Japan does quite a few things really well, but public transport and trains are a notch above. It's all run with spectacular precision and care. It's just great in so many ways. Maybe with the sole exception of limited underground cell coverage, but hey, you can't get everything.
Good to know
Use an IC card to get around. Get the local variety – in Tokyo it's Pasmo – from a ticket machine in most train or subway stations and charge it with cash (you can't use credit cards). Then simply blip your way through the gates.
Signs and maps are omnipresent. It's easy to get lost in the big stations but don't worry, just follow the signs and it'll work out.
Use Google maps for public transport planning, real time data and station maps. It's just brilliant. If you don't do roaming, get a pocket wifi thingy but be aware that subway coverage is limited.
Don't eat or talk on the phone while on the train or subway.
Suica cards work across most of the country. A Pasmo card will get you through the Nagoya subway system, and a Manaca card works brilliantly when paying for a snack at a Kagoshima convenience store.
When exiting a station gate you either blip your card or insert your ticket, so be sure to keep them throughout the journey.
Buses are special. Refer to the section below.
Restrooms are everywhere, too. In most stations they tend to be on the inside of things, after the ticket gate. Signs and directions are abundant.
Going on a bus
Ah yes, those buses
Buses are a bit tricky at times. First off, you enter through the rear doors – unless you're in tokyo, because then you enter through the front door. And if you're paying for a single ticket the system can be confusing at first. Here's how:
Paying for a single public transport bus journey
- Enter through the rear doors (unless you're in Tokyo where you're supposed to enter through the front door).
- Grab the small slip dispensed by a machine next to the door. This slip has a number on it.
- Ride along. There's a display up front with a bunch of numbers and fares. Look for your number in the list. The fare displayed next to your number is what you'd have to pay if you got of at the next stop.
- When your stop is up, make a mental note of the amount next to your number and proceed to where the driver is.
- Hand over the slip, pay the relevant amount and...
- ...exit through the front door.
Not too bad, really. And if you're using a suica card, then just blip it when entering and exiting the bus. Easy.