Japan has the greatest railway system in the world. It is famed for its reliability, punctuality and is also known for their famous bullet trains. Shinjuku Train Station has 200 exits and is the busiest train station in the world with 3-4 million passing through it daily. In comparison, Grand Central Station in New York City has 750,000 to 1,000,000 pass through daily. To get around in Japan, using the railway system would be a must.
If you search online, the Japan Rail Pass immediately pops up, along with Pasmo IC and Suica IC cards, but what exactly are they?
The Japan Rail Pass is only allowed to be used by foreigners visiting Japan and must actually be bought before heading to Japan. It can only be used to travel between city’s and can not be used on the Tokyo subway system. It allows you to travel on all Japan Railways trains and JR buses without having to buy a ticket. When your order it, an Exchange Pass that will be valid for only 3 months is sent to your address. When you arrive at the Japanese airport you go to the Japan Railway Service desk and exchange it for a JR Pass.
7, 14, 21 day JR Passes are available and the clock will be automatically activated after you use it for the first time. Prices are around $253 for 7 day, $404 for 14, $517 for 21. The first class green version is an approximate $337, $547, $713. It does have some restrictions, so if you do decide to use this, please read up on the restrictions.
Pasmo IC and Suica IC cards are reloadable cards for travel and are interchangeable. You buy one of these cards from a service desk at the airport, load them up with yen and use them to buy train tickets, bus tickets and they are now even started to be used to buy food at restaurants. The discount for using these is small, with 9 yen saved per a ticket, but it can add up. When you leave, at the airport you return them and get the money still left on the card.
A really popular option for travel in Tokyo is to rent an electric bike, they go for about $4.45-$9.90 a day, just remember to return them. The most popular crime and the one the police spend the most time on is bicycle theft. A fun little fact is that Japan has a population of 126 million people and 75 million bicycle’s in use. The United States has a population 326 million people and about 100 million bicycle’s in use.
The Japanese subway system is very easy to use, with all signs being in both Japanese and English. Google Maps is accurate and easily usable for finding the train you want, but there is a killer app called HyperDia that everybody swears by. Before you rush off to download it please be aware that only the first month is free and after that it requires a subscription.
One of the biggest quandary’s I had was would I stay in Tokyo this whole time or check out another city like Kyoto? A Shinkansen(bullet train) one-way ticket to Kyoto was $117.18 and the fastest Shinkansen, Nozomi/Mizuho was at $122. A normal Shinkansen would be free with a Japan Rail Pass and would not be able to pay for itself if you buy the 7 days and if you only did one round-trip to another city. I still do not know the answer because my itinerary is still not completely finalized and will not be until this summer or fall when I know for sure who will be going with me. I plan on using japan-experience to buy at least a Pasmo pass and maybe a JR Pass if I do decide to travel to more than one city.
Next time on the internet otaku, Japan Tours.