The Real Deal about Long Distance Commute and Transportation in Japan

Traveling to Japan on a budget: Learn about discount airfares and the best travel deals

The country is famous for their world-class technology and innovations in transportation, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. A topic that Japanese engineers and scientists are most proud of, the transportation industry and its efficiency are enough to make anyone’s journey to the country an unforgettable experience.

Air Travel to Japan

It is without a doubt that transportation will be the biggest percentage of any traveler's expense while in Japan. The best way to keep air travel expenses to Japan the cheapest is to travel at off-peak seasons. It is during this time that most airlines give out discount airfares to their loyal passengers. Sometimes, traveling with lighter baggage is the cheapest, especially during the summer and spring seasons. Furthermore, cutting down on airplane food during short-haul trips will considerably reduce the cost.

Long Distance Travel

For long distance travel around Japan, having travel passes will make the trip more convenient and cheaper especially if there are plans of entering and exiting numerous major cities within short periods of time. Some bus passes like the Sun Q pass and rail passes like the JR Pass give out unlimited rides for passengers for a specific duration of time.

Sometimes, riding ‘sleeper trains’ from different points in the country is a good experience for travelers, especially backpackers. Although sleeping in these trains won't be easy, it will not only create a cheaper alternative to travel but it will also be a great way to cut down on hotel costs.

Tips and Tricks

Traffic congestion is definitely one of the biggest problems during large national events and holidays in Japan. There are usually forecasts that many tourists will rent their own vehicles for travel around the country. This will add to the congestion in major roads and will create clogs in narrow streets around metropolises and towns. This is why traveling during national holidays is not recommended.  However, what if this is the only time you could travel? How could travelers work around this problem?

One thing to make traveling to Japan worthwhile is to know the day-to-day tips and tricks of the local commute. It is best to avoid being in transit during rush hours because not only does it make it harder to ride buses and trains, it will definitely lengthen the trip because of long lines and crowds.

Renting a bicycle can be a good option since almost every station has their own bicycle lockers and racks. Or, why not exercise a few muscles by traveling around cities on foot. It will be a great way to appreciate the local community while getting healthier by the minute. Go to your hotel’s reception desk and ask for the city’s maps and bicycle rental information.

Travel Etiquette in Japan

There are some etiquette and manners that locals usually observe while in transit throughout the country. The first is that in most transportation systems there are priority lanes intended for the elderly, persons with disability, pregnant and people with children. Make sure to keep these areas accessible.

The second is that they are very keen on keeping silent inside trains. Keep gadgets on silent mode and avoid talking loudly. The next is to always line up before riding the train and avoid throwing trash in improper places. Lastly, some passengers are quite particular about being touched. Avoid opening newspapers, carrying luggage and strollers that can touch other passengers, especially when it is crowded.

Knowing your way around Japanese airports and air travel

The first hurdle upon arriving in Japan would be traveling around airports. What is most important here is that most regulations in other international airports would probably also apply in Japanese airports. It would be important to stay aware of baggage restrictions and limitations, security check procedures and the like.

One of the most interesting things about the country is that they have a total of 98 airports in operation. Among the most popular of these are the Haneda airport and the Narita airport, both of which are first-class Japanese airports and the ones foreign travelers are most familiar with. Japanese airports are without a doubt world-class. There are a number of restaurants, lounges, and boutiques inside the place. However, here are some information on why these two are unique:

Haneda Airport

Also known as Tokyo International Airport, it is located near Tokyo Bay and serves most of the Great Tokyo Area. Originally handles most domestic flights from Tokyo to different parts of the country, it has gained its new title because it is now home to non-stop services from the country to almost 17 countries all over the world.

This particular airport is not only popular for tourists but also local travelers. It is well-known throughout the country to be the cheapest airport to fly to in all of Japan. The base of aircraft from All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, the normal cost from North America to this airport is just roughly about a thousand dollars round trip.

Narita Airport

Formerly known as the New Tokyo International Airport, it is the second largest airport in all of Tokyo and has originally served as the primary location for international flights before the Haneda airport claimed this new title. Up to today, it is the terminal for more than 50 percent of all international flights entering and exiting the country. It is also the primary base for aircraft of multinational airlines such as Jetstar Japan, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

This is what makes it most special: anyone with long hours of layover in Narita Airport can be a part of the Narita Transit Program. It offers tourists a short tour of the city to give them an unforgettable experience of Japanese culture and history just a few minutes outside of the airport.

The best thing about this is that transit passengers can be eligible for short transit visas, just via a short stop at reception desks in both Terminals 1 and 2. Also, there are options for a passenger to apply for these visas ahead of time to avoid the hassle of lining up at reception desks. It would be best to talk to your airlines before availing this program and keep in mind possible costs and schedules. It is still the passenger’s responsibility to get back to the airport in time for their flight.

The convenience of long-distance travel through the JR Pass

For instance, if a person is traveling from the airport to Shizuoka, a place cities away from Tokyo, what transportation options can this person have? One best tip is to get to JR’s Narita Express train and ride the Shinkansen (or bullet train) to Shizuoka. For any foreign traveler, these words can just be meaningless jargons without the proper research.

A means to bring a person from one point to almost any point around the entire island, the Japanese railway system is considered as the most efficient and convenient means of transport around the country. Any traveler looking for the fastest and most comfortable ride especially for long distances can always rely on the many railway systems throughout the country.

The Japan Railways

The Japan Railways, also known as JR, is the leading railway company in the country which is comprised of several regional passenger sub-groups that traverse from the northernmost region to the southernmost region of Japan. So elaborate are their systems that there are JR railway systems in Hokkaido, Eastern Japan, Central Japan, Western Japan, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Not only do they take passengers from almost any point nationally, they also have their own freight railway firm.

This particular system and a network of train lines are popular because of its impressive speed to the point that it can take anyone from Tokyo to other major cities tens of kilometers away in mere 15 minutes, according to the Lonely Planet. Long distance travels are what they boast best about because of their Shinkansen lines, or bullet train lines, which are known to be among the fastest trains in the world. In fact, the JR system’s reputation is so well-known that they do their best to keep a tight and consistent schedule – with a promise of punctuality and safety for their passengers.

The JR Pass

For anyone who wishes to travel long distances to the different major cities around the country, the JR pass is definitely worthwhile to purchase. Not only does it provide convenience, it also promises safe and fast journeys to almost any point in Japan. Plus, the Shinkansen experience is something anyone should not miss.

There are three different periods of validity for these passes: 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. The purchase of a JR Pass will entitle anyone consecutive days of unlimited rides and travel through all JR groups of transportation. It means that a seven-day pass will expire exactly seven days upon validation or purchase and a 14-day pass will expire exactly after 14 days of validation or purchase. JR Passes could be validated at the airport or any JR Terminals.

There are two classes of JR Passes available. The Ordinary pass is just the standard ticket and is the best place to meet Japanese locals. The Green Pass, or the first class pass, offers up large leg rooms, charging stations, comfortable seats and even more spacious storages for baggage.

On top of that, the JR Pass can be used for many other transportations services for as long as they are under the JR Group of companies. For instance, the JR pass can be used for expressway bus lines from Shinjuku, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and much more. It could also be used in JR Ferries in Miyajima. Also, JR Passes could be used to travel from different places around Japan through express trains to airports such as the Narita Express Train. These are train systems that stop only at specific stations around the county and gives the fastest possible journey towards the airport.

Other transportation Information: The Tobu Rail, Subways, Bus systems and the Sun Pass

The Japan Railway is not the only train network in all of Japan. There are others that serve specific regions or cities. There are also expressway buses, bus networks and subways all over the country.

For instance, the Tobu Rail is the best rail system when traveling from Asakusa most especially because it leads direct access to the Tokyo Sky Tree, a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Right next to the Japan Rail, this Tobu Rail is one of the most popular go-to train systems around Japan. However, it travels at a much shorter distance than the JR.

Subways in Japan are the most common means of the everyday commute for locals and tourists, especially when traveling short distances. If the JR is the best to go city to city in Japan, subways are the best means of going from point to point inside major cities just like Tokyo.

Sometimes, subway stations are so large that traveling on foot to different exits already takes 5-10 minutes. Most of all, subway stations are always like malls in itself. Passengers can do their groceries, clothes shopping and even have lessons inside subway stations.  For the fast paced life in Japan, these subway stations bring about convenience.

Other than train systems there are buses. The JR Pass can be used for expressway buses that travel to different points in the country through highways and expressways. There are also different bus companies that accept JR Passes to take passengers to different destinations around a city.

For those who prefer riding buses than trains, there are special passes provided for both local travelers and tourists which function similarly to the JR Pass.  The Sun Q Pass is a good example for this, it provides unlimited access to buses around Kyushu in Japan for a specific duration of time. These are made especially for tourists who wish to maximize their travel around the city.