All You Need To Know About Japan’s Transportation System

Japan’s transportation system has long been admired by travelers all over the world for its cleanliness and organization.

Japan's transportation system
UNSPLASH Zhipeng Ya

Public transportation is known to be on-time and used by many. The privatization of Japan’s transportation system has revolutionized the way it functions and its accessibility. In America, public transportation is not an expectation, whereas Japan it is almost essential. The growth of cities and aging population places transportation at the center of Japanese society, as a means of facilitating travel and connecting populated areas with more local ones. Let’s take a deeper look at the different aspects of public transportation!

Trains

Shinkansen
UNSPLASH John Cameron

The train is one of the most common ways to get around, especially for tourists. If you’re a foreigner in Japan, you can use the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for unlimited long-distance rides during your stay. If you’re traveling in only one region, use the Regional JR Pass. The price is super affordable compared to other options and can get you to major cities efficiently. Double check when traveling if the train you’re on transfers to a JR line as well!

There are many different types of trains. Local trains stop at every station, Rapid trains skip a few stations, Express trains skip even more stations, and Limited Express trains only stop at bigger stations and may have an additional base fare.

The world-famous shinkansen, otherwise known as bullet trains, connect Tokyo with a majority of Japan’s biggest cities. These trains travel up to 320 km/hr and have multiple lines. The shinkansen offer ordinary and green (first-class) cars. You can reserve seats online in advance and it’s recommended to do so for holidays or special occasions as the trains can fill up. However, it’s not necessary as they offer reserved and non-reserved seats on most shinkansen trains. There is a base fare fee, a seat reservation fee, and a shinkansen fee. These vary based on how busy the season is. With a JR Pass, you can get free ticket reservations at the ticket booth with all fees included in the pass. Sometimes there are also discounts that lower the cost of fees based on round-trip travel or travel packages.

Buses

Tokyo bus
UNSPLASH Heshan Perera

The bus system is a great way to cut the cost of long distance travel! If you’re comfortable sleeping on the bus, it’s also recommended to use this system and purchase the Japan Bus Pass, which can be used on Willer Express by holders of non-Japanese passports, including foreign residents. The pass has a few rules, which can vary based on which version you purchase. The general rule is that bus passes can’t be used consecutively or on the same route in the same direction twice in one day. Passes also can’t be shared as you must present your photo ID. Be sure to make a reservation for your bus ticket online!

Highway buses are more useful and cost effective for travel between Tokyo and Osaka but not recommended if you’re trying to visit less touristy or local areas. There are many other bus passes available, as opposed to the Japan Bus Pass, and each have their own purpose.

Local buses are more useful for less populated areas and places with fewer train networks like Kyoto. They aren’t as foreigner-friendly but it’s easy to get the hang of the system after a few times. Be prepared to pay fare depending on which stop you go to in yen!

Shrusti Goswami

Editor / Social Media Associate

Shrusti is a passionate writer and poet. You can often find her drinking a cup of coffee and finding new places to go with her friends and family. After college, it’s her dream to keep traveling the world and bring diverse stories to the big screen.

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