Taking the Train in Japan – Part 1

Japan train station

We’re off the train and back in the office, and as promised, here is our first installment in our complete guide of train travel in Japan.

As I’ve mentioned before, train travel is an extremely efficient way to travel through Japan, and chances are you’re going to be hopping on at least one train in your visit to Japan. But while train travel is efficient, it’s not always going to be easy figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Toss in a foreign language and you have a recipe for confusion.

What’s with all the different trains?

So which train is faster? The Rapid? The Express? The Limited Express? These are the kinds of options that you’ll be faced with when you arrive on the train platform. The good news is, if you are going to a major station (which unless you’re planning on visiting a rural or remote area of Japan, you definitely will be) you can take any one of these trains. The only difference is that some will get you there faster than others.

So here’s the run down of trains from slowest to fastest:

  • Regular – this local service stops at every single station.
  • Rapid – a faster option, this train skips about 2 out of every three stops that the Rapid makes.
  • Express – Faster than the Rapid, but may charge an extra express fee.
  • Limited Express – This train only stops at the major stations. An express fee may also be charged.
  • Super Express – This is the bullet train or the Shinkansen. They will run from different platforms and different tracks, so you will not see this as an option unless to go to the Shinkansen area.

Seat Catagories

Once you’ve decided on the train you are going to take you need to decide if you want reserved or non-reserved seating. There are usually only reserved seating available on the Limited Express and Shinkansen trains. Reserved seating costs more but it is more spacious and less crowded. You can tell reserved seating cars from their green color.

If you happen to miss your reserved seating train (which I certainly have), you can take any of the following trains and just sit in the non-reserved section. Don’t just stand on the platform for 3 hours and look dumb (which I certainly have).

In Part 2 we will cut through some of the confusion on buying a train ticket, and in Part 3 we look at how to buy a ticket from a vending machine.

Japan train schedule
Looks easy doesn’t it?

Photo Credits: Train station by dai oni, Train schedule by LimitedExpress

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