Transportation Modes

There are various modes of transportation available in Japan, when travelling. Understanding these various modes may help you plan or draft out your itinerary better. Each of the transportation modes may serve your different needs / purposes during your trip:

  • Walk
  • Bus / Tram
  • Ferry
  • Rail / Train
  • Cab / Taxi 

Walking, by far, is the best mode if you wish to explore the vicinities within a city area. Of course, it is the cheapest because it does not cost any money. However, if you are moving from prefecture to prefecture or city to city, this will not be a good idea as the distance is too long for you to walk. TIP: If you are travelling within the city, ensure you have a map (or GPS map) and compass with you in case you cannot understand Japanese words.


Bus / Tram, is the next cheapest solution. These are buses running within each city. Usually the cost of buses may start from 100 yen onwards, depending on the distance that you travel.

TIP: Try to carry small change if you intend to take buses. Check out the local city's bus web site before your trip to get familiarised with the bus stops. The bus system generally is pretty straight forward. You collect a bus ticket from the entrance (Please take note that bus entrance is in the middle / towards the back of the bus, and not the one facing the driver. The door that is near the bus driver is actually the exit), and then proceed to take a seat or stand in the bus. There are no bus buzzers in the bus that you can press to signal to stop the bus, naturally the bus driver will stop at every bus stop even if the bus stop is in a remote area. When you reach your destination, simply drop the ticket into the reader at the bus exit and the driver will inform you how much yen to pay. Otherwise you can do your own calculation if the bus has bus stop leader board that display each bus stop and their cost.

Japan also has a large network of Highway Buses for inter-city travel, including passes which are often more economical than a JR rail pass.

Bus Ticket City Bus Ticket 

Ferry. There are 2 types of ferries: 1 is for sightseeing (kanko) and 1 is for transporting from the main island (Honshu) to Hokkaido or other smaller islands. Prices vary from at least 1,000 yen onwards and depends on where you are heading to. TIP: Try to check for the ferry schedule and book the ferry ticket for cruise or travel before your trip. It helps than getting to the ferry terminal and realise that there is no ferry scheduled for the day.


Rail / Train: Japan is renowned for having a complicated railway system. Basically there are several categories of rails / train in Japan that you need to take note:

  • Metro / Subway -  This is a short line of rail system that runs in the city area and is separate from the main rail system. Some cities that have metro / subway lines are Tokyo and Sapporo. Tokyo has the highest number of metro and subway lines, and has 2 different operators: Tokyo Metro ( and Toei Subway ( TIP: Some metro / subway offers a One-Day Ticket that allows unlimited rides on the Metro / Subway Line (differs by operator). If you are intending to go for sightseeing within the city for a day or two, you may want to purchase the One-Day Ticket at the metro / subway station. Such tickets may range from few hundred yen to few thousand yen, depending on the operator and line. One-Day Ticket 1-Day Ticket in Sapporo Subway  Tokyo Metro Pass Tokyo Metro 1-Day Pass
  • Local (kakueki-teisha / futsu-densha / 普通) - These trains operate on the main rail system and serve all stations on the railway map. The prices are usually the cheapest in the main rail system (not comparing to metro / subway).
  • Rapid (kaisoku / 快速) - These trains operate on the main rail system and serve most of the stations, skipping a few of the minor stations on the railway map. The prices are usually the same as the Local trains.
  • Express (kyuko / 急行) - These trains operate on the main rail system and serve even less stations as compared to Rapid trains. The prices are slightly higher, as an additional fee (express fee) is usually added to the base fee.
  • Limited Express (tokkyu / 特急) - These trains operate on the main rail system and serve only the major stations. The prices are usually much higher. There are different seat categories and reservations for this type of trains. Some of these trains may have baggage area where you can put light luggage.
  • Bullet / Super Express (shinkansen / 新干线) - These trains operate on their own rail system and their tracks and platforms are separated from the rest of the trains types. Their tracks are made for these hi-speed trains that go at least 300km/h. They only stop on designated stations. The prices are more expensive than the other train types. There are different seat categories and reservations for this type of trains.
Seat Categories for Limited Express and Bullet / Super Express trains:
  • Ordinary - These seats have the most number of seats within the train.
  • Green (First Class) - These seats usually offer more space and are more costly than the Ordinary seats.
Seat Reservations for Limited Express and Bullet / Super Express trains:
  • Reserved Seats (shitei-seki) - You will be allocated with a seat number and it will be displayed on your ticket. Seat reservation costs from 300 yen onwards, but the good thing is that you are guaranteed a seat.
Shinkansen Reserved Seat Ticket by JRShinkansen Reserved Seat Ticket
  • Non-Reserved Seats (jiyu-seki) -  You will not be allocated with a seat number if you do not make a seat reservation. There are allocated cars of the train that state for Non-Reserved Seats. If there are overcrowding, you may not be guaranteed a seat.

TIP: For travellers who like to move from prefecture to prefecture and may require taking the Shinkansen, you may wish to get the Japan Rail Pass that is allow to be purchased by foreigners not residing in Japan (you require to purchase the exchange order for the Japan Rail Pass from your own country and then exchange for the Japan Rail Pass while in Japan). It includes all the train types (except for some special trains), and even the Shinkansen. Seat Reservation is free as well for the Japan Rail Pass. If you are travelling from prefecture to prefecture by Shinkansen, suggest that you go for Reserved Seats and reserve them the moment you reach Japan as the reserved seats are sold very fast so that you can be guaranteed a seat and that it does not disrupt your travel itinerary. Refer to for more information. 

Front of Japan Rail Pass Japan Rail Pass Front Inside of Japan Rail Pass Inside of Japan Rail Pass

 This pass made a visit to Japan so easy and pleasant--you zip through the stations, you get reservations on trains and, in some cases, even the chance to sit in "green" cars--those with comfortable seats and plenty of room. And, if you're smart, you sign up when you first land in Tokyo, so that you can take the train into the city and back out when you leave the country. Travelling from Tokyo to Takayama with no thought as to cost, and a layover in Kobe for a great steak dinner is only one of many stops, to make with little concern about catching the next train.

Cab / Taxi: This is by far the most expensive type of transportation. Meters usually start with a base fee ranging from 550 yen (Hokkaido) to 700 (Tokyo) yen and increments in blocks of 100 yen. For more information please refer to

TIP: Taxis are good if you are taking it from the nearest train station to your destination.

Hyperdia - Essential Travel Site

Planning train rides across Japan can never be easier if you use the HYPERDIA 

Hyperdia also offers an APP for iPad/iPhone that you can download and use it on the road.

Like the Deutsche Bahn DB site for Europen rail traveling, Hyperdia offers almost all inclusive train routes / time tables / rates, with the exception that you cannot buy the actual tickets from their site. However it offers extensive information for all Japanese rail companies (JR or private lines), free of charge.

If you read Japanese, however, is a much better route finder overall.