Japan is renowned for its efficient and extensive rail network, making train travel one of the best ways to explore the country. From the ultra-fast Shinkansen to scenic local lines, the Japanese train system offers a range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers. This guide will provide you with an overview of the Japanese train system, the best scenic routes to take, unique train experiences, and practical tips for train travel in Japan.
The Japanese Train System
Types of Trains in Japan
The Japanese train system is diverse and well-developed, with a variety of train types catering to different travel needs. The Shinkansen, or bullet train, is the fastest and most famous, connecting major cities across the country. Other types include Limited Express trains, Express trains, Rapid trains, and Local trains, each offering different speeds and stop patterns. There are also special tourist trains, known as “joyful trains,” which offer unique experiences and scenic views.
The Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective option for travelers planning to use the train extensively. It provides unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains, JR bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. The pass is available in 7, 14, and 21-day options, making it flexible for different travel durations.
Best Scenic Train Routes in Japan
Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen
The Tokaido Shinkansen line offers a spectacular side view of Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic mountain. The mountain appears on the right side of the train when headed south to Nagoya or Kyoto, and on the left when headed north to Tokyo.
Hisatsu Line in Kyushu
The Hisatsu Line in Kyushu is known for its beautiful scenery, passing through areas that offer the best views on the southern island of Kyushu. The line services Kaiji Station, hinting at the ocean views you’ll enjoy when traveling to Hitoyoshi City.
Hanwa Line in Kansai
The Hanwa Line in Kansai, running from Osaka City to Wakayama, is ideal for viewing sakura cherry blossoms in late March. The train view is filled with pink or white blossoms, often swaying peacefully in the breeze along both sides of the railway.
Gono Line in North Honshu
The Gono Line takes you to the northernmost reaches of the island of Honshu, from Akita Prefecture to Aomori Prefecture. The rail line often runs alongside the Sea of Japan, placing you between the inland snowscape and the “raging winter seas” common to northern Japan. The views from the Gono Line have been described as “some of the best coastal scenery of any railway in the world.”
Unique Train Experiences in Japan
The Tohoku Emotion is a unique train experience that combines design, cuisine, and art. The train journey starts at Hachinohe Station in Aomori and travels south to Kuji Station in Iwate Prefecture. The train’s refined interior incorporates traditional Tohoku crafts, and the dishes served are comparable to a top restaurant, giving passengers a tangible experience of Tohoku’s hospitality.
The Resort Shirakami is a sightseeing train that takes passengers along the western coast of Tohoku from Akita to Aomori, offering views along the Sea of Japan. The train has an attractive wooden interior with large viewing windows, and hosts occasional events such as live shamisen performances.
Practical Tips for Train Travel in Japan
Buying Tickets and Rail Passes
When planning your train travel in Japan, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass if you’ll be using the trains for more than a week. For shorter stays or city travel, a rechargeable prepaid card like the Suica, Pasmo, or Icoca can be a convenient option. These cards can be used on railways, buses, and other forms of transportation, as well as at many shops, restaurants, and vending machines.
Navigating Train Stations
Japanese train stations can be complex, so allow yourself extra time to find the right departure platform. Electronic bilingual bulletin boards above the main ticket wicket usually provide the information you need. If you’re changing trains, allow plenty of time as you may need to navigate several flights of stairs and follow signs for up to 5 minutes.
Etiquette on Japanese Trains
When traveling on Japanese trains, remember to be considerate of other passengers. Keep your belongings on the luggage rack, especially in crowded trains. A degree of pushing and shoving is normal on crowded trains, but a polite attitude will usually be reciprocated.
Train travel in Japan is an experience in itself, offering a unique perspective on the country’s landscapes, culture, and daily life. Whether you’re zipping across the country on a Shinkansen or leisurely exploring a scenic local line, the Japanese train system offers a range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers. With a bit of planning and the right rail pass, you can make the most of your train travel in Japan.
Train travel in Japan is an integral part of the country’s culture and a popular mode of transportation for both locals and tourists. This FAQ section aims to answer some of the most common questions related to train travel in Japan, providing valuable insights and practical tips to help you navigate the Japanese rail system with ease. Whether you’re planning a trip or just curious about the topic, we hope you find these answers helpful.
Q: What types of trains are there in Japan?
A: Japan has a diverse range of trains, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), Limited Express trains, Express trains, Rapid trains, and Local trains. There are also special tourist trains known as “joyful trains” that offer unique experiences and scenic views.
Q: What is the Japan Rail Pass and who can use it?
A: The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective ticket that provides unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains, JR bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. It’s available to foreign tourists and Japanese nationals living abroad who meet certain conditions.
Q: What are some of the best scenic train routes in Japan?
A: Some of the best scenic train routes in Japan include the view of Mount Fuji from the Tokaido Shinkansen, the Hisatsu Line in Kyushu, the Hanwa Line in Kansai for cherry blossom viewing, and the Gono Line in North Honshu for coastal scenery.
Q: Can you tell me about some unique train experiences in Japan?
A: Unique train experiences in Japan include the Tohoku Emotion, which combines design, cuisine, and art, and the Resort Shirakami, a sightseeing train that offers views along the Sea of Japan and hosts occasional live performances.
Q: How do I buy tickets or rail passes for train travel in Japan?
A: You can buy tickets at train stations, online, or through travel agencies. If you plan to use the trains extensively, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. For city travel or shorter stays, a rechargeable prepaid card like the Suica, Pasmo, or Icoca can be a convenient option.
H4: Q: How do I navigate Japanese train stations?
A: Japanese train stations can be complex. Allow extra time to find the right departure platform and follow the bilingual signs. If you’re changing trains, allow plenty of time as you may need to navigate several flights of stairs.
Q: What is the etiquette on Japanese trains?
A: When traveling on Japanese trains, be considerate of other passengers. Keep your belongings on the luggage rack, especially in crowded trains. A degree of pushing and shoving is normal on crowded trains, but a polite attitude is appreciated.
Q: Is train travel in Japan expensive?
A: The cost of train travel in Japan varies depending on the type of train and the distance traveled. The Shinkansen, for example, is more expensive than local trains. However, options like the Japan Rail Pass can make train travel more affordable for tourists.
We hope this FAQ has answered your questions about train travel in Japan. If you’re interested in learning more, we invite you to explore our other resources on Japanese culture, travel tips, and more. Safe travels!