The first thing I heard most about Japan, especially Tokyo, is a fairly complicated mode of public transportation, especially when compared to our habits, who rely more on Uber or GO-Jek. For my first time solo traveling to Japan, I was quite find it difficult to understanding the transportation line which is actually very well integrated in Japan. Aside from easiness to reach any place, tourist destinations also very well informed in each mode of transportation. On this occasion, I want to help you a little bit, so you will no longer be worried or confused to use public transportation in Japan. Well, it would not hurt to prepare a little more knowledge about Japan’s public transportation to avoid over budgeting and save more travel time to destinations we want, right?
A. What to prepare before going to Japan
You can use any airline to Tokyo, and for this trip, I chose Garuda Indonesia with the destination to Narita Airport. Just for tips, Garuda Indonesia with destination to Narita Airport will transit first in Bali, whereas if you do not want to transit and go directly to Tokyo, you can choose flight with destination to Haneda Airport and applied vice versa.
Have you been heard about traveling to Japan without a visa? You can apply for visa-free upon the condition that your passport is already registered as an e-passport, and this visa-free visit is only valid for 3 years with a maximum stay of 15 days. And for non e-passport users, you must still apply for Japan visas to the Japanese embassy in Indonesia. For more info, you can see here (http://www.id.emb-japan.go.jp/news14_30.html)
Before you make a hotel reservation, please pay close attention to the distance between the hotel and nearest train station. For myself, I booked hotels with a maximum distance of 350 meters from the station. And if you plan to buy a JR Pass, it’s better if you book a hotel which is close to JR Line station.
4. JR Pass and Renting Pocket WiFi Modem
a). JR Pass
JR Pass is one of the train line providers in Tokyo. You need to know that JR Pass can only be used for JR train, while outside JR, you have to buy single tickets at Automatic Ticket Machine at the station or buy ICOCA, SUICA, PASMO, etc (kind of e-Money) at local train ticket office.
The advantage of buying a JR Pass is very pronounced if you are planning to travel to several cities. By purchasing this JR Pass, you don’t need to buy ticket for Shinkansen, but simply exchange it with a reserved ticket (if you want to book seats in Shinkansen) to any destinations you want.
b). Pocket WiFi Modem
Internet data is an essential item when it comes to traveling, especially in Japan. We can buy roaming data from Indonesian providers, but usually the price tends to be expensive. The option you can use is to buy a Japan SIM card or you can rent a Pocket Wifi modem either in Jakarta or at the airport in Japan. I rented Pocket Wifi Modem in HIS FX Jakarta, for 7 days with unlimited data usage (I got special price; Rp660.000,00, by buying JR Pass), and this modem can be used up to 10 devices with maximum range of 10 meters.
You can buy JR Pass Online Ticket, rent Pocket Wifi Modem, and also buy any theme park ticket (to avoid queuing there) in HIS Jakarta, click to see their branches and any information about Japan travel necessities (http://his-travel.co.id)
B. First landing in Narita Airport
What you need to know before, Tokyo can be accessed through two airports, Narita and Haneda. Narita Airport is 60 km from central Tokyo, while Haneda Airport is only 17 km from central Tokyo. Therefore, you should carefully choose your flight airport destination in Japan, if you’re planning to stay in the central area of Tokyo, Haneda Airport is the right choice. Due to lack of experience and information, I also miscalculated my destination to Narita Airport. But don’t be afraid, especially if you already bought JR Pass, you can use Narita Express (N’Ex) and get off at Tokyo Station (Narita Airport trip to Tokyo Station takes 1 hour). If you do not have a JR Pass, you can click here to see other transportation you can use to go to central Tokyo (http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/access/train). Arriving at Tokyo Station, you can use the JR Pass and take the JR Yamanote Line train to get to famous spots in the Tokyo area.
For those who have purchased JR Pass Online Ticket in Jakarta, you must redeem the online ticket with JR Pass card, and if you planning to use Narita Express (N’Ex), you can also take a reserved ticket at JR Line Ticket Office at Narita Airport.
C. Using your JR Pass
Once you get your JR Pass, to get into the station, you should always show JR Pass to the counter officers at every entrance and exit (you can not access the automatic entrance, except you have ICOCA, SUICA, PASMO, subway pass or single tickets). And please keep in mind, JR Pass does not serve all trains, but only serves JR Line and Shinkansen only.
For Shinkansen, your JR Pass can only be used other than NOZOMI and MIZUHO trains. And there are two types of Shinkansen carriages; reserved seat and non-reserved seat. For reserved seats, you must pick up your reserved tickets by presenting your JR Pass according to your destination at JR Line Ticket Office. As for non-reserved seats, you can go directly to the Shinkansen train to your destination, but keep in mind, you will not always get a seat if the carriage is full. Click for more info about JR Pass (http://his-travel.co.id/jrpass)
D. IC Cards vs. Temporary Subway Ticket vs. Single Ticket
a). IC Cards
IC Cards are rechargeable cards and used to pay for transportation fare in Japan, you can compare to E-money in Jakarta, or EZ-Link in Singapore. The way to use it is to simply tap at the station’s auto entrance and exit. IC Cards itself has various kinds, but the most commonly used is ICOCA, SUICA, and Pasmo. The difference is the transportation line coverage and available area usage (you can check more about IC Cards here http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html). IC Cards is very useful if you’re planning to travel to several cities, because IC Cards also serve cities other than Tokyo. If you already have JR Pass I would recommend buying Pasmo, because Pasmo serves transport line other than JR. IC cards can be recharge and refund at the local station ticket office.
b). Temporary Subway Ticket
If you’re staying in one city only, for Tokyo, I recommend Temporary Subway Ticket (because I stayed in Tokyo for 3 days, I bought 72 Hours Subway Ticket). Besides it is cheaper, you don’t have to recharge and refund, because the card limit is only seen by the using hours. After the time limit is up, the card will automatically not work. Unlike IC Cards, Temporary Subway Pass should be inserted into the slot at the ticket’s automatic entrance, and the card will come back out after the automatic door opens. Temporary Subway Pass can be purchased at Tourist Information in major train station (or you can also buy it from HIS Jakarta). For Kyoto, they offers 1 Day and 2 Day Tourist Pass which can be used for subways and buses.
c). Single Trip Ticket
And if you don’t want to bother buying cards or on a limited budget, you can buy a single ticket every time you are going to ride the subways. The advantage is that you don’t have to think about which line provider you can use, and which is not. It is very easy to get yourself a single ticket, you can simply use the Automatic Ticket Machine (yes, they also available in English), and see the trip fare from the origin to your destination station, put in the money and press the number of people (maximum 3 people in each transaction), and press the fare for each person. Voila! Tickets were immediately out with with your change. The way to use it at the automatic gate is the same as Temporary Subway Pass, but the difference is when you put your ticket at your destination station, the ticket won’t come out again from the automatic exit gate.
E. Departing from Narita Airport
Narita Express (N’Ex) can be accessed not only from Tokyo Station, but also other major stations in Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Ikebukuro and Yokohama. So before you buy a reserved ticket, you have to see which station is closest to your hotel location (Yes, I made a major mistake, I stayed in Shinjuku area and bought N’Ex tickets from Tokyo Station, which have to cost me 3000 yen for taxi to Tokyo Station). For Narita Airport, you should also pay attention to your airline departing terminal, for Garuda Indonesia is at Terminal 1 (the last stop).
To check in, you have to go up the elevator/escalator to the 4th floor, and usually you will find English Speaking Volunteer that helps directing you to the check in area regarding to your airline flight. (Tip: if you want to buy gifts, especially snacks, don’t forget to pull out folding bags before you drop your baggage, because at the departure terminal there’s Duty Free Shops that sell Japanese snacks such as Tokyo Banana, Royce Chocolate, Pocky, Kitkat, etc.).
After checking in and passing through the security check, you are immediately directed to immigration, and most importantly, before immigration, there is custom declare counter for declaring your tax free goods. Usually, if you are shopping for tax free goods, the cashier will stack the tax free form into your passport, and you have to show it the custom declare counter. The officer will take the tax free form and then you can proceed to the immigration counter.
F. Application and Websites
a). Hyperdia, route and transportation finder for travelers (just enter the desired origin, destination, time, and mode of transportation)
b). Google Maps, always the best apps to find direction (by foot or by car)
c). Bravolol, offline translator (please keep in mind, not all Japanese can speak English)
d). Have Halal, Will Travel, app for halal hotel, restaurant, destination, and even praying place in all over the world
e). http://www.halalmedia.jp and http://www.halaljapan.com, website for halal hotel, restaurant, praying place in Japan
Well, that’s some guide about public transportation in Japan, and in next post, I will give you some traveling tips in Japan (especially in summer). Well, see you wanderers, and have a nice wandering!