Being from a town that has no public transport system at all, the train system is one of my favorite things about Japan. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of driving, even in familiar territory – so, driving here in Japan is not going to happen for me. But that’s alright because we can get anywhere we need to go… as long as we’re willing to brave the trains.
It should be made known that travelling long distance by car here can be quite expensive. To drive to Narita Airport (Tokyo) from base, the driver would pay around 4,000 yen in tolls one way. That’s $50 USD… on a good day! So, it’s not surprising that many of the Japanese choose the trains for their commute rather than driving.
Running from 5am to 11pm, the trains can take you from one end of Honshu Island to the other and provide lots of options for the traveler. There are local trains, which stop at each and every stop along the way and there are express trains, which only stop at popular stations. There are also trains that are meant for travelling long distances without stopping.
There are many different things to know about the trains. One of the most important things to know is to avoid rush hour. Like rush hour in the United States, this is the time when commuters are trying to get home all at once. There are so many people trying to take the trains at this time that they actually hire people to push travelers into the train!
If you’re a man traveling during rush hour, you’ll want to know which cars are the women only cars. While they try to make it obvious by making the cars pink and marking them, I imagine it’s easy to end up in one of them by accident during the rush hour madness. Obviously, it’s bad to do so. These cars are designed to allow women to feel safe while traveling in the packed cars. It’s well know that there are issues with groping and inappropriate pictures during rush hour. In fact, here in Japan it’s impossible to turn your camera phone’s shutter sound off because there have been so many issues.
One of the coolest parts of travelling by train here is the Suica/Passmo card system. If your travel often by train, it’s advised you get a prepaid card that can be scanned when entering and leaving the train. There are many perks to these cards. Firstly, you are able to just go from point A to point B without trying to figure out the cost in advance using one of the confusing train maps. Secondly, most everything that can be bought at stands and vending machines within the train stations can be bought using credit from your card – meaning you don’t have to worry about having yen on you.
The train system is definitely one of the more intimidating parts of the culture here in Japan. In my experience though, it’s not half as confusing as it seems. Any mistakes can be easily fixed, especially with the help of Hyperdia (an iphone app that gives directions to wherever you may be going.) It’s simply a matter of keeping your cool and paying attention to which platforms and trains you end up on.