Planning your train trips for Japan

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As in most Asian countries planning your train trips for japan is important too. Of course you can walk up to the ticketing desk of any train station and try to explain what your destination is and pay your ticket. But, if you do not speak the language properly you might arrive at some unwanted spot in the middle of no-where. Also it is quite pitiful to find out at the ticketing desk that eg. the train you really wanted to go with departed few minutes before you arrived there, so now you have to wait half a day because next trains have been fully booked already.

TIP: planning ahead is key activity for do-it-yourself travelers in the Asian countries.

The trains in japan run on-time. It is like a perfect working mechanism of the train equipment, the departure schedules, the booking systems, the train personnel and the passengers all together. However, to avoid disappointment, it is expected that the passengers know how to plan their trains ahead, how to make seat reservations and where to obtain their tickets. The train companies provide all planning information to you and will have the trains run in time. And for sure: it is rare to find a train running early or late.

All this may sound cumbersome for the travelers, but it is not all that difficult thanks to HyperDia.

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Planning your train trips
In Japan there are many railroad companies. JapanRail (JR) company is most known because of the JR-pass for foreign tourists. However not all railroad stations can be reached by JR trains. For those other destinations you need to travel a private company. Fortunately, the Hyperdia.com website covers almost all train companies, including the city subways!
Also you might want to download the appropriate Hyperdia app for your smartphone and try it out.

On the website,at left column you enter departure and destination locations, the date and time. If you intent to use the JR-Pass push the “More Options” button to unmark the ‘Vehicle type’ for NOZOMI/MIZHO/HAYABUSA (SHINKANSEN). In case the results are not what you expected, then carefully check the FROM and TO fields as you might have used a wrong station name!

As an example please try Hyperdia yourself.
As an example just plan your imaginary trip from Nagoya to Osaka-Namba by Shinkansen at 9 am e.g. 3 months in future.

  1. First fnd the proper station names for Shinkansen train stations.
    This can be done at the JP-Rail website for central japan.
    Please note that your destination OSAKA-NAMBA is not in this list. It seems that SHIN-OSAKA is the station name for the Shinkansen train in Osaka.
    Tip: do brows this website for other information on how your trainticket will look like
  2. Now use the Hyperdia website.
    Note that as soon as you start typeing in the FROM field all possible departure stations become visible and probably you do not know yet which one to use. No worries yet, just choose ‘NAGOYA’ because that is the shinkansen station. For the TO field the train station named OSAKA-NAMBA is in the list. However because you like to travel via SIN-OSAKA station, you should specify ‘SIN-OSAKA’ in the PASS1 field. Then select your travel date and time (e.g. 9 am). Press the ‘MORE OPTIONS’ button to unmark ‘NOZOMI /MIZUHO (SHINKANSEN)’ and press search button. You will have 5 results (default) starting at 9:00 am.

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From the results you can find that you can go by several routes from NAGOYA to OSAKA-NAMBA. Now you can determine your best choice either the fastest, cheapest (only JR trains) or the route having the least transfers. In case you desire the least amount of transfers the best route will be:
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You can read from the result the departure, arrival and travel times, the total fare and departure and arrival tracks as well as (Shinkansen) train name-number. In this example you can read that you also will travel by Subway MIDOSUJI line (not covered by JR-Pass).

It is advised to put all this information into your itinerary now. Also map information is supplied so you can now find a suitable hotelroom nearby the train station. When you include your ultimate hotel checkout time and the time needed to checkout (and check in) you can determine how much time you have left that day to visit touristic attractions.
The last thing you might want to check is the Subway MIDOSUJI line. Not because of the timetable (after all subway trains intent to run very frequently) but because of the station numbers. By using those numbers you will know in which direction you should travel and when to get off the train. To find those subway station numbers just search the web for ‘MIDOSUJI line’ and the wiki will tell you the station numbers: SIN-OSAKA is ‘M13’ and NAMBA is ‘M20’.

Planning local trains
By checking the Hyperdia website result you can determine if a train is run by JR (and covered by the JR-pass) or by any private company (you need to pay the fare)

Obtaining your train tickets
Before you depart for japan you create a separate list of all major train tickets you expect to need an sort those by date, time, departure/destination and train name. Once you arrive in japan go to nearest JR ticketing desk and finalize your seat reservations. If needed, the clerks at the JTB desks will point you the nearest JR ticketing desk. Also do not forget to update your itinerary in case you had to change trains.

Train station and platform
At the trainstation use your train ticket to find the correct platform and being on the platform determine where the queue will start for the wagon holding your reserved seat. Mostly the door of the wagon you need will be 1 footstep apart your waiting point. Be calm, let people come out first, then rush quietly inside. Mind your backpack is not touching other people and find your seat.

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About Author

Travel Photographer, Writer/blogger & Planner for Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan & other Asian countries. Since 2001 he visited a number of Asian countries like Mongolia, China, South Korea, Japan, Tibet and Nepal. There he enjoyed centuries of history and culture, local habits and beautiful locations. By this website www.myAsiaTravelguide.com he shares his experiences about these trips for a number of Asian countries to inspire other travelers.

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