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Getting Around Japan by Rail

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Japan By Rail

Japan is one of the most modern and innovative countries when it comes to transportation in the world.  The birthplace of the bullet train (known as Shinkansen), train travel in Japan is the best way to get around and tackle long distances in short periods.  I spent a week zooming from city to city using the extensive rail network and saw a great deal of this beautiful country.  The trains were smooth, clean, quiet, safe and punctual—everything you could want from a transport method!

The Japan Rail Pass is an absolute must for people wanting to travel independently through Japan.  The pass grants passage on nearly all of the train routes, including the bullet trains (except for the NOZOMI and MIZHUO express trains on certain Shinanksen lines).  It is easy to obtain, easy to redeem and super easy to use while on the ground. 

I recommend buying the rail pass before leaving New Zealand.  The price is the same in New Zealand as in Japan and you get an “exchange order”, which is a voucher to trade for your actual pass when you arrive into Japan.  I flew into Tokyo and after clearing customs and getting my luggage I easily found the exchange desk, showed them my voucher and passport and got my rail pass.  I was then able to use it to train into Tokyo city!

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I highly recommend reserving your seats before boarding.  There is no additional payment need to do this (unless you want to pay for a private cabin) so it’s worth doing, especially if you’re traveling with others.  You can do this on the day of travel or even the day before, but it is most easily done at the train station as you have to present your rail pass to obtain confirmation.

The passes themselves are easy to use.  Where the locals walk through turnstiles, there is a lane to the far right or left of these turnstiles that has an attendant at a window.  You simply show your pass to the attendant and they let you through.  Often times there was not even an attendant! 

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The stations are incredibly busy; throngs of people are moving in all different directions and it never stops.  It can be a bit overwhelming, so I recommend arriving earlier than you think you need to so you don’t miss the train you want.  There are convenience stores, restaurants, cafes and shopping outlets to help pass the time as well as lockers to store your bags in case you are just doing a day trip.

Finally, I highly recommend staying NEAR the train stations in most of the cities you visit.  The train stations, while not always near the key sites, are really a main hub of most cities.  I stayed near the train stations and it was great being able to walk 3-5 minutes to my hotel, dump my luggage and then proceed into town from there. 

If you have any further questions about how to travel throughout Japan, please don’t hesitate to give us a call!

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