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Sybilla Patrizia
Austria
Student
2-year resident of Japan

I found it quite daunting when I first arrived in Japan and wasn’t sure where to go but things become a lot easier once you get used to the system. As a student on a limited budget, I have been pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive train travel can be here, but of course it’s always helpful to have some insider insights on how to save costs here and there – especially when traveling beyond Tokyo for vacations. Here, I’ll introduce my top tips for getting around.

At the AIRPORT

Begin Your Trip

But I find it very convenient that the airports have free Wi-Fi, and I use it often when planning my onward route. While you can exchange some money at the airport, it's also quite simple to draw money out at ATMs – I often pop by a convenience store as many of them have ATMs that now accept foreign bank cards or credit cards.

Help is at Hand

In the past when I’ve needed help figuring out where to go and how to take the train from the airport, I simply stopped by the information desk. Although you may already know your destination, there could be several transportation options to choose from and most of the announcements are in Japanese, so it can be a little difficult to work it all out – especially if you're on a budget. And, of course, this website is also very helpful for understanding how to transition from airport to train or shinkansen.

Access by TRAIN

Convenient and Inexpensive Traveling

Tokyo has many train stations and several different railway companies (including subway and overground) so I find it very convenient for getting around. It's also not too expensive, especially when compared with traveling in other big cities. If you're here on holiday and doing a lot of traveling between different cities, I would recommend buying a Japan Rail Pass as this will help save costs.

Save Time and Hassle with the IC Card

The IC card is convenient since you can buy one from the ticket machine or office, and simply charge it and touch it on the scanner at the ticket gates to pass through. This works out cheaper and easier than buying tickets for each journey. It's only ¥500 for the deposit and you can add as little as ¥1,000 to charge it. Bonus point: I also sometimes use the IC card to pay for other goods and services, for example at convenience stores.

Commuting with Large Luggage

When I have a lot of luggage, I try to avoid the rush hour of workers and students, which happens until around 9:30 in the morning. If you do need to travel at these times, be aware that many people are getting on and off the train at once and the doors are narrow, so don't block the entrance – either step out of the car to make way for people exiting or keep moving further inside the car to clear space for passengers. I usually store my bags over the seats to save space if the train is crowded. Top tip: There are lockers at almost every station, so I often use them if I have time to spare after checking out of a hotel and waiting to catch my next train.

On the SHINKANSEN

Reserved or Non-Reserved

When traveling on the shinkansen, you always need to buy a ticket beforehand – you can usually buy them just before departure. I found buying them from the ticket machine a bit difficult in the beginning, but after realizing I could switch the language to English, it was a lot easier. You can also buy from the ticket office. Non-reserved seats are cheaper but if the train is very full, bear in mind that you may have to stand for the journey. Reserved seats are best if you have lots of luggage and a long trip, and if you want to sit next to friends or family.

Where to Put Your Luggage

I do find the luggage space on trains in Japan small compared with railways abroad, but there is space to keep small luggage above the seats. Bigger luggage can be stored in compartments near the doorways and behind the seats. You can also ask the train conductor to keep your luggage during the ride.

Eating on the Go

I was amazed when I first saw the bento (lunch) boxes sold at the station because of their beautiful colors and variety. They are also quite affordable. The shinkansen ride is very comfortable, doesn’t move too much, and you can enjoy your meal on a fold-out table.

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