Translated by Jay Issei Karslake
Getting Around In Japan: How To Use Trains, Buses And Taxis
Written by Mayu
If you are planning to visit Japan, refer to this article to learn how to get tickets for trains, shinkansen, green cars, buses, highway buses, how taxis work and other transportation rules.
How to Ride Public Transportation in Japan
There are three different ways to ride the JR trains in Japan. The first is to buy a ticket every time you ride a train, the second is to put money onto your IC card (Suica or Pasmo), and the last way is to use a free pass, such as the Japan Rail Pass.
To Ride the Trains Cheaply Use the Japan Rail Pass
The all-you-can-ride nationwide pass, or Japan Rail Pass is geared towards travelers from abroad who'll be in Japan for a short period of time.
To be able to use the Japan Rail Pass you must fulfill the conditions listed below.
*People coming to Japan for over 15 days, but under 90 days for the purpose of sightseeing.
*When arriving in Japan, you must receive a visitor's visa stamp from the immigration inspector. (Warning: You don't get a stamp at the automated gate!)
To be able to use the Japan Rail Pass in Japan, it's also necessary to purchase a voucher at participating agencies such as JTB, Nippon Travel Agency, Kinki Japan Tourist, Tobu Top Tours, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, JAL Pack and other participating agencies.
Please be careful because you can't purchase it once you arrive in Japan. Once you receive the visitor visa stamp from the immigration inspector at the airport you arrive at, you can exchange the voucher for the Japan Rail Pass at the JR station.
You can confirm the locations of Japan Rail Pass exchange sites here.
Voyagin is a website that offers Japan Rail Pass tickets:
JR Pass – 7, 14, or 21 Days Unlimited Rail Travel in Japan
Using IC Card/Suica
The IC cardSuica can conveniently be used for trains and buses.
Suica is a transportation system card dispensed by JR East Japan that can be used nationwide. By touching it on the panel at the ticket gates you can get on and off public transportation easily without having to deal with the hassle of buying a ticket every time you want to go somewhere.
A Suica card can be purchased from the multi-function machines and at any JR station’s Midori-no-Madoguchi (green counter area). A 500 yen deposit is required, but it is refunded when you return the Suica.
If you are not going to have a Japan Rail Pass on your trip, then having an IC card or Suica is the next best thing. Not only is it convenient, but it saves you the time and hassle of having to purchase a ticket every time you want to go somewhere during your stay.
How to Buy a Ticket
Instead of a Japan Rail Pass or Suica, you can also buy a train ticket when getting on a train.
When buying a ticket, you will first need to look at the train fare display near the ticket machines in order to find your destination and the cost to travel to it. Once you have confirmed your train fare, you put your money into the machine and press the button that matches your train fare. The ticket will then be dispensed.
For those riding trains in Tokyo, the following passes and Suica can be reserved online: Tokyo Subway Ticket (24, 48, and 72-hour passes available), Japan Rail Pass, Suica IC Card Reservation
How to Ride the Green Cars
The trains in Japan are clean and comfortable, but they are very crowded during the morning and night rush hours. If you want to avoid the crowded trains when traveling, use the JR green cars.
Green cars are special seats that are found on the Tokaido, Yokosuka, Sobu rapid, Utsunomiya, Takasaki, Shonan-Shinjuku, Ueno-Tokyo lines, and the Joban lines regular (rapid) train. Green cars offer features such as reclining seats and light meals/snacks and drinks are sold in these cars only.
How to Purchase a Green Car Ticket
You can ride in the green car by purchasing a regular ticket and a green car ticket together. Green car tickets can be bought from the station ticket machine, the Suica dispensing machine at the station, and while in the green car.
After purchasing the green car ticket ,wait at the green car specific lane at the station until the train comes.
How to Ride a Shinkansen
The shinkansen trains in Japan are said to be the fastest in the world. Why not try using the bullet train when you're traveling from Tokyo to Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, or other places.
How to Buy a Shinkansen Ticket
Shinkansen tickets can be bought at the Midori-no-Madoguchi or through a ticket machine. It`s not possible to ride a shinkansen using your IC card . You can ride on the shinkansen using your Japan Rail Pass, but please be careful because you cannot ride on the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansens.
You can either enter the area you're traveling to, date, and select your preferred type of seats into the ticket machine or speak to the staff at the green counter and make your purchase.
How to Ride the Bus
When riding a bus in Japan, cash or an IC card like a Suica is necessary.
Buses in Tokyo's 23 Wards: Paying Ahead of Time/Fixed Amounts
The buses in Tokyo’s 23 districts have a pay first policy where you pay the bus fare when entering from the front door of the bus. Within Tokyo's 23 wards the bus fare is 210 yen (IC card 206 yen) for adults and 110 yen (IC card 103 yen) for children.
You may have noticed that the price is slightly discounted for IC card users.
Buses Outside of Tokyo's 23 Wards: Paying When Exiting and Changing Bus Fares
When riding a bus outside of Tokyo`s 23 districts or in another prefecture you pay the bus fare when you get off. With buses where you pay once you get off, the fare changes based on how far and to where you have traveled.
You get on from the back door. If you`re going to pay in cash you take a numbered ticket and if you're paying by IC card you scan the card.
Get off at the front door. You can pay the bus fare by putting cash into the payment box or by scanning your card once more.
How to Ride a Highway Bus
We recommend highway buses for those that want to visit not just Tokyo, but other regions of Japan like Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and such, but want to keep travel costs low.
You can buy a highway bus ticket by location or purchase a Japan Bus Pass where you can ride highways buses all you want.
Buying a Japan Bus Pass
Japan Bus Pass is a bus ticket that Willer, a Japanese long distance bus company, sells. There are 3 day, 5 day, and 7 day passes for you to select from where you can ride buses all you want.
You can make your purchases from the Willer website.
Once you select your ticket and pay by credit card, login to your ‘my page’. Reserve the buses you want to use in advance and you're set.
Buying a Ticket per Location
When buying a ticket per location use a highway bus site like highways.com.
On the reservation site, select your: destination, date of boarding, boarding location, preferred bus type
and make the reservation.
Payments are made in advance by credit card, at a convenience store, or at a travel agency that has partnered with the reservation site. The reservation is complete after your payment is received.
How to Ride a Taxi
You'll want to use a taxi when you have too much luggage or when it's midnight and the buses and most trains are no longer running. When you get in a taxi in Japan you'll be surprised by its cleanliness, the automatically opening doors, and the manners of the taxi driver - who are all wearing white gloves. It's necessary to line up in the taxi riding lane at stations or to raise your hand and call out to a taxi when you want to ride one from the road.
Tell the taxi driver where you're headed once you get seated. There aren't many taxi drivers that speak English, so it's a good idea to have a map ready and show the driver where you want to go, or the address of your destination written down somewhere to show them.
Pay the fare with cash or card when arriving at your destination.