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Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

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Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

Hello,

I've asked a few questions regarding my upcoming trip to Japan. I've heard lots of suggestion to use various rail transportation to travel to different cities and specific places. Can someone either direct me to a website or describe the different types of trains in Japan, or at least in the bigger cities? I know there's the shinkansen, but apparently, there are different types with different levels of service, restrictions (when using a J-Pass), etc., and then there are also regional and local trains. Are those the same as commuter trains in other countries? And then there are subways, monorails, etc. Any clarification/explanation on the different types of trains/rail lines that I would most likely come across in Japan would be great. Thanks!

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1. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

JR Pass info:

http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html

Trains in general:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2019.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2016.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html

Train fares and schedules:

http://www.hyperdia.com

Subways and non-JR (private) rail companies are not part of JR. A JR Pass cannot be used.

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2. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

In Tokyo, you may find the Suica prepaid card handy. You can use it on all the trains and subways without worrying about which company they are. The stations have English-language signs. If you are flying into Narita and taking the Narita Express, look into the N'Ex/Suica deal halfway down this page: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_002.html

Most or all of your intercity travel will likely be JR. Private railways provide good service to such places as Nikko, Hakone, and Nara. Look up your destination in http://www.japan-guide.com and click on the Access tab for transportation information.

Kootenays, British...
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3. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

I'll try and give you a bit of information about the trains according to my experience.

There are three high speed trains collectively referred to as Shinkansen. They are the 'bullet trains' of popular culture and are really beautiful, state of the art machines. They are Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The main difference isn't their speed but the number of stops. Nozomis rarely stop and only go to the major centres. They are not covered by your JR Pass. Hikaris are probably the most useful for tourists. They are very fast but stop at a fair number of places. Kodamas are fun just for the acceleration out of the station as they are fast but stop frequently.

In terms of service, you can get a green car pass (slightly deluxe - but not worth it in my estimation) or choose a smoking or non-smoking car. You can reserve (generally recommended - no additional fee for JR Pass holders) or walk on. Specific cars are for non-reservation passengers. There is a schematic of the train to look at to see which is which.

The next most frequently used for tourists are the 'limited express' trains. Not as fast, tend to operate in more rural areas. Still, a very efficient means of getting from A to B. They probably stop about as often as a Kodama but operate in different areas at a lower speed.

Next are the 'locals'. They are older, and in rural areas often little more than 'bud-cars'. Used heavily by commuters and school kids. They can be the only way to access a number of places and are interesting to ride on but are certainly not a way to go very long distances.

If you are a train buff there are some specialty trains operated in places like Aso where you can see the older engines and ride on some historical trains.

Local trains operated in the cities are just too numerous to go into. They are probably like the commuter trains and subways you refer to for the most part.

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4. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

I have a follow-up question. Regarding the shinakansen, do trains get crowded? Would it be a hassle to bring my luggage on the train? Is there a compartment at the ends of the train to store my luggage, similar to what I've seen in high-speed trains in Europe? Or at least the usual overhead compartments?

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5. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

Behind the last row of each carriage, there is typically some extra space where you can put your larger bags. Usually, this space is available. Theft in Japan is almost non-existent so you shouldn't have to worry too much about putting your bags there. Make reservations in advance to get those (or nearby) seats if possible.

Luggage forwarding is another option. You can send your larger bags from point A to point B anywhere throughout Japan. Delivery is usually next day. Cost depends on the size of bag and the distance traveled. Roughly, it should costs 2,000 Yen per bag. Some people find it money well spent, but if you have multiple bags and send them repeatedly throughout your trip, they add up so convenience comes at a cost.

Ask your hotel front desk for luggage forwarding forms if you want to use the service. Sample pricing chart:

www.kuronekoyamato.co.jp/en/send/ta_q_bin/

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6. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

There is a wealth of information on wikipedia. For starters:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Japan

…wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railway_lines_in…

Wikipedia also has English web pages for every train line and station in Japan.

Kootenays, British...
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7. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

The trains do get crowded on the main lines at particular times. You should always pack lightly. There is an overhead rack that will accommodate about a 21 inch rolling suitcase. There is not a lot of spare room.

I saw a school tour from Australia on a crowded shinkansen near Kyoto. They all had 26+inch bags. Several of the kids were sitting on the bags and the whole thing was chaotic and disruptive - but the Japanese put up with it n their typical style.

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8. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

There are many different railway companies in Japan. JR used to be government owned but it was sold off but JR still has the most extensive network. Best keep the whole train thing simple or else it can be overwhelming.

Anywhere in Japan anytime you see the big 'JR' sign means you can use your JR Pass (except Nozomi & Mizuho shinakansen) -the signs are quite visible outside stations or in passageways. …staticflickr.com/5285/5249550215_9aa0d74ce2…

To reserve a seat on JR shinkansen go to the JR "Green Window Office' Midorimadoguchi …wordpress.com/2009/04/bild-2-midori-no-mado…

Generally, in inner Tokyo a good indicator is that trains running on tracks above ground are JR whilst the subway lines are not JR. (But other lines do run above ground too in some places.)

Subway entrances will be marked with a fancy blue 'M' for Metro sign on the street (as opposed to JR) www.tokyometro.jp/en/ride/metro/index.html

In Tokyo the Metro Map is invaluable -preferably one showing JR Yamanote - the loop that circles inner Tokyo. Follow the link here:

http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/index.html

JR is not really useful in Kyoto (it's useful to get there & away) but when staying in Kyoto the subway is not JR and is not very extensive -buses are the main means of getting around Kyoto city. (JR can get you to Fushimi Inari)

Osaka has extensive subway and train lines all run by different companies.

JR will get you to Hiroshima and on the JR ferry to Miyajima but for Hiroshima city trams are the best way of getting around -simple & easy to use. http://www.hiroden.co.jp/en/

Japan is paradise for the train enthusiast- there are special trains & sightseeing trains running all over the country. eg Yufuin no Mori jrkyushu.co.jp/english/…yufuin_no_mori.html

No matter what type of train local or shinkansen the service is always brilliant.

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9. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

Elly M,

Thanks. Interesting you mentioned all those cities in Japan. It almost mirrors my trip itinerary, so thanks for the tips. I'll be flying from Tokyo to Fukuoka, and then taking the train from there to Hiroshima, Osaka/Kobe/Nara, Kyoto, and finally back to Tokyo.

Sammyfloyd,

Do shinkansen trains sell out (in terms of reservations)? How early should I book a seat? I was going to buy a Japan Rail pass about a month before my trip and then reserve my seats? Is that enough time?

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10. Re: Different Types of Rail Transportation in Japan

Unless you are going during Japanese holiday times, Shinkansen typically doesn't sell out. Even if it does, the next train comes around pretty frequently.

Note that you cannot make seat reservations until you have exchanged for your Pass, which can only be done once you are inside Japan. Therefore, you cannot buy your exchange voucher and make reservations right away.