Getting Around Japan 

Japan continues to be one of the most sought-after destinations for travelers all over the world. It is expected that 35.5 million people will visit Japan by the end of 2019 and 40 million in 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Not only do travelers go to Japan for its distinct traditions and cultures, from sumo to vending machines, but they are also enthralled by the kind and thankful nature of the people of Japan. Japanese hospitality and dedication to guests, or the “omotenashi” spirit, keeps inbound visitors captivated and brings them back for more. 

With this being said, there is a preconceived notion that Japan is a difficult country to navigate. And that is why travelers tend to get help with planning from friends or a professional travel expert. Because travelers to Japan usually spend a lot of time putting together a travel plan (over 30 hours on the computer!) and take a long time off from work (most spend 1-3 weeks), they want to have the best time without having major hiccups along the way. 

We recently sent out a survey to people who have traveled to Japan and asked about the challenges they actually experienced there. While many respondents said they did not encounter any issues (surprising but true), here is third most popular answer we received — plus our recommendation as to how to solve it. No worries, we’ll get to #1 and #2 soon!

Subways in Tokyo

Twenty percent of respondents who had issues in Japan said navigating the subway was a challenge. It is understandable because, for instance, Tokyo has the busiest metropolitan subway system in the world with 8.7 million riders passing through per day. It’s a monster in itself, and the subway map is like a wild Jackson Pollack painting in mixed colors. Just staring at it makes you dizzy.

Shinjuku Station is the largest and busiest station in the world with an average of 3.6 million people passing through everyday. This is a Guinness World Record.

Instead of staring at the map, using apps on your smart phone is the way to go. To get from point A to point B, Google Maps is the most useful. It will conveniently pull up necessary information, such as nearby subway stops, time of departure and arrival, and cost. The interface is functional and pleasing, which is a big plus.

To go from one subway line to another smoothly, having an IC card or a smart card will reduce stress and time. It is basically a rechargeable prepaid card that you can use for subways and buses, allowing you to transfer from one ride to another seamlessly without buying tickets each time you change lines. All you need to do is tap the card on a panel at each turnstile.

The cool thing about these cards is you can also use it to buy items at a vending machine or convenient stores. IC cards can be purchased at ticket machines and tickets counters at corresponding railway stations. The initial cost consists of a refundable deposit of 500 yen (about US$4.60) plus an initial amount (typically 1500 yen) to be charged onto the card. If you’re in the Tokyo area, get a Suica or Pasmo card. Icoca is most common in Osaka and Kyoto. 

Although Tokyo is a mega metropolis, keep in mind that the subway does not run 24 hours. The last ride is usually between midnight and 1 AM, and thereafter, you’d have to rely on taxis or ride-sharing.

Taxi vs. Uber

What about taxis and ride-sharing in Japan? Taxis have always been an easy way to get around in Japan. Like other parts of the world, you can simply hail a taxi on the street. Taxis tend to be very comfortable and well-maintained, and the drivers are polite and honest. They even wear white gloves not only to maintain a clean image but also for the safety of customers and pedestrians — white hands are visible when signaling to them. The meters are accurate and work fine, so you don’t need to worry about being ripped off. 

What about taxis and ride-sharing in Japan? Taxis have always been an easy way to get around in Japan. Like other parts of the world, you can simply hail a taxi on the street. Taxis tend to be very comfortable and well-maintained, and the drivers are polite and honest. They even wear white gloves not only to maintain a clean image but also for the safety of customers and pedestrians — white hands are visible when signaling to them. The meters are accurate and work fine, so you don’t need to worry about being ripped off. 

Now you can get a cab through the JapanTaxi app, which is the ultimate taxi app in Japan. Its function is basically the same as Uber or Lyft — call a taxi, find your fare on your phone, and get a ride.

Uber is around in Tokyo and Kyoto but not accessible nationwide. You can use the same app from your home country, which is convenient for many travelers from overseas. It’s good to keep in mind that Uber is more expensive than taxis, and some taxi drivers serve as Uber drivers, too. The big advantage for using Uber is that it doesn’t have late night and early morning surcharges that taxis do. It’s about 20 to 25 percent more than regular fees and start from 10 or 11 PM to 5 AM. So if you miss the last subway in the big city, it’s better to get Uber than a cab.

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