We were a little apprehensive about purchasing the correct and least expensive train tickets when in Japan. There are so many different train companies with many different purchase options that I finally agreed with a blog that I read that only the Japanese can figure it out. We did purchase a weekly JR Pass that gave us unlimited use of the Japanese Railway Line for one week. You can save considerably if you do long distance travel in Japan, particularly the route between Tokyo and Kyoto. You have to be a non-resident and it has to be purchased before you enter Japan. Our 2 passes cost $630. For long distance travel you get to travel on the Shinkansen, a high speed train. You can not ride on the fastest, the Nozomi. You can also ride all the local JR lines. Its can be a little disconcerting entering the
train station to purchase your ticket for the first time, for instance at the Tokyo station there are about 15 different train companies. with gates to the tracks everywhere it seems. You have to know which train line will get you to your destination, which can be found on the maps on the walls everywhere. Once you know the line you can buy the ticket from the machines everywhere, be sure to press the english button. Above the machines are the color coded train lines painted on the walls with all the stops and the Yens needed for the ticket to get you from your station to the others. When you enter your ticket at the gate it is sucked in and dispersed at the other end. You keep the ticket or you can not leave from behind the gate, you have to enter the ticket again upon
leaving and you do not get it back. A great purchase is a Suica card which is a debit card purchased from a machine. You pass the card over a scanner at the gate and at the other end is a display of your cost and how much is left on the card. All the train lines are colored coded so once you know the color, its finding the track platform. There are arrows pointing you up and down steps around hallway corners, through busy hallway intersections and finally to the platform where you queue up behind the designated door opening line, if your train is the next arrival. This is displayed on a marquee with the next 3 train arrivals. When you find your train color there are arrival times on overhead displays before you go through the gates and your train number is given there. When a train is arriving a short xylophone melody is on the
loudspeakers and the train name and number is flashing on the marquee. The train stops and the doors are at the designated door lines the people get off and then the people get on. Pretty amazingly orderly. Within seconds the train is off and within a couple minutes another arrives, it could be from the other direction. There is hardly any wait time.
What is great is that everything is in English and Japanese, even the announced stops on the train. The LEDs on the train are too, a great way to learn to read and pronounce a little Japanese.
On the Shinkansen trains, there are stewardesses that serve snacks and beverages. Before they enter the car of the train, the doors open and they stand and take a bow and announce their presence. The conductor does the same. For our first time seeing this it seemed different but its a really nice gesture, and purely Japanese. The Shinkansen are smooth, quiet and roomy. You can fit a suitcase between you and the seat in front of you.