Adventures of 나쁜남자 and Kancheong Girl

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Japan Travel step 2: Riding the trains

The first train you are probably going to ride would be the Narita Express which brings you to major stations like Ueno and Tokyo (takes about an hour). Narita express can be pretty costly and requires a reserved seat. It is comfortable to ride on and has sufficient leg room for you to put your luggage. If you are travelling alone, chances are that no one would sit beside you unless the train is super packed on that day. So, you need not bother placing your luggage in the specialised compartment behind each cabin because it's a real hassle dragging it out from there when getting off your stop.
You will be given a ticket which states the name of the train, the car number (=cabin number), seat number and the time of departure. That's the most important four elements to take note of. The ticket will not state the platform number. You will have to figure it out from the electronic boards so you need to know the name of the train you are taking.
For example, if the ticket states Narita-express 8, it doesn't mean platform 8. "8" is part of the name of the train (they differentiate the trains by their timing so 8 means the eighth train of that day). The cabin number is usually stated on the electronic board on the top once you have found your right platform. (The picture belows show cabin number 8).
成田エクスプレス: Narita Express
指定席 (Shi-tei-seiki): Reserved seat

After riding the NEX, you will most probably be catching a shinkansen from Tokyo. Shinkansens are pretty similar to NEX except that the leg room is less. You can't afford to squeeze your luggage into that pathetic space infront of you so park it in the luggage compartments. It is common for Japanese to buy bento (lunchboxes) for the long ride on the shinkansens. Buying your lunch box outside the station is cheaper than in the station and in the station, its cheaper than those selling on the platform. With convenience you need to fork out more.

Next would be the local trains. For most of the local trains, the door has to be manually operated. You will have to push a button for the door to open when you want to board. After boarding, push the "閉" close button. Likewise, when you want to alight, push the "開" open button.

Commonly used Japanese phrases when riding trains

Please give me a ticket on the 2pm train to XYZ: XYZまで二時発車の切符をお願いします
Pronounced as: XYZ ma-de ni-ji ha-(short pause)-shya no kip-pu o o-ne-gai-shi-mas

Where is the boarding platform for this train?: この電車の乗り場はどこですか。
Pronounced as: Ko-no den-shya no no-li-ba wa do-ko des-ka

What time is the last train?: 終電はなんですか。
Pronounced as: Shuu-den wa nan-ji des-ka

Does this train goes to XYZ?: これはXYZ行きの電車ですか。
Pronounced as: Ko-re wa XYZ e-ki no den-shya des ka

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Japan Travel step 1: Japan Rail Pass

Japan rail pass can be a hassle to buy in Japan. I have bought it twice, once in Singapore and once in Japan. So, here's a rail pass guide for those going to Japan.
Japan rail passes allow you to ride on the JR trains unlimited amount of time within a certain time frame (depending on the number of days your pass entitles). Except for trains which require reserved seats (Narita express, shinkansens and some local trains), you need not get any tickets from the ticket office. You can just show your pass to the station officer and get pass the gantry. The station officer will stamp your pass to indicate the date it has been used.

For trains which require reserved seat, you need to get to the midori office (ticket office) and show them your pass to get your free ticket (which indicates the time of departure and seat number).
There are several types of regional rail passes and one which covers the entire Japan. For the regional passes, there are no two passes that will cover the same route (meaning no overlapping stations) so you can't buy two and expect to use one after another when travelling from one region to the next. Unless of course you pay the fare to get to the nearest station which the second pass covers.

Since I have more experience with the JR East pass, I will touch on that more. There are 3 types of JR East pass, firstly, the 4 day flexible pass. It allows you any 4 days of travel within a month from date of purchase if you purchased the pass in Japan. If you purchase the pass outside Japan, it allows you to state the starting date and the pass will be valid for one month from that start date. The second and third pass is pretty similar. It's the 5 days consecutive and 10 days consecutive pass.
If you are buying the rail pass in your home country, you just need to bring the exchange order and your passport to the ticket office. The officer will issue you your pass from there. If you are buying your pass in Japan, please take note that you will have to bring your FLIGHT TICKET and passport. We forgot about the flight ticket on two occassions and there was no way they will issue you the pass without it. The pass will be valid for one month from the date you purchase it in Japan.

The Japan rail pass is definitely worth the price if you are taking the Shinkansen. You can check out the price of your train trip on and then decide if the pass is worth it. That website is good for planning your trip too as it shows you the train schedule and which connecting trains to ride to get to your destination.

However, if you intend to stay within Tokyo then the pass would be pretty worthless. The Tokyo subway is largely owned by Tokyo metro and not JR company. As such, you find that at certain stops like Asakusa, you would have to get to Ueno (JR owned) and then pay 230yen to get to Asakusa (Tokyo metro owned). It would be wiser to get the Suica express instead.