Getting around

Japanese addresses are a little special. Small streets do not have names, since places are identified by area name (eg. Shibuya), area number (eg. 1 chome) and then a specific location number.

That is why I rely on internet access (more on that further down this post) to get around Tokyo, allowing me to get to specific restaurants. It also tells me exactly which train to take and when to change – way easier than trying to figure it out on the map… and welcome to Tokyo:

routemap_en-e1402972800840-1024x709 Skærmbillede 2016-03-06 kl. 4.23.26 PM

Maps are from the official JR and subway websites, click on them for larger version.

This is a good write up about the train system of Tokyo worth reading. 

JR rail pass – when is it a good idea?

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I call it gaijin pass (gaijin meaning foreigners)  as it is made to attract tourists and is only available for people without a Japanese passport. It is a special pass that gets you unlimited rides on any JR operated trains, including shinkansen 新幹線 bullet trains.  

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That also means that you will need to buy the pass before you leave for Japan. The price might be a bit of a shock, but it is heavily discounted compare to what the locals pay. Although those of you living in Copenhagen would be used to the expensive public transport – the 16 kr I pay from home to get to Nørreport can almost transport me from the one end of Hong Kong to the other!

JR pass is great when you plan to visit multiple cities in Japan, and if your travel plans fits nicely with the validity of the passes (eg. 3, 7, 14, 21 days). 

What do I mean by multiple? Can 2 cities be ok? Well it depends how far the 2 cities are apart. I will give two examples:

  • Example 1: you are spending a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, and flying in and out of Tokyo.  A bullet train return ticket to Kyoto will cost 1657kr, while the 7 day JR pass will cost you 1810kr (i.e. 153kr difference). Most likely you will land in Narita airport which is further away from the city than Haneda airport. Gaijin pass lets you get on Narita express (upon pass activation at the JR pass service counter), which a round trip would normally cost 285kr. That means you are already saving money by getting the pass(You would still save money if you take the slow train into the city). Plus Narita express is the fastest way to the city, pretty nice when you just landed after a long flight. After that, you will continue to save money with the pass if you travel around Tokyo with JR operated trains. The most touristy line is a loop called Yamanote line, which has english announcements onboard and goes through some of the major attraction areas. If you would like to venture out areas which are a bit out of the JR line, you could walk from the nearest JR station or pay for a subway ticket. 
  • Example 2: you are spending a week in Tokyo and Shizuoka, where you fly in and out of Tokyo Narita. You do not have enough time to go as far as Kyoto, but still wish to experience onsen hot spring, nice green tea and a bit of countryside. Shizuoka is a great choice as it is only an hour from Tokyo.  A bullet train return ticket to Shizuoka will cost 763kr, even with you add in the cost of Narita express, you will still need to take a LOT of trains within Tokyo for the pass to be worth it.

You can make your own fare calculations via Hyperdia or Jorudan and work out exactly if the pass is worthy for you. Japanspecialisten.dk offers JR pass which is valid across the entire Japan. There are other type of passes eg. JR east pass which covers only east japan, which I have yet to find out where you can purchase in Copenhagen. But I am sure google will return good results should that be your preference.

Tokyo’s equivalent of Rejseplanen 

Hyperdia or Jorudan. Google maps works fine too. If you read a certain level of Japanese, 乗り換え(norikae) is by far the best app. 

Skærmbillede 2016-03-08 kl. 12.25.39 PM Skærmbillede 2016-03-08 kl. 12.26.33 PM

Using your JR pass

You must activate your pass at the JR pass counter (at the airports and the major stations in Tokyo) before you can use it. After that, every entrance is via the staff booth by the ticket gates. You do not go through the gates, as you just need to show the staff your JR pass and walk through. It is a very good idea to take advantage of the seat reservations service (which is free for gaijin pass holders), as you do not want to be standing for hours on a long bullet train ride esp. morning rush hours. 

You are allowed to get on all bullet trains except the ones with a name starting “Nozomi” or “Mizuho”, which are the fastest types is shinkansen service. But do not worry, the ones you can get on is only 5 – 10 mins behind compared to the fastest. Last time I was on one, it was going at 322km/h 😉

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Internet data only sim

Most hotels provides free wifi, the only time I did not have access was at a ryokan (B&B) deep in the countryside of Hokkaido. That means I generally do not need a huge amount of data on the sim. It is mostly for google maps and to communicate with friends I am about to meet with. 

There are lots and lots of different providers and offers, here are two options I have tried and liked.

Basically if I am in the country for a long time (3 weeks to a month), I go with Comst. If I am on a 2 week trip I would go with B-mobile, a trip for less than a week I would be cheap and rely on free public wifi (details below). The sim works in the entire country.

COMST SIM’s T-SIM  

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  • 30 days validity
  • Up to 3GB data (afterwards it just becomes slow), the picture says 2GB but there was an extra GB attached on the package
  • Sim card adapter provided (i.e. I can use it both on my ipad and mobile)
  • Can be purchased at BIC camera stores all around Japan
  • 3980 yen

B-mobile’s Visitor sim

  • 14 days validity
  • Unlimited data, no voice call
  • Must be pre ordered before arriving japan
  • Sim card size must be specified at time of purchase
  • 2380 yen

Wifi router

If you are traveling in a big group and would like wifi on multiple devises, a wifi router might work better so you can share the cost amongst your friends. It can connect to 3 – 6 devices at a time, although speed wise it gets worse the more devices connected. Some professional airbnb hosts (by professional, i mean people who have multiple properties for rent with largely similar interior designs) even provides a wifi router for guests free of charge, as long as you do not lose it that it.  

Public wifi

There are a few options although my experience is that the signals are mostly patchy.

  • Japan connected free wifi app (all over Japan)
  • “Freespot” (Tokyo)
  • JR East Free wifi (major JR stations in Tokyo)
  • “Metro_Free_Wi-Fi” or “Toei_Subway_Free_Wi-Fi” (major subway stations in Tokyo)
  • NTT East Free Wifi Japan (eastern Japan, register at tourist info centers)

Next post: viewing sakura like the locals

Wifi, internet access and getting around in Japan

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