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Trains in Tokyo (Redux) January 25, 2011

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 “Trains in Tokyo (Redux)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-zA

Recently, I have been participating in a travel forum giving advice to various travellers who want to visit Japan. This is the Virtual Tourist forums. There are lots of people who need help with information on various locations around Japan and I do my best to provide them with as much information as needed. I don’t have all of the information, but being a resident, I have a different viewpoint compared to those who have just visited Japan. While I may have some knowledge in some things, I’m surprised by how much information travellers have, and can remember after a trip. In the last few months, I have seen people ask about transportation in Japan, and sometimes specifically about Tokyo. I have written that the Yamanote Line is one of the easiest ways to get around Tokyo, and I suggested methods to get information on how to get around Tokyo by subway. There was a major reason as to why I wrote about the subway system itself rather than the Yamanote Line. Many tourists seem to pride themselves that they can easily get around Tokyo using just the Yamanote Line, and that the JR lines are better than the subway lines. This, I think is not true and actually, the opposite is true.

The debate on which is better, Subway or JR, is something that people sometimes talk about, and people tend to have a unified voice. Of the various co-workers and students that I have talked to, the consensus is that the JR lines are worse than the subway lines. I’m not too sure why this is true, but this is just how it is. At the time of writing my post about Tokyo’s Subways, I hadn’t ridden the JR lines too often, so I didn’t have any real experience with them. Now that I have moved and lived in my current apartment for nearly a year, I can easily say which is better, and I completely agree that the subway system is much better. When we look at the morning trains, it doesn’t matter which train you take, it will be full. There really isn’t much of a difference on which company is better. However, during the day, and at night, this difference is very apparent.

The first thing you will notice is that the people are generally more courteous on the subway. When you are getting on and off the subway, it’s more common for people to get out of the way, or get off the train. People don’t tend to crowd the platforms, or crowd the doors when they get on or off. Of course, this is not always true, but this is generally true. When the trains are really full, people don’t push to get off. More often than not, they just wait till the person in front moves and then they get off. I can’t tell you how many times my heel was stepped on while exiting a JR train that wasn’t full, while in a full subway, it’s less common to get stepped on. In a worst case scenario, people push, and this has happened a lot to me. I feel that people just don’t have any patience when exiting a JR train. In the daytime, the trains are not as busy so people don’t try to push you out of the way to get out, but the subways also get better in the day as well.  It’s hard to truly explain the differences in words but if you ever get the chance to try it you will notice the difference.

The crowding inside the trains is the other problem. In any train, people tend to “hang out” around the doors. On the subway, this is true, but if there are a lot of people, they tend to move into the train rather than insist that they stand at the door. It seems that people who take the JR trains need to be near the door or they won’t get out first. They NEED to get out first or else the whole world will end. At least that’s my impression. My only plausible explanation is that they need to get out and run as fast as possible to make a train connection, but at the same time, if the train is late, they won’t make it anyways.  Sometimes, there can be a lot of space around the benches and the door area will be packed, yet no one in the door area will move as they feel they won’t get out. It’s unbelievable that people would do that, but that’s life on the JR lines.

The best part of riding the JR lines is the fact that it can get you to almost any location in Tokyo. There are only a few locations that can’t be accessed by the Yamanote and Chuo lines. I do recommend the JR lines when travelling in Tokyo for their ease of use. It’s a great tool, but I still prefer the subway. It’s more complicated, and you can’t use your phone as often, but at least it isn’t as busy and you will keep your sanity longer than on the JR lines.


Shinkansen – South Routes February 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – South Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kH

Travelling by train in Japan is one of the easiest, yet most complex things to do.  It is a must for anyone who visits Japan. Going to Tokyo, or even Osaka, you are generally better off using the trains.  Travelling by car can take a lot more time.  While the most used trains are in Tokyo, the most famous train line is the Shinkansen.  This is Japan’s high speed rail line, which happens to also be the first high speed rail line in the world.  It was opened before the Tokyo Olympics, and has been expanding ever since.  The most famous image of the Shinkansen has to be that of the 0 series.  These were the original trains that have only recently been retired.  As of December 2008, these trains were taken out of service.  All of the other trains have remained, but each year, several of the older trains have been retired.

The first Shinkansen line was the Tokaido line.  This is the most famous line as it helps tourists head from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, and for business travellers as it connects Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka.  While all of the trains are called “Super Express”, this moniker can be confusing.  The Shinkansen is a super express, relative to regular train services.  When taking the Shinkansen, it’s very important to know which train you are taking.  A Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama are all very different.  When using the JR Pass, the Nozomi is off limits.  If you do take this train, you might end up paying for the full fare regardless.  This is due to the sheer numbers of people using these trains.  Thankfully, the Hikari is still pretty quick with only a few extra stops, compared to the Nozomi.  The only downside is that travelling to Hiroshima and Hakata, in Fukuoka, is a little difficult.

The second Shinkansen line is the Sanyo line.  This is essentially an extension of the Tokaido line.  This allowed the line to connect Fukuoka, in Kyushu, to Tokyo.  Unfortunately, the trains can take around 8 hours to connect both cities making it impractical for most travellers.  Flying is still the best, but Hiroshima can be better than flying, due to airport locations.  When travelling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, there are several trains you could use.  The oldest currently being used is the 100 series.  This is styled like the 0 series.  These trains only travel along the Sanyo portion for Kodama (local) services.  It stops at every station, so the chance of riding this is pretty low for the average traveller.  The 300 series is the next oldest of the trains.  This series was fairly popular, but as I am writing this, they are slowly being phased out.  Currently, they are used for Kodama and Hikari services, with an occasional Nozomi.  This was the first Shinkansen that utilized a wedge style nose, rather than a “bullet” style nose.

In Japan, one of the most famous Shinkansen has to be the 500 series.  It is the most unique Shinkansen for its styling.  These trains have a sharp pointed nose, grey and purple colouring, and resemble a fighter jet, rather than an airplane or train.  Prior Shinkansen were made to resemble airliners.  The 500, while striking, was not very popular with customers.  It was very fast, but it was like a Ferrari.  It was relatively small inside, due to the tube like shape of the body.  The windows were smaller, it was darker inside, and a little noisy as each car had its own engine.  Few of these trains were made, but it’s still a popular train for train spotters.  The recent designs along these lines are the 700 series.  The 700 was the first duckbill styled Shinkansen.  The N700 is an evolution of the 700 series with more emphasis on comfort.  The N700 is also the first Shinkansen to be all non-smoking.  They do have smoking rooms.  In the older trains, there are smoking cars.  Entry into these cars is only for smokers.  Anyone else would be forced to leave, not by the train staff, but by the amount of smoke inside the car.  You can literally see a thick haze of smoke, and you can smell it in the adjacent car.  The N700 is quickly entering service and will be the main workhorse of these lines.  While the windows are a bit smaller than the 700, there is wifi access, for a fee, and two prong outlets in each row.  They are definitely thinking about their businessmen.

Connecting to the Sanyo Shinkansen is the Kyushu Shinkansen.  Currently, this Shinkansen line is under construction, with the southern portion complete.  This will link Hakata with Kagoshima, a city in the south of Kyushu.  At this moment, the line is running from Kagoshima to a point roughly half way to Hakata, the end of the line.  By the spring of 2011, this line is expected to be completed with through service to Osaka starting.  This line uses the 800 series of trains, which abandoned the duckbill style of the 700 series.  These trains have a more European styling, and the interior is said to be nicer than other Shinkansen trains.  When the line is completed, N700 trains will be used as well.  This will make it very easy to reach Kagoshima for most travellers.

This is the first part of two in the Shinkansen Series.  Please continue on to read more about the Shinkansen – North Routes.


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 Central (Note:  Lots of information on operations and reliability):  http://english.jr-central.co.jp/about/index.html
JR West (Note: This page is not very interesting):  http://www.westjr.co.jp/english/travel/
JR Kyushu (Note:  Great pictures of their trains):  http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/tsubame_top.html


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