While i was planning for our trip to Japan, knowing that i could not speak or read their language gave me some sort of anxiety. I was after all, in charge of leading this group of ten and i tried my very best to do all the research and get all the information i could possibly muster to ensure that our trip would go on swimmingly. I reckoned, not knowing their language would be a hassle because i have been told that like France, most of them barely even speak English. And with that, i had expected the worst and thought, it would be quite challenging to get around.
Here’s a thing, before you go to Japan, the first thing you need is the pocket wifi. We had booked it online, picked it up at KLIA and returned it at the same spot. Which, brings you to the next thing you need: the ‘Google Maps’ app. It should be the only app you need on your phone. (Not really, we all need Instagram, Twitter, Vsco) Anyway……
Here is a screenshot. As you can see, it shows the recommended route and some other alternatives to get to where you want to go. If you are in a massive group and you have seniors or members with disability who could not walk for too long, i would say that from our experience, sure, the recommended route would be the shortest and easiest route. But often, it would also mean that you have to walk an extra mile just so that you do not have to switch trains or some sort. For the first two days, i was not aware of that and consequently, we ended up having to walk for miles and miles to get back to our hotel when the truth is, there is a bloody station right next to it. On that account, i would definitely recommend for you to check out the alternative routes and find the ones that require the least distance for walking.
Apart from that, the colours determine the lines and if you are in major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, you shall not fret! They have English signs everywhere and there is no way that you could get lost. And even if you do, you could seek help from the information counter or tourist information centre. They speak fluent English! The app would also tell you which platform, the fare, the train number, etc. If you are planning to stay in Japan for a week or two, i would definitely recommend getting the JR Pass. With this pass, you’ll be able to get on the JR trains and JR buses from all JR stations without paying a cent more. The JR stations or lines would be in green. And no, you can’t use this pass to board the normal trains. I would say it is definitely worthwhile to get this pass especially when you are hopping from one city to another with the bullet train (Shinkansen). [More on bullet train HERE ] The JR pass could be used throughout Japan and you could go from one end to another with this pass before it expires. (7 days or 14 days or 21 days). On top of that, there are several attractions that this pass covers and i guess, that’s pretty brilliant. To use the pass, you will have to activate it at any JR station for free.
As an alternative, if you are in Tokyo, you could just get the Suica card. If i am not mistaken, it is about RM90 each. It is a prepaid e-money card. It is akin to Touch & Go if you are from Malaysia or Myki Card if you are from Australia. You can get the card or the JR Pass at JTB Malaysiabeforehand and you could recharge the card at pretty much every machine at the train station. In my case, i was in Tokyo for five days and i had loaded 3000 Yen into it which, surprisingly, was more than enough! If you have balance on the card at the end of your trip, you could refund it at the airport. Alternatively, the card is valid for ten years so you could keep it for future use. With this card, you will be able to board both the JR trains as well as all other lines (Ginza, Tsukuba, etc).
In Kyoto, however, you would need a different pass to get around. You can get the Kansai-Thru pass. With this, you could board all the trains and buses (except for JR ones) without paying extra. You could use this pass throughout the Kansai region (Nara, Wakayama, Osaka, etc). There is a 2-day pass or a 3-day pass. On the other note, if you have the JR Pass, there will be a specific bus for you to go to all of those major attractions and i must say, that’s tremendously convenient.
Being there, for the first two days, it was unequivocally challenging to decipher the transportation system. It felt like a puzzle that i constantly needed to solve, like the Da Vinci Code or something but the next thing i know, i was already used to it and i had built enough confidence to wander around without the map. The train was always on time and there was not even a time that we had to encounter delays — they were not even a second late. While i believe, it might be a tad overwhelming to piece together the transportation system in Japan especially when it’s your first time there, you should not fret too much about it, you’ll get a hang of it!