BULLET TRAIN - SHINKANSEN
For travel between cities, one usually uses the Shinkansen that is world renowned for its speed and punctuality. The Japanese prefer to travel by train over plane. The one disadvantage for tourists however, is the lack of consideration for lots of heavy baggage -from the flights of stairs to the lack of porters or storage space on the trains. Once on the Shinkansen, you will find it an enjoyable and efficient way to travel in Japan. There are trains leaving Tokyo Station every fifteen minutes.
There are two classes of service on most trains. The Green Car generally offers more comfort with larger seats and leg room. It is symbolized with a green clover leaf. The majority of the cars on a train are regular class. There are some non-smoking cars.
Reservations can be made in advance although there is a service charge for reserved seats and express trains (the Shinkansen is considered an express). If you are travelling to Japan on Japan Airlines, they will make advance reservations for you.
Tickets can be purchased at the departing station or almost any large station. Also, many large stations have "Travel Service Centres" (Ryoko Senta) that have English speaking staff and are open from 9:00am to 6:00pm, Monday through Friday. Japan Rail Passes are also very popular with tourists, but must be purchased outside of Japan. Rail passes offer unlimited travel for 7, 14, or 21 days and are available for purchase at Times Square Travel's offices.
On each Shinkansen, there is usually a dining car or a stand-up buffet car. What is most popular though, is to purchase items from the vendors that come calling through the train. These sellers offer every thing from Japanese lunch boxes to beer and coffee. It is best to know the stops on your particular train ride. The trains only stop for one or two minutes and you could easily miss a stop. Announcements are made three to five minutes before the stop. Make sure you are ready to disembark from the train, by standing by the exit door with all your belongings. You can be met on the platform if you tell your greeter your car and train number.
SUBWAYS AND LOCAL TRAINS
Within the large cities, subway travel is by far the most efficient and quickest way to travel. Subways operate from about 5:00am to midnight daily. First, locate a fare map that is written in English or refer to a regular English subway map and count how many stops you want to go and locate the corresponding location on the Japanese fare map. Purchase your ticket from the correct subway machine (sometimes there are many different machines for different train lines) by pushing the button that corresponds to your fare or is greater than your fare. Your change and ticket will fall into the dispenser. Board the train (making sure you are going the correct direction). After disembarking from the train, return your ticket through the machine that checks if you have paid the correct fare. You may want to avoid travelling the subways during rush hours.