Getting around Japan can be an experience in itself. Japan has one of the world's most highly developed transportation systems. The rail service alone covers almost all possible destinations. In addition, there is a national highway service and domestic air service. Public transportation such as buses and taxis provide connections twenty four hours a day in the cities, while ferries link up Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe with the main ports of Hokkaido and Kyushu.
Trains in Tokyo are always punctual. They zoom into the stations at 1.5-minute intervals during peak hours, a perfect example of the efficiency of the Japanese. Japan Railways (JR), a group of six railway companies, provides coverage for the entire country. There are a variety of other companies operating in many of the larger cities.
Special mention must be given to the Shinkansen or "Bullet Trains." World renowned for their ultra-fast speed, the bullet trains provide a reliable rail service, which extends almost the length of Japan. Its consists of the Tokaido Line, the Sanyo Line, the Tohoku Line and the Joetsu Line.
Super express, limited express, express, berth and reserved seat; you can get all these with Japan Railway's long-distance services. The charges vary according to distance. Tickets can be bought in cities at vending machines in each train station. Just approach the green-striped windows ("Midori-no-madoguchi") for tickets. You can get tickets for different classes as well as for long-distance travel.
Japan Rail Pass
If you will be making your own way around Japan, it is worth your while to obtain a Japan Rail Pass for the duration of your stay. This pass offers excellent value and convenience. The Rail Pass allows the bearer unlimited travel on JR lines and its affiliated buses and ferries. It is only available to sightseeing visitors and must be bought from outside of Japan. Note that this Pass cannot be used for the new super express Nozomi.
Domestic air travel in Japan is very convenient. Service is provided by the three principal local airlines, namely Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airways (ANA), and Japan Air System (JAS). With some 69 airports handling domestic and overseas flights, this is a quick and convenient mode of transportation.
For intra-city traveling, try the subway. It is one of the easiest and most convenient methods of traveling and is prompt and efficient. Most stations are equipped with vending machines for tickets and ticket collectors at entrances/exits. Some stations use the automatic ticket-checking machines at the gate. In Tokyo, you can use the JR's Yamanote-sen loop line that circles the center of the city while in Osaka, you can hop on to the Osaka-Kanjo-sen loop line. With the trains and subways, you can get almost anywhere in the city. It is recommended to get the one-day open ticket for unlimited railway and subway rides (available in some cities only).
The intra-city bus routes in all major cities are as extensive as the subways. Unfortunately, with the exception of Kyoto, most cities' bus stops have no signs in English and the routes can be rather complicated. Here is a brief guide on how to reach your destination with few or no complications.
1) The bus ticket would be numbered to indicate the fare zone where the passenger boarded the bus.
2) In front of the bus will be an illustrated sign that shows a changing fare schedule. For example, if your ticket shows the number 3, then you would have to pay the fare as indicated under column 3 on the sign.
3) Upon leaving, just put the fare into the cash box located besides the driver's seat. In some instances, a flat fare is charged.
4) The name of the final stop for each bus is written above the windshield in Japanese. Often enough the sign would include a route number as well.
Another form of transportation for intra-city traveling would be taxis, which are convenient but rather expensive. Just look for a red light in the lower right corner of the windshield of the taxi as you face it, then raise your arm and flag it down. It is advisable to bring along a map with the location of your destination. Japan does have a complex street layout, especially in the big cities. It is not enough just to have the address of the place. Note that taxis are not usually tipped in Japan; the metered fare should be sufficient.