One of the most used, and famous, modes of transportation in Japan are its trains. Known for their punctuality and efficiency, they are the most reliable source of travel in the country. The train systems connect the entire country and make it easy to go long distances in a short. Of course, distance and number of transfers will determine the cost. The main problem that comes with the train system is figuring out how to read the schedules and finding your train.
Every station, no matter the size, will have station attendants that are more than happy to help you find your way. They can usually tell which immediate train you will need to take and the times it arrives and leaves. They can help with some transfers, but for long trips, they may not get you everywhere you will need. There are information kiosks and counters that will have knowledgeable workers and maps to help travelers. Most will have both English and Japanese brochures. The attendants will most likely have very little English, but in some cases, they will be able to speak very well. If you find some workers that don’t have a high enough level, speak slowly and use gestures when trying to talk with them. One easy way to get their help is to show your ticket if you have one. Your destination will be in kanji, and they will be able to quickly show you to your train.
Use Station Maps
At each station there will be train line maps that detail where each train will go. They are color-coded and usually have English as well as Japanese on them. Finding your line can still be troublesome as the maps can look cluttered and be generally hard to read. Use the legend that will be on the map to try and keep track of your specific line. On each platform the will have smaller maps that detail each station the trains generally stop at. They will have English under the kanji, so use it to see how many stops, and check your travel time.
Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone device in their pockets. There are plenty of apps on the market that can help you find your way around the Japanese railways. They are extremely helpful and can get you to where you want to go in the fastest time possible. The apps have been updated now to where they can tell what times heavy traffic is, and what cars to ride in that will give you the fastest exit. The apps will give you multiple options as well, with each one having various prices and times. If you do not have a Japanese phone or didn’t purchase a pocket Wi-Fi, each station usually has free Wi-Fi that you can use. Even though it is there it is also being used by everyone else and can usually be slow or sometimes unusable. It can still be useful in a pinch, so you can rely on some internet access at least. If you can’t get a decent Wi-Fi signal, or you can’t use data, you can use a translation app to try and read the maps. These will not be able to do a perfect translation, but they can help you get a loose understanding of where you would need to go. In most cases, your phone will be your go-to option, and it will most likely be the fastest and easiest. There may be some hiccups every now and then, but you can try other options if you feel you need them. Make sure to give yourself enough extra time in case things don’t go according to plan.
Friends/Tour Guides/Ask Japanese People
If you have any friends living in the country who are familiar with Japan, or is a native, you can have them help you out. It’s always nice to have someone you know to show you how to get around. If you don’t know anyone, you can a person at the station for help. Most people are friendly and will try to help you even if they can’t speak your language. Some may even take you to where you need to go or show you where you can find the information you need. There are plenty of foreigners living in Japan, and you may find one who can help you as well. You should never be afraid to ask anyone in the area. If you decided to go on a guided tour you will have someone to show you around the city. Usually, they are on buses where you are shown many of the famous sightseeing spots in Japan. Some tours will take you on trains as well. These are usually booked in advance and could be a little strict on where to go, but they can be helpful when learning to get around the country. You may even make some new friends by asking people for help.
It seems almost impossible at first with all of the new information being given. The new language, signs, and maybe a new mode of transportation can be overwhelming. Take it slow and know that you have options before you. You can find some groups outside of large stations that act as free guides for foreigners. If you are really concerned about being able to find your way around train stations, you can buy some Japanese phrasebooks, or some survival Japanese books to help make the experience a little easier. Try using some of those options and you will learn how to use the train system in no time.