It may not surprise you to know that travelling around Japan can seriously eat into your budget. That said, there are a huge number of options to choose from when it comes to getting around this beautiful country, and one of the best ways to do so is to travel by train.
However, many travelers to Japan are understandably wary about this as they are worried not only about the prohibitive cost, but also the logistics of getting around using an unfamiliar railway system.
Here we cover some of the basics of how to travel by train in Japan...
What Kinds of Trains are there?
Japanese rail services are known for being some of the best in the world and are very efficient, clean and comfortable. To add to this, there are train services that run all over Japan, so wherever you want to go, there is a good chance that there will be a train that can take you there.
There are different kinds of trains in Japan, but the most common is the national railway of Japan which is called Japan Railways and is usually depicted as JR on tickets.
Once you decide to go by train you need to choose which kind you want to take, and here again you will be spoiled for choice. If you are not in any hurry then you can take a slow train called an ordinary car ("Futsu", 普通) or local train ("Kakueki teisha", 各駅停車) which will allow you a scenic and leisurely way of seeing the country.
If you want to go a little faster and stop at fewer stops along the way, then you can consider taking the Express Train which is known in Japanese as "Kyuko" (急行).
A little faster than this is the Rapid service which is known as the "Kaisoku" (快速) or you can opt for the fastest trains which are the Limited Express Trains called "Tokkyu" (特急).
If you want to go really fast, then you can go on the famous "Shinkansen" (新幹線) or bullet trains which have a separate railway line to regular JR trains and that use high speed tracks to travel at higher speeds.
What Different Classes Can you Choose from?
When it comes to Japanese trains you will usually get a choice of regular and what are known as Green Car carriages which are like business or first class carriages on western trains. If you choose a Green Car carriage then you can expect to have more space in your seat as well as being less crowded making them often quieter and more relaxing.
One thing to note about the Green Car carriages is that you can select them if you have a Japan Rail Pass, but you will need to reserve a seat in advance.
How Much will it Cost?
Train travel in Japan is of an excellent standard but it is not particularly cheap. With that in mind, you can expect to pay quite a hefty price for a single journey of a few hours and even more so if you take the Shinkansen bullet train. If you are travelling for more than 600km, you are entitled to a 10% discount on the return journey, although this is not a particularly big sum and there are some easier ways of saving money on train travel.
One thing to also look out for is the fact that prices often go up during peak travel periods (usually April, May, and December) and you can expect to have to pay around 200 yen more on the price of your ticket than at other times.
Are there any Discounts or Train Pass?
Yes! The best thing to do if you are travelling in Japan and want to go by train is to invest in a Japan Rail Pass that will also allow you to travel on intracity trains like the Metro. This means that you will not have to buy single tickets each time and you can save a lot of money. Unless you are only going on a single trip during your entire time in Japan (including all train lines and metro lines) then you should invest in a Japan Rail Pass.
The pass can be selected for different lengths and you can travel as much as you want during that time. For a seven day pass the price is 29,110 yen, or you can get a 14 day pass for 46,390 yen. There is also a 21 day pass if you are travelling in Japan for longer which is 59,350 yen.
At first glance the prices may seem expensive, but if you were to buy two single tickets from Osaka to Tokyo the price would be around 14,000 yen each way, meaning that it comes to the same price as the 7 day pass.
Do I need to Make a Reservation?
You can make a reservation on all train journeys in Japan although there is no real need to do so. The only exception to this rule is around major holidays such as New Year, Obon Festival in August, and Golden Week in April, as these periods see higher numbers of travelers. As such, it is prudent to book, and you can do so from an agent or at a Japan Railways office.