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Subways of Tokyo March 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Subways of Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kX

Riding a train in Tokyo can be a very challenging thing.  The first thing to do is understand the basics on how it works.  To do this, you need to look at a map.  Follow this link and you will get an idea on the basics of getting around in Tokyo:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/service/pdf/routemap_en.pdf . From this map, you need to understand a few things.  First, look for the black and white line that generally runs in an oval shape in the middle of the map.  It can be difficult to notice as it’s not meant to stand out.  This is the Yamanote line.  It’s a general boundary between central Tokyo and residential Tokyo.  From here, you will have to look at the legend at the bottom right.  The four lines on the left, “A-I-S-E” are for the Toei Lines, and the ones on the right are for the Tokyo Metro Lines.  This is very important.  Both Toei and Tokyo Metro operate subways within Tokyo, but they are not the same company.  Going from one company to another requires a transfer, although you will receive a discount for the second leg of your journey.  This can make a simple cheap trip into an expensive one.  I highly recommend getting a “Welcome to Tokyo” Handy Map from Yes! Tokyo.  These are large, scale, maps that show you relative distances between different subway stations.  This can help you save money by walking up to 300 metres to the next station, rather than transferring.

Typically, going from A to B is fairly simple.  You can easily use only one company and reach your destination.  The only problem is that it requires a little planning.  The private railway companies, excluding Japan Railways, created their own travel website that will help you get from A to B using any of the lines in Tokyo.  Of course, they are biased towards their own lines, but you can easily choose price, speed, or transfers as how to sort the options.  The link is provided below.  Depending on your hotel, if you have internet, it’s a good idea to use that website to plan how to get to various places in Tokyo and how to get back.  While it isn’t necessary, it can help you solve many problems.  There are a few places in major touristy stations where you can find terminals with the same program in place.  If you are completely lost, go up to any ticket gate, point on the map, and ask the station staff.  Locals can help too, but they tend to be very shy and freeze up when spoken to in English.

The next step is to actually buy a ticket.  For this, you need to know how to use the machine itself.  In most major stations, they have touch screen panels and button panels.  The touch screen panels are the easiest as you can select “English” and work your way through it.  The basics are, find the fare, select the amount, and put your money in.  Some of the machines, especially the push button ones require you to put your money into the machine first, before you can select the fare.  If you want to buy two or three tickets at a time, there is a button, usually on the left, next to the screen.  The pictures are very simple and easy to figure out.  If you made a mistake, you can either go to another ticket machine, or press the red cancel button.  If you are still completely lost, usually there is a small white tab covering the help button.  Press this button if you need help.  Do be aware that help can come from within the walls!  In the past, I had accidentally pressed the button, and a small panel in the wall next to the machine just opened up.  I nearly jumped back 3 metres.  It was terrifying, but funny at the same time.  You may want to push it just for fun either way!

Once you do have your ticket, you can go straight into the gate.  Be sure to keep it until you exit.  When you exit the system, the gate will just keep your ticket.  If you didn’t purchase enough, don’t worry, there are always machines at every gate where you can add more money to the ticket, or you can head straight to the attendant who will tell you, or rather show you, how much you have to pay to get out.  Do be aware that if you leave too quickly, the paddles, which are around thigh height, will close and you might take a tumble.  This has happened to me many times.  If you are transferring between companies, you might have to physically leave the station and re-enter a few hundred metres away.  This takes a little extra care.  Be sure to look for the “orange” gates.  These will let you exit and enter at the next company’s entrance.  Again, don’t forget your tickets, or you’ll have to buy a new one.

Finally, be aware of joined lines.  Many of the subway lines connect to commuter lines.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up traveling from one end of Tokyo, to the other, and out into the suburbs.  Only a handful of lines actually do this, but when they do, it can be very confusing, in terms of costs.  If you fall asleep on the train itself, you could end up over an hour away from your destination.  Thankfully, to return, without exiting the system, is free.  If you are worried, and want the simplest method of travel, the Yamanote line is probably the best bet.  It may not be the quickest mode of transportation, but it is by far the easiest.  Coupled with the Chuo line, traveling between places can be cheaper than the subway.  Plan wisely and you can save a lot of money.  If you plan poorly, just enjoy the ride and call it an adventure.

Subways of Tokyo was my initial thoughts about the train system in Tokyo.  To read more about trains, continue to Trains in Tokyo – Redux.

Information:

Tokyo Metro:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/
Toei:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/subway_op.html
Tokyo Metro’s Guide to the Subway:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/global/en/service/using.html
Toei’s Guide to buying tickets:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/subway_buy.html
Tokyo Transfer Guide:  http://www.tokyo-subway.net/english/
Tokyo Subway Map:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/images/pdf/rosen_e.pdf

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Shinkansen – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – North Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kJ

Heading north, rather than south, provides a very different experience using the Shinkansen.  Unlike the Tokaido/Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, the lines heading north share a main trunk and branch off at various points.  There are three main lines, and two “mini-shinkansen” that start from Tokyo Station.  The longest line is the Tohoku line.  This line started at the same time as the Joetsu line, but the Tohoku line will become more important in the near future.  The Tohoku line currently runs from Tokyo all the way to Hachinohe.  By the end of 2010, this service will be extended to Aomori, which is the larger than Hachinohe.  Ultimately, the line will be extended further from Aomori to Hakodate, and then Sapporo.  Unfortunately, Hakodate won’t be open until 2015, projected, and Sapporo may not open until 2020.  It will be a long time, but when finished, it will cut the time from roughly 12 hours, to just under 4 hours for the most direct services.  This will severely affect air travel as it currently takes 3 hours for most people to reach Sapporo from Tokyo.

The Tohoku line is also connected to the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen lines.  These services are slightly different compared to regular Shinkansen.  These lines use special trains that are narrower, and run at grade with various level crossings.  They are usually coupled with regular Tohoku trains, but branch out at their respective start points.  For this reason, it’s very important to know which train you are boarding.  It’s very easy to be on the wrong train from Tokyo Station, but the signs are usually clearly marked, and train staffs usually check tickets while the train is between stations.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is far simpler as there is only one line with no connections.  The complex part is that it shares the tracks with the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya.  This is due to costs.  It’s very easy to see trains along the Tokyo portion of the line due to the volume of trains passing.  Recently, it has also become popular for hotels to create “train” suites.  These are rooms with views of the train tracks.  This is popular for “te-chans”, slang for train spotters in Japan.  You could also make it derogatory by saying “densha-otaku”, but that’s a different story.  It has also proved popular for young families with boys who love trains.  What better way to “take a trip” and not spend too much money.  As always, kids love boxes more than the toys that are inside them.  The Joetsu Shinkansen itself was built to service Niigata, but it also serves a small ski resort called Gala-Yuzawa.

A relatively less used, yet equally important Shinkansen line is the Nagano line.  This was built in time for the Nagano Olympics.  Currently, it shares over half of its line with both the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.  There are relatively few trains that travel this section due to the limited service range.  It basically follows the Joetsu route from Tokyo to Takasaki, where it branches off on its own to Nagano.  There is a planned extension from Nagano to Kanazawa by 2015.  By this time, the line should be renamed to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, further extensions to Tsuruga Station has been planned and will be built.  The line will ultimately link up with Osaka someday in the future.  The main purpose of this line is to connect the major cities on the Sea of Japan side of Japan to the main cities of Japan.  Whether it will prove popular or profitable will remain to be seen.

All three main lines utilize the same trains, while the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen use their own specialized trains, for reasons mentioned above.  The trains have a similar styling to the southern route trains.  They used to use similar naming methods as their southern route cousins, but now they use the prefix E before their designation.  Due to this naming convention, you can still ride the 200 series train, which is very similar to the 0 and 100 mentioned in my previous post.  The first “modern” train you can travel on is the E1, a wedge nosed, bi-level, Shinkansen.  In 1997, the E2, E3, and E4 were introduced.  The E2 is similar to a duck billed train, but it isn’t as strongly pronounced.  It’s also one of only two trains that have been exported, the other being the 700 series.  The E2 was exported to China for use on their high speed railway.  The E4 is a bi-level train, like the E1, but with a duck bill nose.  The E3 looks like most European high speed trains, but used only for the Yamagata and Akita lines.  By 2011, there will be a new rain, the E5 entering service.  This is expected to take the system into Sapporo when that line opens.  It will be the fastest train in the entire Shinkansen fleet.

The final impression of this fleet is that it’s great!  Coming from Canada where high speed rail is non-existent, this would go a long way to connecting any country.  Countries such as China have begun their own high speed networks.  President Obama has also pledged to start thinking, and possibly building it soon.  If done right, it can earn money and save a lot of fuel.  Connecting Vancouver to San Diego is a viable option, so is Toronto to Miami.  While we must never forget how we get the electricity to power trains, it’s still probably cleaner overall compared to planes.  Can they replace planes completely?  Conventionally, they cannot replace planes at the moment.  We’ll have to wait for maglev trains before that could happen, but even then we are limited to specific ranges.  If you do travel to Japan, do try to use the Shinkansen.  It’s a fun, if expensive, way to travel.  Be sure to buy a JR Pass if you are only visiting.  It’s worth the cost if you head from Tokyo to Kyoto, even for just a day.

This is the second part of two in the Shinkansen series.  To read more, continue to the Shinkansen – South Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR East:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/shinkansen.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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