Here are some tips when traveling to Japan. I learned a lot more this time around since the itinerary was made by me and Reg. I’ll be mentioning a couple of things that can be found in books and on the internet while some were learned by experience. I hope it comes useful to you.
Transportation & Logistics
- Using GPS whether online or offline definitely comes in handy. Reg and I used Google maps as we walked around Japan to find our destination. Since we weren’t able to rent pocket wifi as these were fully booked in our Airbnb, we managed by opening the Google Maps in a location where there was internet. We left the application open even if internet disconnected.
- There is fast internet in almost every train station available for the public to use. You will find that there are train stations that offer stronger connection so make sure you know where these are as it may come in handy. If I recall, the Tokyo Metro was very reliable.
- There is available information especially in very popular tourist spots. In train stations, we found designated officers who will entertain questions on directions and usual itinerary of tourists. Just ask when in doubt. Japanese are very approachable and helpful. At one point, as we were trying to look for the meeting spot with our Airbnb contact, a couple went out of their way to point us to the right direction even if they seemed to be in a hurry. It was very humbling.
- In major train stations, there may be different types of trains using the same track to serve those who want the express car. You can either read the schedule on the monitors as it would show which train will arrive first. You may also ask an officer who will tell you the exact time and the right car you will ride. Reg and I made a couple of mistakes along the way, riding the train that stopped in every station which definitely took longer. We learned to always ask the most efficient car to ride.
- If you want to get cheap train tickets which do not require guaranteed seats, purchase your tickets in ticket machines. Tickets that require guaranteed seats are in reservation areas. Reg and I made this mistake when we meant to ask for directions in a ticket station but we ended up paying for reserved tickets. Fortunately, the ticket price wasn’t so far off from non-reserved tickets. Just be cautious!
- Try researching for alternative routes as prices may differ greatly for every alternative. Different train lines have different prices so it is better to be prepared especially if you’re on a tight budget. If you’re not on a tight budget then you’ll find that having alternatives choices really make it very convenient to travel around Japan.
- Read the signs carefully and observe the people around you. There is always a reason why there is a sign or symbol on the ground or wall. I learned that paint symbols on the ground are meant to direct people where the queue should go. When in doubt, just ask!
- Because the trains of Japan are very much interconnected, some tracks can go so deep under ground. If you’re traveling with bags, this would be burdensome as there aren’t any available elevators visible for some of these connections. I would think that there should be available route for the disabled but I didn’t have time to search for these any more.
- Some long-distance travel allows tourists to purchase tickets with a discount. Try researching for which tickets would suit your needs best. Be careful as some train tickets on discount will not be allowed on different train lines. Again, when in doubt, ask!
- Ticket machines are similar to that of Thailand’s MRT if I recall, where you punch in the value of your destination which will require you to look for your next destination on the map with corresponding value.
- For destinations that are not in the main line or are in the outskirts, you may not see the value of these destination on the main map but you’ll be able to find the value in the search engine. You’ll find that these are extra pricey. Some tables with values for different destinations won’t make sense so just ask when confused. Reg and I always approach officers before embarking on a new destination.
- Free maps can be found in main train stations.
- Most trains operate until midnight.
- There are Fare Correction Machines if you happen to purchase the wrong value. I won’t be surprised if people made mistakes as different companies would offer different fare values and the lines are very much interconnected.
- Some main train stations offer exclusive ticket sensors for people who have connecting train rides. If you don’t have this type of ticket, you won’t be able to go through. Most of the time, there will be officers who will give you a signal to go to the right exit.
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