Japan is a nation that is well known for its world class train transit systems. During your next trip to Japan, odds are that you will travel by at least one form of Japanese rail. There are so many different types of trains though, how do you tell the difference between them all? Which train should you take? Never fear! Your cheat sheet is here! Let’s start with Japan’s most well known train, the Shinkansen or Bullet Train.
The Bullet Train has been around since the 1960s. Also known as the Shinkansen, this rapid train links the remote regions of Japan from Sapporo in the North to Fukuoka in the south. The Bullet Train can travel at peak to speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour! The Shinkansen has a distinct nose shape on its lead cars. If you are looking for the fastest way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka this is going to be the clear winner among all of your transit options.
The Shinkansen is not the most economical and can be expensive and at times extra crowded. Make advance reservations ahead of time if you plan to enjoy the comforts of the Shinkansen. Note that tickets to the train do not automatically come with a reservation. If you are using a JR Rail Pass (which I’ll cover in a future post), you will also need to make a reservation.
Limited Express Trains
Limited Express trains are normally only found at major stations in major cities. For example, if you are leaving Kyoto and want to visit Ise Shrine, you would do well to catch a limited express train. These trains operate at the major station with a limited number of stops.
Express trains are not too common anymore, but if you are planning to travel from Tokyo Narita Airport or Haneda Airport, by train, you will encounter an express train! What’s the difference between the limited express and express trains? Not much other than maybe 1 or 2 fewer stops. The ticket prices are typically about the same.
Local and Rapid Trains
The last two types of trains are going to be local and rapid trains. Local trains are like the milk run trains in Europe. These trains stop at every station and take the longest to get from point A to point B. They are the least expensive of any trains. The rapid train will skip a few stations along its route, but not as many as an express or limited express train. If you are traveling to a suburb of a major city, you will mainly encounter rapid and local trains.
The next train is the Chikatetsu or the subway. These trains travel underground and cover pretty much any area the normal train do not. They can be fast depending on the time of day.
Tips and Take Aways
Don’t be afraid of the trains if you are lost or have no idea of what the heck I just covered in this post! Japanese train stations will have maps for all the types of trains, what platform the train arrives and departs from and where on the platform the train will stop. Signs are typically listed in both Japanese and in English.
You should be away that Rush Hour is the worst time to experience train travel. This can last from 7:30 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 8 pm in Tokyo and other major cities. A traditional Japanese work day is from 9 am to 6 pm in the evening. Japanese passengers are almost always very quiet and respectful, but be aware that they will try and fit as many people on a train as possible.
Trains are always on time so do not expect the train to leave even a minute or two late unless it is an extenuating circumstance. This is another hallmark of Japanese train service. When you are waiting for a train, do not block the doors. Wait to the side and let all of the passengers get off before you try to get on. Also, do not eat on the train unless the signs specifically say you can.
Lastly, if you ever need help, ask! The Japanese rail employees will do their best to get you to the correct location! It is a great way to get to know people and experience the real Japan! Hope this helps you! Until next time, happy travels!