TRANSPORTATION TIPSby EXPERTS
Transportation tips for hassle-free travel in Japan.
- Nick Narigon
- 6-year resident of Japan
The first weekend after I moved to Japan I found myself stranded at Kyoto Station after I missed the day’s last departure of shinkansen by 30 seconds. I have now had the privilege of living and working in Japan for more than six years. My business travels have taken me throughout Japan and to other parts of Asia. In that time I have come to appreciate the extreme punctuality of Japan’s train system, and I hope to be able to pass along a few tricks of the trade to others visiting this vivacious country on trip.
At the AIRPORT
Wi-Fi access is pretty good at both Tokyo airports, but once you step outside the airport it gets tricky. If traveling extensively in Japan, pocket Wi-Fi rental or a SIM card would be the best options. Sim cards should be ordered online prior to your trip. Pocket Wi-Fi routers can conveniently be picked up at the airport. Some services will deliver the device directly to your hotel.
When need to travel quickly from the airport to your first appointment of the day, airport shower rooms are a convenient, and clean, place to freshen up. Also, both Tokyo airports offer a hands-free travel service that will deliver large baggage directly from the airport to your hotel or office. In some foreign countries you don’t want your luggage to leave your sight, however in Japan you can trust friendly attendants to deliver large luggage for you on the same day, or store it for you if that’s what you need.
Access by TRAIN
Travel with Peace of Mind
Tokyo’s train system is famously efficient, but it can also be complicated for newbies. The first thing you need to know, as I mentioned before, is the trains are incredibly punctual. However, even if you miss the train, the next one usually comes within minutes. There are different types of trains – local, rapid, express – so check ahead of time to see which one is most convenient for you. This website provides the information you need for the proper train transportation between airports and shinkansen.
Smooth Sailing with an IC card
To make your travels even more efficient, and hassle-free by avoiding the need to stop and buy a ticket at every train station, get yourself an IC card. This handy card will make your life easier. It can be used at every ticket gate and even in taxis, convenience stores and vending machines. The card can only be charged with cash (not credit card), so have a wad of bills on hand – ¥3,000 is recommended, though perhaps as much as ¥10,000 if using the card for taxis.
Hailing a Taxi
Taxi could be your mode of transportation of choice within Tokyo depending on your schedule and destination. Just be sure to avoid rush hour in the morning and evenings especially if you are on a tight schedule, at which point taking a train might be a better option. Hailing a taxi in Tokyo is the same as most places – just stand on the corner or designated taxi pickup point and raise your hand in the air. If the light is on, it means the taxi is full or on its way to pick someone up. Taxis are quite abundant in Tokyo, and you don’t have to wait more than a few minutes for one to arrive. Consider downloading the app JapanTaxi to reserve a taxi ahead of time. Most taxi drivers can’t speak English well, so be sure to have your destination available in writing to show them.
On the SHINKANSEN
Easy Ticket Reservations
You can get a reserved ticket or an unreserved ticket for shinkansen. In the unreserved cars, seats are on a first-come, first-serve basis. I once got stuck sitting on the floor next to the bathroom door for two hours, so I prefer a reserved ticket to ensure a seat. You can purchase a ticket from the ticket machine or ticket boot (where staff are available) any time before your departure. These days I always use the smartEX app to buy my shinkansen tickets ahead of time.
Please note that if you have a large suitcase, you need to make a reservation for a baggage space in the Shinkansen in advance when booking your seat.
Ride in Style
Compared to most transportation, the shinkansen is incredibly comfortable. There is plenty of leg room. The seats are comfortable and when you lean back you don’t have to worry about bothering the person seated behind you. I load up on drinks and snacks at the convenience store before boarding. Of course, I enjoy the local tradition of cracking open an ice-cold beer for the ride. It’s perfectly acceptable to do so. Also, when traveling on the shinkansen from Tokyo, be sure to sit in seat E in order to enjoy a nice view of Mount Fuji.
Catch Up on Work
I usually have my laptop propped open in front of me on the shinkansen as I like to type notes after each meeting or interview. Electric outlets are available at window seats (another reason to reserve seat E) as well as most front and rear seats. The rental pocket Wi-Fi is handy to check work e-mails and send messages. Some specific cars on the shinkansen have free Wi-Fi available but it’s not guaranteed. Online reports say that all cars will have free Wi-Fi by 2020. This will make my business trips – which will become even more frequent during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – all the more congenial.