Series N700 shinkansen train in Japan
 

Series N700 shinkansen.  These trains link Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima & Hakata. Photo James Chuang.

►►► Click to buy a Japan Rail Pass

Japan Railpass information

Exploring Japan by rail...

The railways are the best way to get around Japan.  On this page you'll find an introduction to train travel in Japan, plus:

How to check train times & fares in Japan

Map of Japanese train routes

How to buy and use a Japan Rail Pass

The Seishun 18 Kippu (pass for local trains)

Staying in Ryokans & capsule hotels...

Things to see in Japan...

Useful country information - currency, time zone etc.

Hotels in Japan.

Ferries to & from Japan...

Ferries from Japan to Russia

Ferries from Japan to China

Ferries from Japan to South Korea

How to travel from London to Tokyo by Trans-Siberian Railway

Flights to Japan

Travel insurance


Useful country information

Train operator in Japan:

There are six main regional railway companies, known collectively as Japan Railways, plus many local railway operators. 

Japan train times: www.hyperdia.com - English button is upper left. 

Japan rail map.  Tokyo metro website (with map): www.tokyometro.jp.

 

 

Japan railpass:

Japan rail pass advice & informationBuy a Japan Rail Pass in UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, Buy a Japan Railpass in the USA & Canada, Buy a Japan Rail Pass in Australia/NZ,

Time zone & dialling code:

 GMT+9 all year round.

Dialling code:

 

+81

Currency:

 

 1 = approx 175 Yen.   $1 = 110 Yen.  Currency converter

Hotels in Japan:

Find hotels in Japan   

Flights to Japan:

 

Cheap flights to Japan

Tourist information:

 www.jnto.go.jp or www.seejapan.co.uk.  

 Hotels in Japan  Tripadvisor Japan pages   

Visas:

 

 Not required by UK citizens.     Recommended guidebooks

Page last updated:

22 April 2016


Train times & fares for Japan

An introduction to train travel in Japan...   See Japan train map here or the map here

How to check train times & fares in Japan...

Sample journey times, frequencies & prices...

 Japanese train times & fares

Journey:

Distance

Time by Nozomi *

Time by Hikari *

One-way fare:

Train frequency:

Tokyo - Kyoto

513km, 320 miles

2 hours 18 min

2 hours 38 mins

13,910  (83, $119)

Every 10-30 minutes, direct.

Tokyo - Shin-Osaka

552km, 345 miles

2 hours 33 min

2 hours 53 mins

14,450  (86, $124)

Every 10-30 minutes, direct.

Tokyo - Hiroshima

894km, 559 miles

4 hours 1 min

4 hours 49 mins

19,080  (114, $163)

Every 10-30 minutes, direct.

Tokyo - Nagasaki

1,328km, 830 miles

7 hours 14 min

8 hours 21 mins

27,540  (165, $235)

Every hour, change Hakata.

Kyoto - Hiroshima

380km, 237 miles

1 hour 36 min

1 hour 59 mins

11,300  (68, $97)

Every 10-30 minutes, direct.

Hiroshima - Nagasaki

434km, 271 miles

3 hours 10 min

3 hours 25 mins

13,690  (82, $117)

Every hour, change Hakata.

* Nozomi = fastest Shinkansen train type, Japan Rail Passes not valid.  Hikari = next fastest train type, Japan Rail Passes valid.

Check Japanese train times & fares at www.hyperdia.com or www.jorudan.co.jp.  Another useful resource is www.japanrail.com

Children aged 0 to 5 travel free, children aged 6 to 11 travel at half fare, children aged 12 and over pay full fare.

Rail fares in Japan are expensive, and if you are an overseas visitor a Japan Rail Pass can be the cheapest way to travel even if you are only planning one return trip from (say) Tokyo to Hiroshima.  See the Japan Rail Pass section.

What are Japanese trains like?

Shinkansen high-speed trains...

Everyone has heard of Japan's bullet train lines, more properly known in Japan as shinkansen.  These are high-speed lines, built to European and North American standard gauge (4' 8").  The first shinkansen was the Tokaido Shinkansen linking Toyo, Kyoto and Osaka opened in 1964, later extended as the Sanyo Shinkansen to Hiroshima, Kobe and Hakata.  There are now a whole range of 'shinkansen' lines linking all the most important cities in Japan, including Niigata, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Hakata and Kagoshima.

The trains have two classes, ordinary seats (2nd class) and Green Car seats (1st class).  Reservation is normally required on each train, but there's usually one or more 'unreserved' cars.

Series 700 high-speed train, as used from Tokyo to Kyoto, OPsaka, Hiroshima & Hakata.   Train travel in Japan:  Comfortable 'green car' seats on a Series N700 Shinkansen train

A series 700 train on the Tokaido shinkansen, now used on most fast Hikari & super-fast Nozomi services on the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima & Hakata.  Photo courtesy of Peter Geran.

 

Green car (1st class) seats on a series N700 train used on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen linking Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Hakata.  Photo courtesy of James Chuang.

Ordinary seats on a series 500 shinkansen train   Series 500 shinkansen train

Ordinary (2nd class) seats on a series 500 Shinkansen train.  They are arranged "+ (2 abreast, aisle, 3 abreast across the width of the car), so there's less elbow room than in the Green car seats. Courtesy James Chuang.

 

A series 500 train on the Tokaido shinkansen.  Amazingly, these now operate the secondary stopping trains, bumped off the front-rank Nozomi services by the series 700 when they were only 8 years old.  Photo courtesy of James Chuang.

Original narrow-gauge network...

An extensive network of original 3' 6" narrow-gauge lines remains, covering the whole of Japan and taking you to almost every city and town of any size.  Nagasaki, for example, is well worth a visit but is not on the Shinkansen network.  You take a Shinkansen high-speed train from Tokyo, Kyoto or Hiroshima to Hakata, then switch to a Kamome Limited Express on the regular narrow-gauge network, see the photos below.

Limited Express Kamone from Nagasaki to Hakata   Limited Express Kamone from Nagasaki to Hakata

Limited Express Kamome connecting Hakata with Nagasaki. Courtesy David Smith

 

Ordinary class seats on the Limited Express Kamome to Nagasaki.  Courtesy of David Smith.

Sleeper trains... 

There are only a few sleeping-car trains left, most have been replaced by new shinkansen lines.  The sleepers run on the original narrow-gauge lines, but they can save time compared with daytime travel.  Unfortunately they are an endangered species - the useful Tokyo-Nagasaki sleeper train is already gone, and the Hokutosei  and Cassiopeia sleeper between Tokyo & Sapporo disappeared in late 2015/early 2016.  More information about overnight trains in Japan


Sponsored links...

 


Japan Rail Pass

  Train departure board at Tokyo station
 

Finding your train is no problem as departure boards are in English as well as Japanese.  Here, a departure board at Tokyo shows a Nozomi (which Japan Railpass holders can't use) and slightly slower Hikari (semi-fast) & Kodama (all stations) high-speed departures on the same Shinkansen route which can be used instead.  Photos courtesy of David Smith.

  Tokyo's main central station
 

Tokyo Station:  All Shinkansen routes converge on the same central Tokyo station.  Its western facade (above) survives from its opening in 1914.  Map showing Tokyo station.

A Japan Rail Pass will probably save you money...

  1. Train fares in Japan are expensive - there's just one fixed flexible price for each journey with no cheap advance-purchase or off-peak fares.  So even if you are only planning a couple of inter-city journeys, a Japan Rail Pass can save money over normal tickets.

  2. For example, a 7-day Japan Rail Pass costs 159 or $235 for unlimited travel throughout Japan.

    The normal return fare from Tokyo to Kyoto is 27,800 Yen which is about 165 or $238.  From Tokyo to Hiroshima it's 38,160 Yen, about 227 or $325.

    So a rail pass saves money even for just one round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto.

  3. You can use www.hyperdia.com to check point-to-point fares for the journeys you intend to make.

  4. Compare these with the Japan railpass prices at www.japan-rail-pass.com (residents of UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, USA & Canada), www.railplus.com.au/japan-by-rail or www.internationalrail.com.au (residents of Australia & NZ).

The Japan Rail Pass...

Regional rail passes:  Japan East Pass, Sanyo pass, Kansai pass... 

How to buy a Japan Rail Pass ...

  The 'Spacia' limited express from Tokyo to Nikko
 

Day trip to Nikko?  Nikko is a great day trip to make from Tokyo.  You can get there in less than 2 hours on the Tobu Railway's Spacia Express from Tokyo Asakusa station.  Departures are frequent, though the Tobu railway isn't covered by Japan Rail Pass, so you'll need a normal ticket.

How does a Japan Rail Pass work? 

How do you make reservations with your pass?


Seishun 18 :  5 days unlimited travel on local trains for 13 or $22 per day...


Europe to Japan by Trans-Siberian railway

London to Tokyo in 12-14 days by Trans-Siberian Railway


Ferry links Japan to China, Korea, Russia

Japan is linked by regular ferries to China, Korea & Vladivostok in  Russia.


Ryokans & capsule hotels...

  A room in a traditional Japanese 'Ryokan'

Ryokans...

There are two unique types of overnight accommodation which you should try in Japan.  'Ryokans' are traditional Japanese inns.  The rooms don't have beds, but are covered with 'tatami' matting on which you place a bedroll.  You will probably be offered a hot cup of green Japanese tea when you first arrive.  Ryokans are the Japanese equivalent of B&Bs, so they are an inexpensive option compared with hotels, as well as an experience.  You can now find ryokans online on hotel booking sites such as www.booking.com, if you search at the less expensive end of the market.  Search for Ryokans in Tokyo Search for Ryokans in Kyoto.

Capsule hotels...

Another Japanese experience, which (purely incidentally) is an ultra-cheap option for staying a night in the heart of Tokyo or other big cities, is a night in a capsule hotel.  These are more civilised than you might think.

Why not stay in a capsule hotel..?  

The hotel reception looks like any other hotel reception - just remember to take your shoes off before you walk in, and place them in one of the lockers in the lobby.  Upstairs, there will probably be several floors of fibreglass sleeping capsules, each floor with its own locker room and shared showers.  You change in the locker room and put your clothes and bags into your locker.  Your capsule has radio, alarm clock and TV, and a screen or curtain pulls over the capsule entrance for privacy.  Unfortunately, the main clientele for these hotels is Japanese businessmen who have missed their last train home, so they don't tend to cater well for women or couples.

The picture shows end-entry capsules, but some capsule hotels have side-entry types, and you'll now find some capsule hotels with larger, more hotel-style capsules too.

You can usually walk into a capsule hotel and ask for a bed for the night, but if you want to pre-book this unique experience, try the Capsulevalue Kanda in downtown Tokyo not too far from Tokyo station, a bed in Tokyo for as little as 24 per night!  Only men can stay there, no women or children.

How to book hotels & ryokans...

I generally use two sites for hotels & accommodation worldwide, and they'll find some (though not all) ryokans and capsule hotels, too.  (1) www.booking.com, which usually allows me to book accommodation at no risk with free cancellation, and (2) www.hotelscombined.com, named the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013, which can find hotels in even the smallest places, and find the cheapest seller of any given hotel from the many major hotel booking sites out there.


Things to see in Japan...

A Series 300 shinkansen train crosses a Tokyo streetIt's impossible to mention every sight or attraction Japan has to offer, but here are some highlights of a visit to Japan that might give you some ideas.

Tokyo

One of the world great cities... Stay in a capsule hotel;  visit the site of the Tokyo castle (now just foundations) near the entrance to the Emperor's palace;  shop till you drop in Tokyo's busy Shinjuku district; take a JR suburban train out to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha, the second largest bronze Buddha in the world.

The 'Three Monkeys' at Nikko, JapanNikko

A not-to-be-missed day trip from Tokyo, Nikko's history as a sacred site began in the middle of the 8th century AD.  There are many temples and historic buildings spread through woodland in the hills around this small town, including the famous three monkeys:  'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' (pictured, left).

Frequent trains of the Tobu Railway link Tokyo Asakusa station with Nikko in less than 2 hours  - but note that Japan Rail Passes don't cover the Tobu Railway so you'll need to buy a ticket.

Kyoto

Golden Pavillion, Kyoto, JapanCapital of Japan from 794AD until 1867, Kyoto should be on every visitor's itinerary.  Office blocks and pinball arcades in the modern city rub shoulders with tiny wooden houses in the older parts of town.  There are several important temples in and around the city, including the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the Kimkaku-ji Temple or 'Golden Pavilion', pictured right.

Nara

A worthwhile day trip from Kyoto, Nara is home to the Great Hall of the Buddha, the world's largest wooden building, housing the world's largest bronze Buddha.  The train trip from Kyoto takes just 35 minutes, and there are usually two trains each hour.  This line is run by the Kesei Railway.

Himeji castleHimeji

The best-preserved traditional Japanese castle (pictured, left) is to be seen at Himeji, on the Shinkansen between Osaka and Hiroshima - well worth a stop.

Nagasaki

The second atomic bomb exploded in Nagasaki three days after the Hiroshima one - although this time not quite in the centre of town, but in a suburb called Urakami.  However, Nagasaki has much more to offer than reminders of 1945.  Nagasaki has a long and fascinating history, and many beautiful temples and historic buildings have survived.Atomic bomb dome, Hiroshima

Hiroshima

Hiroshima needs no introduction.  It's a large modern city, but you'll never forget your visit to the Peace Park, site of the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosion, or a tour of the museum there.  You can see the 'T' shaped bridge (or rather, it's modern replacement) at the top of the Peace Park - this was allegedly the aiming point of the bomb-aimer of the 'Enola Gay'.  Pictured right is the 'atomic bomb dome', previously the Industrial Promotions Hall, and one of the few buildings not completely flattened by the bomb.

 

 


Guidebooks

Lonely Planet Japan - click to buy online...Rough Guide to Japan - click to buy onlineJapan by Rail guidePaying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, if you have a decent guidebook.  The Trailblazer 'Japan by Rail' guide is specifically aimed at train travel around Japan, with both city and train information.  For the serious independent traveller, the best guidebooks to take are either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  I personally prefer the layout of the Lonely Planet, but others prefer the Rough Guides.  Both guidebooks provide excellent levels of both practical information and historical background. 

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.co.uk...


Hotels & accommodation in Japan

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Flights

Overland travel around Japan by train is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach Japan in the first place. 

1)  Check flight prices at Opodo, www.opodo.com...

2)  Use Skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

skyscanner generic 728x90

Travel insurance

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

 

 


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