Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Japans' rail
system—from its bullet trains to the efficiency of the Tokyo subway
system—is famous for its orderliness, and for its rules. Lots of rules.
But if you learn and follow them, you'll better enjoy one of the world's
best transportation systems—and even have more fun. Trains If you
plan on making any trips outside of Tokyo, buy a Japan Rail Pass ($233 for one
week) in advance.  They are not available in Japan, and with a pass you
have access to most (but not all) of the high-speed trains. The second-class
pass is fine, too—few people travel first class in the country because the
second-class cars are first class by U. S. standards. Plan your trip on
HyperDia, which lists the country's train schedules. You can choose your
routes and print them out before your trip (and note that your JR Pass is not
valid for all routes). Once you arrive, have your JR Pass validated at a
JR office, found at major train stations in Tokyo and at the airport. (Bonus:
Your first ride to Tokyo station from Narita airport, regardless of whether or
not you have a JR Pass, is half-price with your foreign passport. ) Show the
office your schedule and reserve seats, but do not expect the staff to plan
your trip: Your itinerary is best decided in advance by you. Opt for window
seats when you can, and when passing Mount Fuji, make sure your seat has
views. Finally, hold onto your pass: If you lose it, it cannot be replaced.
On the day you travel, stop by the shops or restaurants in the train
stations and buy a picnic, known as an eki-ben. These cost between $8-14, and
offer choices of delicious, fresh crab pressed onto rice, salmon, yakitori
(chicken), tonkatsu (fried pork), and more.  Prefer Western food?
There's an Eataly in Tokyo station, and throughout Japan you can readily
find first-rate French, Italian, and U. S. fare. You are assigned a train
car, a row, and a seat. Line up at your assigned car and wait for your train
to pull in. When it's time to board, move fast: trains fill with passengers
and zoom out of stations within seconds. Once seated, act as if you are in
an Amtrak Quiet Car: No cell phones, minimal conversation kept to a
whisper—and do not talk to your new neighbors. For the ride, relax and
enjoy your eki-ben, but prepare for your stop: once again, the train will pull
into the station and only give you seconds to grab your luggage and get out.
Subways First, buy a Pasmo or Suica card at a subway station: They cost
about the same as a Metro card, but they charge according to the distance
traveled, potentially saving you money (you will need to scan it when you
enter and exit the subway). You can use them at vending machines, and on the
local JR trains, too. Inside the station, do not stop, hesitate, or
linger: There's usually a crowd of fast-moving people, and it's easy to
get overwhelmed. Like with the trains, line up (it's considered rude to
position yourself next to a car's doors rather than stand in line).
There's no eating or drinking in the subway cars. Do not use cell phones or
talk above a whisper, either, and avoid eye contact. Keep your hands to
yourself; hold onto a strap or put your hands where people can see them; if by
accident you touch someone with your hands, it can lead to unfortunate
misunderstandings. In general, keep your feet on the floor, but if you
must cross your legs, keep your soles facing down (it's considered rude
otherwise).   Plot your exit in advance: Each subway station often has
multiple exits, often more than a dozen, and you can delay getting where you
need to go while you search for the right one. Finally, remember that the
subway stops at midnight—after that, your best option is a taxi.  
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