You can't avoid railway travel in Japan, but in the city the transfers can be so complicated that even Japanese people get lost. Here are some tips and apps you can download to make your travel smooth and uncomplicated.
1. Before You Arrive in Japan
First, download apps that you can use within Japan and learn how they work. If you confirm where you're going and how to get there before you leave, then once you get to Japan it will be slightly less confusing.
Download a navigation application and learn how to use it
There are many applications in different languages, but our recommendation is NAVITIME for Japan Travel. This app was developed by Navitime Japan, a company that makes railway apps for Japanese people. NAVITIME for Japan Travel is aimed towards foreign travelers, and is offered in English, Chinese (both traditional and simplified), and Korean. You can find the best way to get from your current location to the place you want. If you upgrade (a 7-day ticket is $7.99, 30 day ticket $16.99, 1 year is $59.99), you can get door-to-door routes, alternate routes, and voice navigation. If you download it, we recommend learning how to use it before you need it.
Look up your desired destination and the nearest train station
If you look up your destination on your app and learn about the area and the train station you need to go to, you'll lower your chances of getting lost when you arrive. It would be especially good to look up the train lines at the station you need to go to, the train lines you'll be using, and the layout of the station.
2. After You Arrive
Look up your desired destination on your downloaded app and head over there. At the station where you'll be boarding the train, make sure to double-check the station you'll be alighting at on the information map.
Choose the routes with the fewest transfers using your app
Now that you know how to use your map, look up the route from your current location to your closest station, the route between the closest station and your desired station, the nearest exit from your desired station to your destination, and the route from that exit to your destination. You might get many complicated routes, so in order to lessen your chances of getting lost, choose the routes with the fewest number of transfers even if it takes longer. Once you choose your route, aim for your destination by following your app's instructions.
Confirm your train line at your entraining point
After you arrive at the station where you'll be boarding the train, make sure to double check the train lines you'll be using. In Japan, many stations have train lines that are owned by different companies, and depending on the specific lines the ticket gates may differ. Because of this, confirm which ticket gates you need to pass through to get to your train line before passing through. However, if you go through the wrong ones, don't worry and consult the nearest station employee. They will help you get to your proper ticket gate.
Consult the station map at your alighting station
In Japan, there are many station maps showing the station layout, the neighborhood around the station, and where the station exits lead. At your alighting station, confirm the route you got from your app with the map in the station, note the position of the exit, and then head for your destination. At terminal stations and stations in famous sightseeing areas, there are touch panels that have the information in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. Also, all JR East Japan stations have English, Korean, and Chinese (simplified and traditional) maps available.
*The photo does not reflect all station maps.
3. If You Get Lost Anyway
No matter how much you prepare, there will be times when your battery dies, your connection is bad, your app doesn't work, or even if you can get the information from your map you may not understand it no matter how hard you try. In those times, ask someone. They will most likely be able to help you.
Ask a station employee
In big stations with complicated train routes or subway stations that have lots of crisscrossing pathways, it may be faster and more accurate to consult a station employee about where to go rather than trying to look it up yourself. Please ask the employee that is by the ticket gates. They will definitely tell you which train to ride, which train lines to use, what station to alight at, and which exit you should use. Also, in big stations, there is usually an information desk staffed by people who can speak multiple languages. It will be in a fairly obvious place, so please look for it.
Ask a nearby Japanese person
If you can't find a station employee, please ask a nearby Japanese person about how to get to where you want to go. They will most likely help you. Many Japanese people are monolingual, so carry around a map or a pamphlet so you can visually show them where you'd like to go. If you ask them while pointing it out, it will help your conversation go more smoothly.
One of the basic ways to not get lost is to look up your destination and your needed stations beforehand. However, you still might get lost. In that case, please ask someone nearby for help rather than relying on faulty or confusing information.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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