Take the train or the bus in Japan

Howto for trains and buses
The Rail Pass is not interesting in Shikoku

Japan Rail Pass

As all which needs space in Japan, train is expensive. So, unless wanting only to stay in city, you rather buy at home, before leaving, Japan Rail Pass, who allows you to take all the trains of JR (Japan Railways) during 1, 2 or 3 weeks for an all-inclusive price. The package for one week corresponding to the price of a Tokyo / Osaka return ticket).

Japan rail pass

You can take the Pass in Ordinary class or Green (first class), but the comfort of the common cars on main lines is equal to the first class of the French T.G.V.

You can find this Japan Rail Pass in Japan Travel Bureau, by mail or at your travel agency. You will receive then a voucher or " Exchange order ", that you'll have to exchange at the arrival to Japan in a station for the true Japan Rail Pass. You will receive with your exchange order a list of stations making the exchange , with a very clear plan to find the ticket office.

Japan Rail Pass is valid at the time your exchange order. Caution, the first day counts for a whole day and if you exchange a 7 days Pass in the evening, you will get only the evening and 6 days.

Weigh up, please. If you plan to visit Kansai or Kyoto from Kansai airport during 4 or 5 days and to make a tour of one week by train afterward, he can be advantageous to go to Kyoto with a one-way ticket and take an one-week Pass for the next week instead of a 2-weeks Pass (you can change your voucher at Kyoto's station), or to visit Kansai with a private line's "Kansai Thru Pass".

There is a more convenient card for Kansai (Airport, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Koyasan) for all private trains (non JR)

The private lines allow to approach closer to all the sightseeing sites than JR, because you also have free access to all Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe ... subways and buses for 2 or 3 days

 Kansai thru pass                   surutto

Private lines are also more convenient to go to Ise and Toba, this is but not included in the Kansai thru pass..

You can weigh up what is the best for you, looking at the train prices of the different lines on websites, but they are very sporadic, so try the following links to fine one in working order:

Hyperdia (the best, JR and private railways)
Travel expert
Travel calculator

Ekimae (JR)

How to use of the Japan Rail Pass


Pass is valid for all JR trains  excepted  Nozomi (the fastest shinkansen), but that's no trouble, other shinkansen are also very fast.

It is not valid for private railroads, but these often double the JR lines, on the same route. However, on certain lines they are faster and more comfortable than the JR ( Nikko, Kyoto, Koyasan, Ise).


Caution! Your japan Rail pass will NOT be renewed in case of loss or theftl


To take a train without booking with the Japan Rail Pass, appear simply at the entrance of platforms and present your Rail Pass to the ticket-puncher. Also at the arrival you will show your Rail Pass at the exit of platforms.

If you have no Japan Rail Pass or if you take a private company, buy your ticket at the vending machines situated in hall of the station.  
Over the vending machines, you have a table representing the railroad lines with all the stops. In the big stations, there are often several companies of railway with identical vending machines, but grouped by company. Verify that you are on the good machine (JR, or Nankai, or Kintetsu...).  

The two numbers in front of every name correspond to the kilometric basic price which you have to pay if you take a local or fast train, and at the price of the excess load to be added to this basic price to rise in a LEX or an express (in red over the basic price on our example).


The machine can ask:
" Adult 大人 おとな or Child 子供 こども ?",
" Ordinary or Green グリーン (1st Class)? ".

Introduce money or notes in the machine for at least the value which you have read on the table (basic rate + surcharge if necessary).

On modern machines, the touches corresponding to the various prices possible for the sum introduced are shining. Concretely on the modern devices:

If you want to go from Kyoto to Nara by the Kintetsu Express: on the board of Kintetsu lines, you read for Nara 610/500 (610 of the base and 500 of the surcharge), thus 1110 ¥. You put one 1000 ¥ note and 2 100 ¥ coins = 1200 ¥.  The touches which are going to shine will be (for example) 100, 130, 270, 450, 560, 710, 1110. You press on the touch "1110" and the machine prints you a ticket and returns the change.

To reserve or to buy a ticket if you are lost in front of the boards, go to the ticket office indicated by a green panel "Green Counter"=Midori no madoguchi = みどり の 窓口 or "JR line's tickets" = Kip'pu uriba = きっぷうりば.

mado           kp  

Show your Rail Pass if you have it and give clearly your destination.


« Tokyo madé » = to Tokyo

« Tokyo yuki » = in the direction of Tokyo

« hitori dé » = one person    « futari dé » = 2 persons


There are so many trains in the big stations that the problem for the counter clerk is to know how long you need to go on the platform. If  a train leaves every 3 minutes in your direction, he has to choose in which one to put you. He can reserve until 3 minutes before the train. 

He will ask you « smoking or non smoking? ».

All the seats are put back in the direction of progress at the terminus. The allocation of windows and corridors seems of the most unpredictable.

If you have no Rail Pass, you will pay in cash.

Then you have the ticket which contains the point and time of the departure , the point and time of the arrival , then the date, the name and the number of the train, the car, the row and the seat.

Kyoto => Nagoya

(10:56) departure (11:51) arrival

18/7 HIKARI 232 train 12 car n° 17 row C seat

11月month 2日day Hikari 12 号number  3号車car number 3番row  D席 seat

You just have to look for the platform (= noriba 乗り場 のりば) posted(shown) of your train on the brilliant panels or to ask for the number of the platform to the ticket-puncher.

«(Tokyo) yuki  nan ban noriba? » = (Tokyo) direction which number platform?

The numbers of the cars are indicated on the ground and everybody stands in the queue in order.

The train is often announced: " Ichi ban noriba " " Ni ban noriba " " San ban noriba " " Yon ban noriba " = Platform number  1, 2, 3, 4 (literally 1, 2, 3, 4 Number Platform)


« Train is arriving » :« Densha ga kimasu » ou « Densha ga mairimasu » like here above or in the loudspeaker.

The train will be exactly on time and right in front of you. Watch only not to rise in the train preceding yours, interval being often of 3 minutes in the big stations.


wanman and bus

If you are travelling on the country, the train can be a "one man" train: wanman ワ ンマン. Or you will take a bus. Both have often the same system. 

Get on the bus or the train (often through the rear door: 入口 IN, 出口 OUT. Take a ticket at the machine there. You will get a ticket with a number (see below "8") called 整理券 seiriken meaning the section where you got on the bus. You will find this number on the electric board above the driver, with the price you'll have to pay if you go down at the next station.
                                                                                                                   Ticket number
Ticket(=Seiriken)8  n  


The machine near the driver is a change machine, to get coins to pay the exact fare.  Changing money during the trip of the bus is a national sport in Japan.

When you get your coins, you have not yet paid. You will pay when you get off the bus or the wanman : put the exact fare and the ticket with the number in the hole above the machine. The driver controls that you're paying the right sum.