Seeing a country at your own pace is a real luxury when travelling. You can stop at your leisure for those must-have photos, enjoy once in a lifetime moments and simply do exactly what it is you feel like doing. While many people would happily take the idea of road tripping through Europe or Australia in their stride, the same cannot be said for Japan and this is a mistake. You needn’t find a tour operator to hold your hand because travelling in Japan can be easy. Here are a few tips on how to navigate this incredible country with ease.
Travelling through Japan using nothing but rail and subway is a challenge for some but easier than you might at first think. All 13 of the subway lines are colour and letter coded to match your tickets, while each of the 285 subway stations display English signage to give the common tourist a helping hand. Every day eight million people use the subway system, so to avoid being packed into a carriage like Jenga blocks, avoid rush hour between the hours of 7:30am- 9am & 5pm-7pm. Upon arrival, purchase and load up either a Pasmo or Suica rechargeable travel card to allow for seamless transitions within stations. These will allow you to swipe on and off buses, subways and trains at your leisure.
Tip: Prepare for your travels by downloading an English app with maps, journey times, tips and information on how to navigate the world’s 5th busiest subway system in the most efficient way possible.
The Bullet Train
This high speed railway network covers 2,764.6 km of rail lines stretching the entirety of the country, so it’s sure to get you to where you need to go, and fast. If you’re visiting for seven days or more, it’s worth investing in a JR Pass which will give you unlimited Shinkansen travel. It’s a cost effective way to see the country and will save you time and effort. All of Japan’s major cities can be reached on the bullet train and connect with further local rail lines allowing you to access those far-flung temples and hikes.
Driving in Japan is simple, as long as you take your time to do your homework and plan in advance. Drivers are courteous and polite, the sat nav has a handle on proceedings and pedestrians don’t jay walk.
Popular car hire companies include Toyota Rentacar and Nippon Rentacar who both have English reservation systems, offering everything from small cars to RVs. If you want to explore rural Japan, a car is the best way to get to those out of reach places. If, however, you are here to experience neon lights, Michelin-starred restaurants and award winning hotels in Tokyo, a car is unnecessary and public transport should more than suffice. Take your car into the city and you are only adding to the congestion and you run the risk of wasting valuable time sat in a traffic jam.
If like me, you live in the UK you’re in luck. As one of the handful of countries around the world to drive on the left hand side of the road, you’ll have no problems navigating the road system with wide and easily understood 4-lane freeways and national expressways armed with fairly expensive tolls. Similar to many countries around the world, the speed limit is usually 100 km/h.
Tip: Install an ETC (electronic toll collection) system in your car for the trip to save you frantically pulling out the contents of your bag at a later date as you scrabble around for spare money.
If you’re in the city, why not ditch the subway and experience these bustling streets on two feet? Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Wandering aimlessly to explore those hidden, narrow streets and to find winding footpaths that lead into local neighbourhoods is the perfect way to discover the real Japan.