If you don’t know, the Japanese train system is absolutely amazing, efficient and complex. They are competing and complimenting to each other at times. I didn’t understand the first few times I went to Japan as I would just follow the directions my friends gave me and they would drive around. That was in 2001-2006. It was a different story for me in 2016 and 2017.
In October, it was my wife’s first time and we traveled mainly by train… she figured it out and I totally depended on her. She figured out the cheap routes and how to use the machines on the spot! The following trip, my Wandering Leopard pilgrimage in May 2017, I made it a goal to figure out the train system and use it to my advantage. This past week (August 2017), I stayed mainly in Tokyo with my son and wanted to focus on learning the complex train system and the local lines within Tokyo.
Let’s be straight forward. Japan’s train system is intimidating. The overlaid maps with different colors, station names in English and Japanese can throw someone off.
Ticket stations do have English options.
Every company I have dealt with offers some kind of all day, 3 day or tourist pass, so you can save money and explore.
Every region has a Pre-paid e card. In Tokyo Pasmo and Suica are common. Suica is offered by JR, so it used throughout Japan. Here is a picture of cards and regions.
These cards can be used to purchase items too. Example is food at 711.
Depending on which company, sometimes a few cards can be accepted to be used for travel, such as the Yokohama Subway and bus lines, Pasmo and Suica are both accepted.
In 2001, I made a mistake my first trip without even understanding the logistics of Japan. I thought Yokohama was nearby and I could take a taxi.
Luckily, or somewhat luckily, a lady told me to take a limousine bus. It cost $80 to get to Yokohama.
When my friend found out, he told me to do the train system and it was way cheaper.
In 2002 and subsequent visits, I have always taken the train.
The 2 options I found the most convenient to get to Tokyo are:
- JR Narita Express (N’EX)
- Keisei Skyliner S
There are differences between the two trains.
JR N’EX I took in my early visits to Japan because my friends lived in Yokohama. The map below (from JR east website) shows that it stops at some major hubs, mainly Tokyo station (where you can get on other trains and Shinkansen). With the N’EX going to more stations, it makes perfect sense if you are staying near these locations. Again, I took it to Yokohama in 2006 and it was a comfortable ride!
Looking at the price recently, it is slight more more expensive to ride compared to the Keisei Skyliner
The Keisei Skyliner is a faster option to get to Tokyo area, but to Tokyo Station. The Skyliner stops at Nippori and Ueno Station. If you need to get to Tokyo Station, you can jump on a JR line or subway.
I’ve taken this more recent trips in Oct 2016 and Aug 2017.
I think it is common knowledge that the JR Shinkansen (bullet train) is how people travel from city to city. Only certain stations have a Shinkansen stop.
The Shinkansen is awesome to ride and somewhat expensive. When I did my Wandering Leopard pilgrimage, I used the Shinkansen to reach Yamaguchi to Sendai.
Early 2000s (that I can remember), I stayed around Yokohama with my friends :
- N’EX to Yokohama (Narita to Yokohama)
- Minato Mirai line (Yokohama water front area)
- Blue line subway (Yokohama Transportation Bureau)
Minato Mirai line is a small line that is underground, but not part of the Yokohama subway system. This line takes you near the waterfront area which is popular with tourists. Minato Mirai line offers a one day pass and you can use PASMO card.
Minato Mirai line map:
While exploring Yokohama, I also took the Blue line subway. Yokohama Transportation Bureau operates 2 subway lines and buses as well. The 2 lines are Blue and Green.
2001 – Nagoya
My cousin lived in Nagoya during this time. He lived on the outskirts. I took the Shinkansen to Nagoya station and transferred to the Fujimatsu Station. The local line is run by Meitetsu. This was my first time on the Meitetsu Nagoya Main line.
Keisei Skyliner, JR Shinkansen.
Hamamatsu to Osaka – Tokaido Shinkansen
Osaka area: Midōsuji Line, Nankai Main line, Osaka Loop Line, Keihan Main line/Nara line, subway Tanimachi line, Tozai line, subway Sakaisuji line, subway sennichimae line, Kintetsu Namba line, Hankyu Kyoto line> Hankyu Takarazuka line instant ramen museum,
Kyoto: Sanin Main line, Keifuku electric railroad Arashiyama main line
Tokyo: Yokosuka line, Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin line, Keio line, Chuo Line, Tobu Skytree line, Keisei Oshiage line, Rinki line, Yamanote, Joban line, Tokyo Metro Yurakucho line,Hanzomon Line
May 2017 (Wandering Leopard Pilgrimage)
- Osaka to Namba – Midosuji Line, Subway Sennichimae line, Nankai line
- Tokyo/Saitama – Toei Shinjuku line, Seibu Shinjuku line, Seibu Hajima line, Musashino line,
- Yokohama – N’EX, Yokohama line (Avante), Tokyu Den en toshi line, Odakyu Enoshima line, Sagami railway main line (Yokohama station)
Wandering leopard and cub (Tokyo and Yokohama)
- Narita Skyliner
- Tokyo Metro Ginza Line
- Chuo main line
- Tokyo Metro Yurakucho line
- Toei Oedo line (to shinjuku)
- Tokyo Metro Hibiya line
- Toei Mita line
- Toei Asakusa line
- Toei Shinjuku line
- Tokyo Metro Marunochi line
- Keio Line
- Keio Inokashira line
- Odakyu Odawara Line
- Sobu line
- Yurikamome line (Odaiba)
- Toei Mita>Toei Asakusa>Keikyu main line (Yokohama)
- Negishi line (Yokohama)
- Tokyu Toyoko line (Yokohama)
- Tokyo Meguro line (Yokohama)
- Tokyo Metro Nanbuko line
- Tokyo Metro Tozai line
- Saikyo line
- Hokuso line> Narita Sky access (Narita)
Wandering Leopard Saga pt 3.
- Tokyo Monorail
- Keikyu Main line
- Blue Line
- Tsukuba Express
- Musashino line
- Saikyu line
- Kawagoe line
- Sobu main line
- Sunrise Express
- Subway Seishin Yamate line
- Tokaido main line
- Nara line
- Minobu line
Since I was going from city to city, the shinkansen was used a lot and as much as possible. There were a few lines I really wanted to use. Tsukuba Express, Tokyo Monorail and Enoshima Monorail. Enoshima monorail did not happen as my friend picked me up and we drove to Enoshima island instead.