Japanese Trains & Subways

Japanese Trains and Shinkansen

The Shinkansen obviously remains the most popular train above its frontiers. It is a high-speed train (bullet train) inaugurated in October 1964 by the national Japanese railway company JR.

Its very precise functioning and very high quality level both contribute to its flawless popularity but, beyond the Shinkansen, there is a vast railway network extremely dense in Japan, as well as very local ones. This broad web, managed by dozens of private railway companies, build a smart coverage all across the archipelago.

In 2017, Japanese trains were still the fastest of the world. If their commercial speed is 320 km/h, the Japanese SC Maglev reached a speed record of 603km/h.

It is therefore not surprising that train remains one of the favorite transportation mean for Japan's inhabitants. For the foreign visitor, the ideal option is to order a Japan Rail Pass to enjoy the train during a trip in Japan.

Note that Japan is home to 45 out of the 50 most crowded train stations in the world, including the 23 first of the ranking. Here is the top 5:

  1. Shinjuku (Tokyo): 1,26 billion travelers every year
  2. Shibuya (Tokyo): 1.09 billion
  3. Ikebukuro (Tokyo): 910 million
  4. Umeda (Osaka): 820 million
  5. Yokohama: 760 million

Finally, here is an impressive video of the Shinkansen's cleaning, done in exactly 7 minutes.

In September 2015, Japan Railway announced the ban of selfie sticks in 1,200 of its stations, for safety reasons.

Subways

Not all cities in Japan are equipped with a subway network, but Tokyo can boast the largest one. In the capital, the global railways network tends to be called "metro" including the national company Japan Railways (JR), with the Yamanote loop line and the transversal Chuo Line, and several other private companies, that weave the urban and interurban transportation network.

The metropolitan network itself spreads within the limits traced by the Yamanote Line. It is owned by two private companies: Metro Tokyo and Toei Subways that operate respectively 9 and 4 underground lines.

Other subway networks can be found in several large cities in Japan:

  • Kyoto, with 2 lines operated by Kyoto Municipal Transportation Bureau: Karasuma (north-south) and Tozai (east-west);
  • Sendai also has 2 lines (Tozai (east-west) and Namboku (north-south)) operated by Sendai City Transportation Bureau;
  • Fukuoka has 3 lines, one of which connecting to its airport;
  • Sapporo has 3 lines (Namboku, Tozai and Toho);
  • Osaka is crossed by 9 lines operated by Osaka Metro.

The subway ticket’s price is calculated based on the travel distance and purchasing it from a vending machine can be tricky. Fortunately, most of subways networks now accept payment by IC Card, such as Suica: just swipe your card at the electronic gate when entering and exiting the station to pay for your travel.

Navigating on some networks can be confusing, but nothing insurmountable when using common sense and good will. Our travel guides are also here to help you.

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