel around Tokyo without taking other type of transportation. Yamanote (Loop) line should be the most used JR line for tourist as its simple and doesn't have several types of trains like other JR lines.
To NOTE: Most JR lines have 3 types of trains: 1) normal, 2) express and 3) rapid. Where "normal trains stop at every sations, express trains stop in fewer stations and rapid trains stop at ever fewer stations. So its important to know if you are getting the right type of train cuz not every train stops at every station~
Tickets: Buy an IO card for the value of 1,000, 3,000 or 5,000 and you dont need to purchase ticket everytime you take the JR. And you get to keep the card after the value's used up~
The Website: very useful! u might check how to get from one spot to another, where to get transited.. and also the price!
Exploring Tokyo on the JR and other train lines
The JR and various train lines can initially be quite daunting, but if you spend a bit of time at the station reading up & studying the lines, you'll be fine.
Within metropolitan Tokyo, there are English wordings at all stations. I was able to get all the way from Shinjuku station to Narita town & airport and Disneyland, Chiba (about 2 hours out of Tokyo town) with little difficulty. However, once you get to the outskirts of Tokyo, there might not be as many stations with English wordings.
I found the people manning the Information Counter to be extremely helpful. The ones I met all spoke English and were clear in outlining the various options and they even provided my husband and I with a little mini route map. If you have to choose, approach a lady rather than a man. The ladies tend to smile more and are friendlier. The men tend to be brusque and more impatient.
*Updated (2009): A Useful Tip: "Topping-Up Ticket" Machine*
As for the ticket, if you underpay when you purchase the ticket, you can top up the ticket difference on the other side, so don't worry at all about getting it right. That's why I observed that many people simply purchase the lowest value tickets, and then ride the subway freely. When they get out on the other side, they would top up the difference using the top-up machine.
What the machine does is read the value on your ticket, the station that you had commenced your journey on, and calculate the difference by which you have to top up. This works even when you've changed stations numerous times, within the same train or JR network.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has prepared some tips for tourists on how to travel around Tokyo using various transport options - click on the link below
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Narita Express is one of the most convenient way to reach Tokyo from Narita Airport. The service is regular hourly and on peak hours every half an hour. The journey takes about 53 minutes to Tokyo station. The ordinary seats are very comfortable and leg space is wide. The ordinary one-way ticket costs about 3000 JPY to Tokyo. If you get Suica&NEX card, you will get a huge discount on Narita Express to Tokyo. You can get more details on that in my suica card tip.
JR Kanto Pass
There are a number of rail passes available and the JR Kanto pass just may be the ticket for people who want to do a few daytrips out of Tokyo to places like Nikko, Karuizawa and so on.
3 day pass is 8000 yen, which makes for very good value given that you can use it on the Shinkansen as well as the trains to and from Narita and Haneda airports.
Unlike some of the other JR passes, foreign residents of Japan can also take advantage of this pass. Now that I know about it, I will definitely be doing so.
Riding the trains & metro in Tokyo
The Tokyo train and metro system is massive. There are three metro systems that together have 282 stations and 14 lines and carry some 9 million passengers a day. This sounds huge, but the metro carries only a fraction of the city's rail traffic. The trains, with about 600 stations on 121 different lines, carry 3.5 times as many passengers totaling 31 million riders a day. Shinjuku station in downtown Tokyo is the epicenter of this public transportation web, with over 3.5 million passengers passing through the station each day. In comparison, the entire Washington DC metro, which is very popular for commuters in America's capital, only has ridership of just under 1 million passengers a day.
Despite this sprawling transit system that looks like a bowl of spaghetti ... or ramen... on the map, Tokyo's rail system is easy to learn, with just a bit of research and practice. The are numerous signs and announcements in English and Japanese to guide travelers to their destinations. Ticketing is easy if you purchase a Suica card. And the trains are clean and safe.
First the tickets. You can purchase individual tickets, but that can be complex because the fares vary station by station. To make things easier, purchase a Suica card, which costs 2000 Yen (500 Yen for the card and 1500 Yen in value for fares). This card can be loaded with money and swiped over the turnstiles when entering and leaving the train. Even better, it can be used on metros, buses, and even at many stores. Just look for the Suica logo, which says Suica in English, on the green machines where you buy tickets. Most machines have a button in the upper right for English. Even those that don't have the English button, still say Suica and the cost in Yen, so you should be able to figure it out.
Your second challenge is the signage. Luckily everything important is in English. At the station, signs will point you to the correct platform and once at the platform, signs will provide updates as to which train is next, when it arrives, and where it is going. The trains themselves also have sings in English on the outside to ensure you get on the right route. Inside the train is even better: there are two TVs over each door that flip through a number of screens that show where on the route the train is, what stations are approaching, how long until arrival, and where the transfers are. When the train pulls into a station, it even shows what car you are in and which direction you will need to walk to get to the exit.
Most important, though, is how do you know what train to take, at what time, and what transfers to make? In a transportation system this size it can be complex, unless you have a computer. There are a number of websites, like Hyperdia (http://www.hyperdia.com/), which allow you to enter your starting station, you destination and the date and time. Push enter, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of information including the name of the line, the platform the train will arrive at, transfers, the departure platform, the fare, and the amount of time for the total trip and each leg. Makes traveling a breeze if you do your research.
General tips on taking a train
There's this website that they show you the real live data of JR trains and other trains in English. you just type your destination and you will know the cost, time it takes to travel and the trains to take, right down to the train number and platform, and the exact timetable schedule of the train. Go to http://grace.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/hyperd01.cgi
If you can read Chinese characters, it's no problem for you to get around. Each train shows the kanji characters of their destination. Romanji is also shown at times, but not as frequently. Something very important: you MUST remember the end destination of the train. (So you don't get onto the wrong train) For eg. if you're going to Omiya from Hoshakuji like I do, you must know that the end destination is Ueno, because all the trains will only reflect this and there's no train map in most of the trains. But the good thing is, they will annouce each stop when they get to it, so you can look out for that.
As long as the train carriage you're in doesn't have two levels or double decked (you'll know what i mean when you see it), it's unreserved, which means you can sit anywhere, even if they have seat numbers on it. Seating arrangements are different in each train, so don't be surprised if you see some trains with seats lining the sides and facing each other or those which face forward/backward.
Tokyo: Shinkansen (bullet trains)
Like "All Roads Lead to Rome" - all railroads lead to Tokyo in Japan.
Better know to foreigners as the "bullet trains". These trains can reach average speeds of 280Kmp/h and serve all major cities on the island of Honshu and as far south as Hakata, the train stop which serves Fukuoka. Tokyo is well served by the shinkansen, they pass through en-route to either Osaka / Kyoto and as far south to Hakata or in the opposite direction north reaching Niigata and Akita, going almost every 30 min or so during the day.
The shinkansen is definately the best way to travel in Japan and can be even used by the "budget" traveller, that's being budget minded for Japan! It is important to know that discounted tickets for 7, 14 and 30 days unlimited travel can be bought, but must be purchased outside of Japan. This makes Japan a viable travel option as a short trip of 7 days for example from Korea. A seven days JR (Japan Rail) pass, valid for all JR train travel, including shinkansen, can be purchased at a number of travel agents / ferry booking offices in Korea for about 300,000won (US$260), a real bargin!
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Getting around Japan on Shinkansen trains
Japan Railways (JR) operates the biggest train network in Japan. There are smaller private train companies that operates smaller subways and train routes. For the normal traveller, JR is good enough to get you around.
The main hub for JR West is Oaska and the hub for JR East is Tokyo. Their URLs are here;
For JR, there are mainly two classes of trains;
Normal trains that comes as Local, Rapid or Express. And Shinkansen trains or Bullet trains that run really fast - more than 200km/hr sometimes.
If you travel inter-city, you can buy the Japan Rail Pass outside of Japan that is valid for 7 days, 14 days or 21-days. The pass gives you unlimited travel on local trains and the Hikari-class Shinkansen (Nozomi class NOT accepted). The tour agency can book one for you and give you a "exchange letter". This letter you must bring to exchange it into the actual rail pass at the following stations;
Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ueno, Narita airport, Ikebukuro, Kansai airport etc...Check the website.
If you opt not to buy the rail pass because it is NOT worth the cost, you can buy tickets as and when needed. It is not as troublesome as it might sound.
Shinkansen tickets can be purchased from JR ticket counters with the "green seat" signs. Just join the queue and speak to the counter staff in English about where you want to go, what time and the number of persons going. There are 2 types of Shinkansen tickets - reserved and non-reserved. Reserved means your tickets will have a reserved seat in a specific car on a specific train that will pull into the station at a certain time. You must board the right train at the right platform. Non-reserved means you can take any trains going towards your destination. But, you are NOT guarrantee a seat. Usually, car numbers 1 to 3 are for non-reserved seats. Cars from 4 onwards are for reserved seating only.
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A great deal is available if you take the NEX from Narita airport into Tokyo. You get a Suica card preloaded with Y1500 (almost free) when you buy your NEX ticket at the JR office in the airport station.
*Suica is a prepaid card that you scan at the turnstile, no need to buy individual tickets. Easily reloaded at the ticket machines.
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From Takayama to Tokyo
Must book tickets in advance as this is a long journey and very popular on weekends. From Takayama, take Shinkansen to Nagoya (2.5 hours) and there is a short stopover. Change train to Tokyo and journey is 1.5 hours.
We needed dinner and didn't have time for a proper sit down version. Bought packed dinner box to eat on train. Bad mistake! It was terribly expensive, food is cold and not appetising at all.
This was the worst meal we had in Japan. Will never endure a ready packed meal again!
Travelling outside Tokyo for day-trips
We had purchased the JR Pass, so it was a breeze to travel in/out of Tokyo. We took the Shinkansen to visit places like Hakone, Kamakura and Kyoto.
To visit Hakone, we also purchased the Odakyu Free Pass, which allows us unlimited travel on the local transport system.
Here's hubby waiting at the station at Tonosawa for the local train which would take us to Owakudani.
Japan Rail Pass
I have pasted the information from Japan Tourism Board here.
It's cheaper if you are planning to use the train on other days or pay 3000 yen for airport shuttle.
(The Japan Rail Pass is available only to people from abroad who wish to come to Japan as "temporary visitors" for sightseeing. It is usually necessary to purchase an Exchange Order through a travel agency abroad so that the Exchange Order can be exchanged for a Japan Rail Pass after entering Japan.
It is very important to remember that only those who receive the entry status "temporary visitor" stamped in their passports are eligible to obtain the Japan Rail Pass. In order to receive your Japan Rail Pass, you need to take your Exchange Order to an applicable Japan Rail station, upon arrival in Japan, which has a Japan Rail Pass exchange office.
The Exchange Order of Japan Rail Pass can be purchased from overseas offices of JTB Corp., JALPAK, Nippon Travel Agency Co., Ltd., Kintetsu International, and Toptour Corporation plus their affiliated travel agencies in various countries. Overseas offices of Japan Airlines(JAL)* and All Nippon Airways(ANA) also handle the Exchange Order. *When using JAL group flight.)
How to search Train routes online (in English)
Tokyo is like a maze of Train lines...
It's sometimes hard to find which line to use and where to get off and such only on guide books or signs.
So, I'll introduce to you 2 websites where you can search train routes in English!
This site allows you to search routes within Tokyo and its neighbouring areas only by clicking on your mouse.
You can search routes anywhere in Japan on this site, but you can't use if you misspell the station names.
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