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GUIDE Traveling by Rail

Guide for traveling in Japan by train

Japan's penetrating railways and world-famous Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) interconnect almost every city and corner with lightning speed, convenience, and safety.

Trains in Japan are punctual and reliable

Japan's railways offer impeccable punctuality, safety, and diversity when it comes to travel and transportation in Japan. Whether you're looking for bullet-fast transport between cities, inner-city transport, or a leisurely scenic and cultural journey through Japan, there are options for every taste and itinerary.

Railway types

They say what's important isn't just the destination but also the journey. To break it down, there are three main types of railway systems in Japan, with differing advantages and options.

Japan's leading railway company, Japan Railways (JR), has a well-organized and well–established railway network throughout the country. Among its comprehensive network, the JR-operated Shinkansen, also known as the Bullet Train, connects most of the main cities throughout Japan with world-renowned comfort and speed.

The subway systems are the key to zipping around the major metropolises and their outskirts. These vast and punctual networks are super convenient for moving around cities.

Operated by private companies or municipal governments, various private local railways are convenient means of transport in local areas.

Long distance and regional travel

Train travel gets you directly into the heart of your destination city, saving time and money on travel to and from airports and lengthy check-ins.

The JR-operated Shinkansen, also known as the Bullet Train, is by far one of the speediest and most comprehensive networks for getting around Japan. For more details, please refer to the information in each region on the Shinkansen List below.

Inner-city travel

The subway systems and inner-city sections of JR are the keys to zipping around the major metropolises and their outskirts. These vast and punctual networks will take you almost directly to your destination with minimal wait and hassle. Please refer to the subway maps of major cities nationwide provided below.

There is a wide range of other travel options to suit your tastes

JR and other private local railways have express services, luxurious sightseeing trains, and locally themed carriages for travel both between and within regions. There's a huge range of travel alternatives for families, luxury seekers, cultural enthusiasts, and those with limited time or money.

The Shinkansen and longer-distance local railways generally have different classes with reclining seating, fold-down tables, and onboard services that mimic that airline-style "trip" experience. Grabbing a ekiben (packed meal) and beverage to enjoy onboard is a popular pastime and a great way to savor the passing scenery. Kiosks selling various bento boxes can be found on platforms at major stations.

Travel (IC) cards, mobile Apps, and train passes

IC cards such as the Suica and Pasmo can be used across most train systems, ensuring smooth, seamless transfers without the hassle of purchasing individual tickets for each ride.

While credit card tap payments at the ticket gates have not been introduced yet in Japan as of 2022, mobile app versions of major IC cards are readily available. These can be set up to link with your credit card in advance and will allow you to use your smartphone instead of physical cards.

For sightseeing, one-day and multiple-day passes offered in many cities and regions are another economical way to cover an area in a short period of time. The Japan Rail Pass with unlimited rides throughout the country is also a cost-effective option for foreign tourists traveling longer distances.

Some mobile payment systems are not compatible to non-Japanese models of mobile phones or smartphones, so the mobile payment may not be accepted depending on mobile phone models.


Shinkansen reservations can be made at ticket counters, online, or via a smartphone app. The JR-EAST Train Reservation, SmartEX, allows you to connect your reservation to your IC card. This means you can simply tap your IC card at the Shinkansen ticket gates to receive your reserved ticket, eliminating the need to pick it up in advance. Check our page on local railways for other reservation options.

Things to note

When reclining your seat on the Shinkansen or limited express trains, make sure you consider the person behind you. A simple “excuse me” goes a long way.

Eating on trains is a pastime reserved for long-distance travel. Note that it is generally frowned upon on local subways or trains.

Even within the same area and station name, different railway companies will arrive and depart from different locations of your destination or departure city. Therefore, choosing the train route most convenient to your destination is recommended.

Stations generally have elevators and staff to help people with wheelchairs or physical disabilities on and off the trains. If you need assistance, ask the station staff at the ticket gates.

* The information on this page may be subject to change due to COVID-19.


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