Getting around in Japan
Since Japan is a country consisting of many islands, it may seem inconvenient for getting around in. However, with the exception of Okinawa, everything is connected by bridges and tunnels, so it is very easy to traverse by train or by car. Furthermore, there are frequent flights connecting all the major cities across the country.
Flying is the preferred means of transportation when leaving from Tokyo or Osaka for Hokkaido or Okinawa. When travelling between Tokyo and Osaka or Kyoto, bullet trains provide the fastest and most comfortable option with several bullet trains running every day. There are also cheap highway buses available for those on a budget, so each visitor can make transportation plans according to their own needs and desires.
A special service only available for overseas visitors to Japan is the JR-Pass, allowing its user a convenient and especially cheap way to ride the bullet train or use the Japan Railway to comfortably get around all over Japan.
The chartered bus is the most common means of transport used by tourist groups to travel around Japan. Please keep in mind that the New Year’s Holidays, Golden Week (end of April or beginning of May) and Obon-Holiday in August are peak holiday periods with many Japanese holidaymakers travelling in Japan. Many tours are organised throughout the country for seasonal attractions such as the cherry blossom in spring or the beautiful colours of leaves in autumn. Therefore during these times the highways can be rather crowded and the risk of traffic jams is higher than during the rest of the year. It may be difficult to visit many different locations in a limited time during these highly frequented times.
If you can avoid these crowded times, chartering a bus can be a comfortable option for your tour. In terms of money, costs can greatly be reduced by gathering more guests to offer a cheap tour for the budget traveler. Example travel times for chartered bus:
* Tokyo – Hakone: about 2 hours
* Kyoto – Nara: about 1 hour
The most convenient way to get around within the city is the regular Japan Railway (JR). The JR Lines stretch over the whole country, and there is also a huge variety of different train companies available depending on the location.
To get around in the city may be rather complicated, so it is advised that you check the itinerary in advance. If the trains are to be used more often than not, it may be profitable to purchase discount tickets or free passes at the station.
Shinkansen (Bullet train)
The most comfortable way for overseas visitors to travel between the major cities is the Shinkansen. It connects the most important cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Hakata. The fastest way from Tokyo to Kyoto, the journey takes a mere 2.5 hours.
Ordinary car (2nd class) and Green Car
In the ordinary car, there are 5 seats in a row that are non-reservable. Free seating is cheaper, but there is a chance that no free seats are available, since places are taken on a first come first served basis. In the Green Car, you can reserve your private seat and enjoy a comfortable journey without having to worry about how crowded the train may be.
Depending on the type of Shinkansen, you may choose between smoking and non-smoking seats when making your reservation. On Shinkansen without smoking seats, a compartment for smokers can be found between the passenger cars. In addition, the trains are equipped with a wash room and toilet.
In general, it should be noted that no storage space for large luggage is available in the Shinkansen. Behind the seats in the very last row, there is space for one regular suitcase. However, visitors from overseas often travel with large suitcases that exceed the luggage size limit for the storage space available. Small carrier bags can be stored in the overhead compartment or by the travelers feet. The foot space provided is limited and reducing the space available further by adding baggage may diminish the comfort of your trip.
When using the Shinkansen while travelling with a tour group, it is common practice to transport large suitcases by courier services and trucks unaccompanied. When you are having your luggage sent, for example from your Tokyo Hotel to the Hotel in Hiroshima, it will seldom arrive on the same day, so it is advised to prepare a backpack for 1-2 nights.
During the earlier mentioned high season (New Year’s Holidays, Golden Week, Obon-Holiday, …) many Japanese holiday makers are also travelling by Shinkansen, which can make it difficult to secure a vacant seat. If you intend to travel during these times you should definitely remember to plan well ahead. For single travelers, tickets should be purchased a month in advance.
When travelling in Japan, there is also the option to travel by air. Considering the long distances, getting around by air can be much faster and also cheaper than taking terrestrial routes by train, bus or car. Especially regarding the distances between Tokyo and Hokkaido, Okinawa or Kyushu, it is very common to travel between those regions by airplane.
The two major Japanese airlines JAL and ANA connect almost all of the major cities in Japan. There are also several other airlines that have different fields of specialisation or features. There are also some LCC that have gathered in popularity of late, attracting customers with adjusted services offered at very low prices.
Overseas visitors arriving in Japan via an international flight with the intention of continuing their travels to another domestic airport are advised not to buy their tickets separately. Selecting flights up to your final destination and booking connection flights within the same airline or alliance is cheaper than booking your single flights separately.
Major Japan Airlines (ANA, JAL)
* Servicing Areas: everywhere in Japan and international flights
*Fare: There are many special offers available where you can save a
lot of money and get cheap deals if you make your reservation up to 21 days in advance.
In case of cancellation, the required fees are accordingly higher for such especially cheap bookings. On the other hand, regular bookings at the usual fare may be more attractive regarding the possibilities of changing or cancelling your reservation
an no cost or at a considerably lower price, compared to the early-booking special deals.
* Servicing areas: Sapporo, Sendai, Ibaraki, Haneda, Nagoya, Kobe, Yonago, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Naha, Miyako, Ishigaki
* Fare: Compared to JAL and ANA, the fares are more or less equal, but there is a high chance of cheaper fares for early reservations
* Servicing areas: Tokyo, Sendai, Fukushima, Koriyama, Niigata, Toyama, Kobe, Okayama, all around Hokkaido
Fare: Specialises in connection flights between Hokkaido and various airports all over Japan
* Servicing areas: Haneda, Okinawa, Kobe, Kyushu
* Fare: Specialises in connection flights between Kyushu and Haneda Airport (Tokyo) or Okinawa
* Servicing areas: various parts of Japan
* Fare: There are no especially cheap fares for early bookings, since the prices vary greatly depending on seat availability and season. Furthermore, additional services such as meals during the flight, seat reservations or check-in luggage (apart from hand luggage) are optional and require an extra fee. Very often the fares are considerably low, but the prices cannot be guaranteed and differences in fares can often be experienced.
Travel duration from Haneda Airport to other major airports in Japan:
New Chitose: approx. 01:40 hrs
Itami: approx. 1:10 hrs
Hiroshima: approx. 1:30
Takamatsu: approx. 01:30
Fukuoka: approx. 01:50
Naha: approx. 2:30
Transportation in Japan is mostly handled by train or airplane. Nevertheless since there are also over 6000 islands belonging to the country, a lot of transportation is by boat, too. There are, for example, areas that are only accessible by boat, like the Ogasawara Islands, which are registered on the World Heritage List. Access by boat is also common to Islands like Yakushima in the south of Kyushu or Sado Island in Niigata Pefecture. Transportation costs vary on boat class and operator. There are two types of boats: Ferries and hydrofoils, with the hydrofoil being a faster way of transportation. There are also popular sightseeing spots, such as the Itsukushima Shrine, that are only accessible by boat. Cruises on the Sumida River or a ride on the traditional Yakata boat, being an experience of traditional Japanese culture, are also very popular with foreign guests.
There are many taxi services operating within the cities of Japan. Taxis can easily be found in front of stations, hotels or taxi stands, or you can hail a bypassing taxi by simply waving your hand at it. It is not possible to operate a taxi without owning a proper license, so it can be considered safe to hop on one of the many taxis driving around.
Prices for riding a taxi in Japan may be relatively high, but it is a very comfortable way to get to your destination without having to worry about last trains, since the service is also operated throughout the night. In general, it is not customary to tip taxi drivers in Japan. In addition to regular taxis, there are also special taxis available for tourists wishing to go on a sightseeing trip around the city. It is a very pleasant way to tour without running the danger of getting lost. Especially in rural areas that are not as well connected by public transportation, taxis are very useful.
The fares vary depending on the region you are in. Generally a basic fare is required that covers the first two kilometers of your trip. After that, the regular taxi meter starts calculating the additional fair according to the distance and time to your destination.
* Please keep in mind that depending on the taxi company it may be impossible to pay by credit card, so please make sure that you have enough cash before getting in a taxi.
* It is possible that the taxi driver does not have the exact change for large bills, such as 10,000 Yen bills, so please prepare some smaller bills and coins before entering a taxi.