I just came back from a business trip to Japan. I have been to Japan many times over the past 27 years. I personally love Japan being a rail enthusiast. Trains go everywhere. They are also pretty much a requirement as a foreign tourist to get around most of the major cities in Japan. I do plan on adding a Tourist By Transit section on the most complex city in japan, if the world, in using public transit. That would be Tokyo. So this is a just a foreshadowing of what is to come.

The Tokyo-Yokohama area has about 20 million people and spreads over a vast area of what is called the Kanto plain. The trains an an integral part of daily life in the region, and would be for the tourist as well. But it is overwhelming, even for the Japanese.

There are 2 subway systems in Tokyo, many private commuter railways, the JR Line, monorails, automated guideway transit, and trams, and of course the world famous Shinkansen or Bullet trains. There is no single unlimited transit pass you can buy that will get you to ride all the lines available for 1 day or 1 week. Passes are available for various combinations, but not the whole enchilada. But on the item that does work for all the lines, except the Shinkansen, is pay-as-you-go IC-Cards.

IC-cards are basically like the IC-Ship credit cards that many of us now have. You load the cards with money and then tap on/off the trains, or just tap on the trams, and buses. They can also be used to rent lockers at train stations, buy items at stores at train stations, and often times at stores and restaurants around Tokyo. In the Tokyo region there are 2, PASMO or SUICA. They can also be used in many other cities, like Osaka/Kyoto region has a Manaca card, which can be used in Tokyo, like a PASMO card can be used Osaka. It has made the need to buy a ticket for every journey a thing of the past. The initial purchase of the IC-CARD coast about 500Y, or about $5.00, but for the convenience it is money well spent and can be reused over and over again. I have cards that are 4 years old that are still usable. 

When using the card at the turnstiles it will tell you the amount of money on the card, and when exiting it will tell you the fare paid and the amount remaining. It does all the transfers costs automatically. Not need to figure out a fare when transferring between subway systems, or private railways any more, it is done for you.  So that is one nightmare averted. If you do intend to do a lot of riding getting around town, there are various passes available, but that is for a future post.

Now the other part of the nightmare of getting around. The system is complex. There does not appear to be a perfect map. Inside the Yamanote Ring, the subway map is your best bet. If you plan ahead you can get trip directions using Hyperdia.com. Luckily Tokyo is starting to prepare for the 2020 Olympics. Japan is making a very concerted effort to make it easier for foreigners. English signage is getting better each time I visit. There are more English maps and guides around Tokyo. During this last visit I found that most all the of the private railways as well as the subways have much improved their websites for foreigners. They all have an English section, and most have other languages as well. 

Tokyo is quickly becoming less daunting for the foreigner. It is still can be stressful, but so is visiting London or Prague. 

Be on the watch for more information on Tokyo. But if you have questions in the meantime feel free to contact me.

 

Most Americans love their car, I love my car as well. It is personal freedom, moving inside your bubble. It feels “safe”. But board a bus or a train with a lot of other “strangers”, your personal bubble get very small, and uncomfortable. Thus a personal perception of safety seems diminished. This is despite statistics that driving your own vehicle is much bigger safety risk than riding a train, or even an airplane.

So why do folks from other nations tend to use public transportation more? Most likely it is simple economics and speed. When using a bus or a train often, you don’t need to figure out where to park your car. In big cites parking is expensive. You might only need one car at home instead of the American standard of two, or maybe not a car at all.

I could go into politics about car use is subsidized, but I want to focus in on making public transportation use a considered alternative during your travels. I’m not a therapist, but I am hoping this website can reduce fear of using public transport. So I will lay out what I know I worry about when I visit a new city so you know you are not alone, even by one who loves public transport. 

FEAR # 1: I will get lost

This is a valid fear even while driving. But driving you think you are in control. If you are on the wrong train, you think you do not have control. 

Tip #1: Study maps of the cities you intend to visit. For transit however, you need to go a step further. You need to know how often the bus or train comes. You don’t want to go somewhere, then when you want to return you find out the next train or bus is not for a couple of hours, or even worse, not until tomorrow.

Tip #2: Download an app with transit directions and real time arrivals. I have used this in a few cities and they are rather good, as long as you have a data plan. Google Maps works in many cities, another App I highlight recommend is apply named “Transit” for both IOS and Android.

Tip #3: Carry a map with you, an old fashion paper map. It does not fail due to a dead battery, and does not cost you valuable data on your phone.

Tip #4: If your lost, ask fellow passengers, or the driver (if accessible) for help. Many people want to help tourists. I have been approached many times on station platforms, even in cities I am visiting myself, and I am always willing to try to help.

Fear # 2: I don’t know how to pay the fares

This is a big one, even for me. Not all systems are very straight forward. What makes it worse in some metropolitan regions you will have different transit systems which don’t have the same fare structure, or fare media. Luckily, in today’s world with contactless farecards (RFID), or even using your own NFC enable phone or chip embedded credit cards, this is slowly (okay snails pace) becoming a thing of the past. As Tourist by Transit develops I will explain the fare structure as best as possible for the cities featured. But here are some tips

Tip #1: Visit the transit agency’s website for fare information. This is not always that easy, and I have found some sites to be downright confusing.

Tip # 2: Purchase day or weekly passes, when available ,if you intend to travel a lot during your visit. Even if you wind up spending a little more, the convenience of just flashing or swiping your pass is worth it.

Tip # 3: If the system uses a contactless farecard that is refillable, even if there is charge to buy the card (usually between $2-$5), it is much easier then buying tickets all the time. Some of them you can refill via the internet for added convenience.

Fear # 3: Fear of being crowded, or I have luggage

This fear is real, and understandable. Luggage is also a pain to drag on a bus or pull through a turnstile. Also many older systems may not have elevators, or escalators, or step-free entry into their vehicles. Although I do bring luggage nearly all the time I am visiting a city onto transit, there are times I will do something different.

Tip #1: Avoid rush hours. I don’t like driving during rush hours, riding trains is definitely faster during the rush, but they are often much more crowded, with some cities needing pushers to pack them in, like Tokyo. In Tokyo I do bring my luggage on trains, but try hard to avoid the rush hour peaks.

Tip #2: Luggage needs to roll nicely or be on your back. The “spinner” type luggage I find works the best when using turnstiles since you can roll them sideways. But if they are too tall, slide them on their side.

Tip #3: Use a Taxi or Uber: I will succumb to using these when the luggage is just too heavy. to many pieces, or using transit involves too many stairs. Ia me more likely to do this if I have a one or more other folks with me. But this is a last resort for me. I have been known to take the train as close to my destination, then use a taxi for last mile or two to reduce costs. But do remember in big cities taxis can get caught in traffic.

Fear # 3: Crime

This can be real fear. Although crime part of anywhere you go, you should not let it rule your life. You have to get out of your car sometime, And there are car-jackings. My tips are for being in any city

Tip #1: Do not wear any loose or flashy jewelry

Tip #2: Ladies keep your purses crossed over your chest, or at least close to your body under your arm. Clutch purses are not recommended.

Tip #3: Men, do NOT keep your wallet in your back pants pocket. I grew up in NYC, so I was trained at an early age to put my wallet in my front pockets. 

Tip # 4: Phones, I am guilty of keep my phone in my back pocket, as do most people. But this it easily pick pocketed that way. A front pocket, or a shirt pocket might be better.

Tip #5: Be aware of your surroundings. Look up at skyscrapers is a sight, or staring intently on your cell phone is a way to past the time, but do it too long and you may become a target, or walk into wall, or miss your stop…

So what are your fears of using public transport? Maybe I can do a follow up post on this later on!