A few tips on transport

Using public transport in a different country is always really confusing. It’s confusing, because the systems might be different, but especially, the language might be completely different too! And to be honest up until now, although known to be the most efficient in the world, Japan’s (more precisely Tokyo’s) transport system has definitely baffled me the most.

I’m not going to go into the details of all the different railways that operate in and around greater Tokyo, but the main thing you need to know is that most of the railways are actually privately owned. Only the Toei subway is owned directly by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Metro indirectly by the Tokyo and national governments. And because different lines are owned by different companies, of course that means there are several types of day passes you can purchase to visit the city. The important thing, is figuring out exactly where you want to go, and from there you can then ask a station worker which is the best ticket to purchase. Don’t forget, if you have a JR pass, there is the Yamanote line that serves a lot of famous spots around the city.

If you’re not buying a day pass, you can simply pay for a single ticket at one of these machines:

Ticket Machine
Ticket Machine


Seriously, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it took me a good 5 minutes to figure out how to use it the first time (~_~;) I didn’t even figure it out myself, and had to be shown how to use it.  But trust me, it’s actually a lot less complicated than it looks (which made feel really stupid \(//∇//)\ ). All you need to do is find your destination on the map above the ticket machine, which will have the price of a single fare written underneath. You then enter your money and select the amount, and then voila! Simple as that. What might not be so simple though, is finding the stop you need on the map. がんばって! o(`ω´ )o

You may also find that buses are slightly different from what you’re used to. Buses in Kyoto for example, you don’t enter from the front door, but from the back instead. And it is only when you get off the bus that you pay for your fare.  However, in Tokyo you get in at the front and pay first. So I think it really depends from city to city. So how do you know when to get on at the front or the back. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”.


The buses I took in Kyoto and Tokyo both had flat rates whatsoever the destination, but one bus I took in Shizuoka (again you entered at the back) worked the same way as the subway: depending on your destination there was a different fare, so you only paid when you got off. Also, just like you can get day passes for the subway, you can also get some for buses.

And last but not least: the escalators. I always get really annoyed when people stand on the wrong side of the escalator here. And up until now I thought every country followed the same rule: you stand on the right, and walk on the left. In Japan, again, it depends where you are. In Osaka, they stand on the right and walk on the left, whereas in Tokyo it’s the opposite. So watch out for that if you don’t want to be one of those annoying tourists blocking everyone’s way 😉

But despite having the right ticket, and knowing more or less where you’re going, there are times when you will still get lost. Here are a few phrases I found useful:

何番線ですか。 Nan ban sen desu ka? What platform number is it?

亘理駅行きはこの電車で合ってますか。Watari eki iki ha kono densha de attemasuka? Does this train go to Watari? (Replace the name of the station as needed)

And for when you’ve completely lost your way:

大阪に行きたいです。Osaka ni ikitai desu. I want to go to Osaka.

A slightly less formal way of asking your way around (which I found I used quite a lot) would be: 京都に行きたいんですけど… Kyoto ni ikitain desu kedo…. I would like to go to Kyoto, but…

Although it may not sound like a question, saying you want to go somewhere, or ending with desu kedo implies that you are lost and would like to know how to get there.

So these are some of my tips for getting around Japan’s transport system (^^)v Have you got any? Please share in the comment section below!

では、皆行ってらっしゃい (^_^)/

5 thoughts on “A few tips on transport

  1. Great oost! My best advice when travelling in any city in Japan would be to get an IC Transport Pass (Manaca, Suica, Passmo, etc.). That way you don’t have to worry about paying for individual tickets, you just swipe your card (it’s like an Oyster Card in London).


  2. I agree that public transport in Japan can be very confusing. Even after having lived in Japan for a year, I still didn’t know all the different railway companies in my area. I just always used the same one because the others were so confusing. I remember one time, when I did feel a little adventurous, I had to use three different trains for which I had to purchase three different tickets, just to get from one place to the next in the Nagoya area.

    And the system for buying a ticket where you have to enter the price, instead of the destination, isn’t too clear either. It definitely takes some getting used to. Especially if all the destinations are only written in kanji…

    I guess that just goes to show that nothing is perfect, even in Japan ^_^ Fortunately many Japanese people really do their best to help you when you ask them to.


    1. Very true! The number of times a stranger helped me because I had been standing in front of a map for ages lol. Even my Japanese friends that live there, say that they themselves always get confused :s So it’s nice to know it’s not just us foreigners 🙂


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