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Cultural: Public Transit

Kyoto, Japan

Public transit is the obvious way to go for any tourist and the system of Japan is really good. In fact, if a train is late even by a few seconds the conductor is expected to hand in an written apology. Quite different from the trains at home.

The train everyone talks about is of course the Shinkansen, the bullet train. This one comes in different varieties and speeds and is the fastest earthbound way to get from one city to another.

Of course there are "normal" trains as well, also Limited Express trains, Express trains, overnight trains, ... You name it, they got it.

Finding your platform and train should not pose that much of a problem, even without Japanese, as long as you stay in the major cities, where the announcements are made in English as well as Japanese. If in doubt: Ask someone, you should be able to find some English speaking staff.
Might be problematic in more rural areas.

Especially made for foreign tourists visiting Japan under the status of "Temporary visitor", the Japan Rail P (JRP) ass is ideal of those hopping from place to place. If enables you to use all JR-lines and all Shinkansen trains except the Nozomi just by showing it. One has to buy it before coming to Japan via a travel agency.

Some trains, especially the Shinkansen and Limited Express ones are divided into reserved and non-reserved seats by a ratio of roughly 2:1. If you have a JRP you can easily get a reserved ticket and board the train, knowing exactly where your seat is.

By the way, the tracks got markings or displays on them, showing you which car will stop where, meaning where you should position yourself to avoid having to search for your seat.

The upper class cars are called "Green cars" in Japan and cannot be used without additional charges by a JRP-holder. Cannot say much about those, didn't use them.

When arriving at it's final destination, the train is cleaned and the doors are barricaded. Just wait till they are done.

In the early hours of the morning, cities like Tokyo offer special "Women only" cars on their trains. Those are limited to the rush-hour when lots of school girls etc. take the train to their destination, the cars can be used by anyone the rest of the day.

One thing I discovered quite recently are the double-decker trains, but you can imagine those.

Also, with the movie in the cinemas and the games coming up, there are trains specially decorated with Pokémon. Didn't notice any difference aside from their outer appearance, the kids love them though.


Subway and Metro: Not much to say about them, subways are pretty much the same all around the world I guess. Tokyo got a massive system of those and a JR-operated loop line as well.
The cars often feature multiple displays for travel info, CMs and announcing the next stop and can really really stuffed during rush hour.


If in Tokyo the main means of transport is the metro system, it's the city buses in Kyoto.

The tourist information center offers free bus navis, no matter how far you travel inside the city it's a flat rate (220yen) and all the sights can be easily reached by bus, yep, it's pretty nice.
As for the system, you enter the bus by the rear door and leave by the front door. When leaving you put the money in a machine next to driver and get off, that's it.

At the boarding areas one can see weird lines on the floor, these are guides for where to stand in line, and it works! No pushing, no cutting in line, everyone enters calmly and without making a fuss. Of course this is not entirely true, but it's still way better than the mess we get sometimes at home.

If you exit the city itself, e.g. by traveling to Arashiyama, you will have to take a ticket out of a machine right when entering the bus. This will have a printed number on it and at the front of the bus a display will mach our number to the prize if you get off at the next stop. Press the button to show the driver you want to get off, get your money ready and drop both your ticket and the exact amount into the slot next to the driver.

As with any form of public transportation (except taxis), you are expected to offer your seat to persons needing it more than you do, especially the elderly, weak, expectant mothers, persons with small children etc.

There are other systems for riding a bus as well, as I learned when I tried the buses in Tama Plaza. Here it's pretty much the opposite from Kyoto: While also a flat rate, you enter by the front door, pay when right then and exit using the middle/rear-door. Caused some confusion when I came from Kyoto.

Highway buses, operated by various companies including JR are a slower, but more scenic way of traveling from place to place and for non-JRP-holders often cheaper. Took one to Mt. Fuji.


Taking a taxi is generally more expensive than public transit for lone travelers, but cannot always be avoided. Also, they are convenient! Note that you never touch a door in Japanese taxis, the driver opens and closes them from the diving seat via a button.


As good as the public transit in Japan may be, problems still occur. I told you about this already, but I got stuck for an hour once due to some problem/accident.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on September 3, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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