Why Japan’s bullet trains are the world’s best way to travel

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Find a better way to travel than a Japanese train. Seriously, hunt around, poke and prod every corner of the traveling world, and see if you can think of a better way to get from A to B than a train in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I would be very surprised if you can convince me one.

Japanese trains are the pinnacle. They’re fast, they’re efficient, they’re clean, they’re safe, they’re comfortable, they’re widely used by the locals, they go everywhere, they’re connected by a huge array of great station facilities, and there are so much that you hardly ever have to wait more than a few minutes for one, regardless of whether you travel five minutes on the Tokyo subway or five hours on the shinkansen.

Japanese trains are the best. Still, they can be a bit intimidating for beginners. There’s a hefty language barrier to negotiating here, not to mention the physical difficulty of navigating, for example, Shinjuku Station, which has 53 platforms accessible through more than 200 entrances, used by more than 3.5 million people every day. used.

How to buy tickets for Japanese trains? How much do you pay for them? How do you best use them?

Once you know what you’re doing, this is all very easy. And so this story wants to make sure you know what you’re doing.

For starters, you need to know the different types of trains and companies in Japan. In larger cities, you generally have an underground subway network, which can be maintained by just one company, or in the case of Tokyo, several. You then have an above-ground network of intra-city trains, mostly maintained by Japan Rail.

Then there are intercity trains, again usually provided by JR or its subsidiaries; these trains range from humble rural rattlers (some even funiculars or cog railways or funiculars), to all-station commuter trains, to the shinkansen or bullet trains.

As soon as you arrive in Japan, you buy an IC card. These are prepaid, rechargeable travel cards that allow you to board almost all trains, subways, and buses in Japan’s major cities (you can also use them to buy things from vending machines, shops, and restaurants, and even to call a taxi). to pay).

There are 10 major IC cards in Japan and it really doesn’t matter which one you buy – they all work anywhere. When you get to Tokyo, it’s a Suica or Pasmo card; if you fly into Osaka it’s Icoca or Pitapa. It does not matter. Pick one up from the ticket machines at any major train station.

(Tourists can also apply for several special versions of these cards — Welcome Suica, Pasmo Passport, and Kansai One Pass — which require no deposit but expire after four weeks and don’t allow refunds.)

Now that you have access to all those trains, you need to figure out which ones to take, and here’s where Google Maps is your best friend. Open the app, plug in the place you need to go, and the app not only tells you which trains to take, but also which entrance and exit to use at the stations, which platform to go to and even where to should be the platform for the easiest transfer. Oh, and also how much the trip will cost.

That works for any form of public transport across the country. It’s a total game changer and you need to make sure you have internet access to use it.

You’ve probably heard of the JR Pass, a ticket available only to foreign tourists that gives you access to unlimited long-distance trains, including shinkansen (plus various types of intra-city transportation), for a certain period of time.

These are great value if you plan on traveling around the country a lot; if you only visit one or two cities, they are of no use. So think about where you want to go and work out the sums.

You must buy your JR Pass online from a registered retailer before you leave Australia (this is really old-school: an “exchange order” is posted at your home, which you then exchange for your JR Pass at a train station once you arriving in Japan). For a seven-day adult pass, you’re looking at around $330, which isn’t great for just one or two long-haul trips, but excellent value if you’re going to be traveling more.

If you’re traveling with your JR Pass, you can choose to reserve a seat on the train of your choice (which can be done at major train stations), or just drop by and hope to snag a seat in the unreserved part of the train. Unless you are traveling during holidays or during peak hours, there is usually a seat.

And if you’re going to travel with shinkansen, know this: they leave on time. Almost always. Bang on time. So make sure you’re on the platform, in the right place (signs on the ground and on the barriers indicate where your car will stop), and ready to depart a few minutes before.

Make sure you also bring some food for the road. Japanese trains do not have restaurant or bar cars, only snack trolleys, and travelers usually purchase their meals at the train station before departing. Of course, fear not: these bento box meals are fresh and delicious, and reasonably priced.

Once on board, sit back in your comfy chair, crack open a beer, dive into your bento and watch the world go by at over 200 miles an hour. There’s nothing better.

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

​See also: Train review: It doesn’t get much better than a Japanese bullet train

See also: I’ve never understood why people take the interstate train. Until now

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