Travel in Japan

Travelling Around Japan

For the foreign traveller, Japan has a very user-friendly transport system. I have explained the Tokyo underground system in a previous blog, so I’ll tell you about the bullet trains and buses, and general other tourist stuff. Japan seems to be one of the safest countries I have ever explored, so if you are a nervous traveller, come to Japan.

Everyone knows that Japan has bullet trains. They are quick and easy. They are not the cheapest way to travel though. In 2018, a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about 2 hours and costs about £200 return. It’s a few pounds more if you want to reserve a seat. Announcements on the trains are in Japanese followed by English, and an onboard sign shows which station you are approaching. Each carriage has a map of the train, marking toilets, bins and crew positions. The seats are comfy, forward facing, and recline. When passengers disembark, they replace their seat to the upright position (Japanese people are very polite, they don’t leave things in a way to inconvenience other people).

Buying tickets was relatively easy. We went to the ticket office, and staff spoke enough English to be helpful. They also told us which platform we needed. Platforms can be confusing, as different ends of the same platform have trains going to different places, but we found that other passengers were willing to help. Carriage positions are marked on the platform, so you can queue in the correct place. Stations have a shortage of seats, so don’t go to the platform before you need to unless you enjoy standing.

Local trains stop at more stations, and have less comfy seats, but are still clean. The onboard facilities depend on the train.

Taxis can be hailed anywhere (unlike in Singapore, where there are special places, like bus stops for hailing cabs). When they are available, they have the Chinese symbol for ‘free’ lit in red lights in the windscreen.

In some places (like Hakone) you can buy a ticket that covers trains, underground, and buses. The buses run to timetable, so be at the stop on time. The timetable will show the bus number or letter, which you then match with the sign on the bus stop. If you don’t have a prepaid ticket, you take a ticket when you get on the bus, and pay the driver when you leave (though I think this varies, as some have machines for paying). The next stop is shown on a sign at the front, and you press a button to request a stop. I think eating on a bus is impolite, as is blowing your nose. So you might want to sit separately from your husband. (Just saying.)

When you arrive, stations have good facilities. There are often shops and cafes. Tokyo station even has tunnels full of market stalls!

Public toilets are clean, and tend to have both traditional toilets and European style ones. All the ones I found were free to use. They also provide loo paper (some countries don’t). ALSO, Japan is the first country I have ever been in, where there is one cubicle designated for mothers of young babies. Inside, in the corner, there is a seat where you can strap a young child. This is SUCH a good idea – why do all countries not have them? Using the washroom with a young child tends to involve either abandoning them in a public place strapped into their buggy where you can’t see them, or leaving the door open so the whole world can watch you pee, or attempting to hold them while you use the toilet (which they always see as a time to wriggle unhelpfully). On behalf of mothers everywhere I would like to say, well done Japan!

Walking around cities is safe, as pavements are clean and well maintained. Any building work or obstacles have men who wave red flags at you so you notice. Signs are in Japanese, so you need a good map. Roads have crossing points, with lights. Everyone obeys the lights. Sometimes you have to wait for a long time, but they tweet at you when the light is green, which is a helpful indication that you should stop writing emails if your wife has decided to ignore you. (Just saying.)

Trains in Japan are a good way to see the countryside. We saw houses, which tended to fill the whole plot, so gardens were tiny. In rural areas there were flooded fields (I assume for growing rice) and temples and mountains and plains. Here are a few fuzzy photos taken from the train:

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.


Thank you for reading.


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