Guest blog by Ray Shortridge
A commonly held view is that one has to be fluent in Japanese to get around in Japan. After our couple of weeks there, we felt confident that could navigate the train system to travel between cities and towns across the country and commuter trains within urban areas. Here’s why.
The flagship (to mix the metaphor) of Japanese Rail (JR) is the world renowned bullet train and connects the major cities in Japan.
JR owns and operates about 70% of rail mileage in Japan and provides local and express service.
Several private railroad lines complement JR’s service by providing commuter trains throughout the larger metro areas. (For an in-depth look at the railroad system, click on this link.)
Finding the train one wants in the station is easy. An large electric sign in the entrance hall provides the train number and destination in English, as well as Japanese, and the tracks are designated by arabic numerals.
Directional signage within the building are also in English, as well as Japanese.
At the track, the updated arrival and departure signs are in English.
The ticket indicates the number for the car in which you are seated,and markings on the platform show where the doors on the car are located. The trains stop exactly at the door markings. Passengers line up here and enter in an orderly fashion.
Japan is an orderly society and respects queues, so cutting into a line or jumping one’s place is unacceptable. The passenger cars are spacious, tidy, and comfortable.
JR is in the process of implementing wifi service and outlets for ac/dc adapters on the bullet trains.
The commuter trains (and busses) in Tokyo and other metro areas use an electronic pass that is tapped against a reading device, rather than a ticket. There are several versions. The one we used is a Pasmo card which can also be used to purchase things like drinks from vending machines and items in some stores. Tickets can be purchased at machines in the station, and JR also issues passes for multiple trips.
The Japanese train network is extensive. Wikipedia provides an excellent overview.
Fortunately, once a tourist has used a particular type of train once, venturing forth again was straight forward and enjoyable. Foreigners should try to avoid peak travel times for local trains, however, to avoid uncomfortably crowded cars when train pushers are required.