Travelling by train is a great and 99.9% of the time extremely time efficient way to see Japan. They cost a little more than buses, but are super efficient, fast, frequent and extremely comfortable!
In most places all over Japan, even the most remote, station names are written in Kanji, Hiragana and Romaji. It is also helpful, I’ve found, if you know the name of the line you want to travel on.
CHECKING TRAIN SCHEDULES
BOOKING TRAIN TICKETS
You can book JR tickets all the way through to your destination at most JR stations! When you travel by the skinkansen, you have the option of two kinds of seats: Reserved (指定席, shiteiseki) and Non-reserved (自由席, jiyūseki).
There are local trains, express trains, and the Hokuriku shinkansen. There are many round trip deals between the main Toyama stations to other major cities nearby. Ask for help at the green window in Toyama station have a look at the pamphlets displayed outside the green window area.
IN THE STATION
When you travel by express trains or shinkansen, there are signs on the platform to tell you where your carriage is. Inside these trains, stations are announced when nearing them, and food trolleys go up and down the aisle so you won’t get hungry! All in all it’s a very stress-free experience!
At most stations you will have your ticket stamped before you are allowed onto the platform, so you can ask the man who stamps it which platform the train leaves from: “nan ban desu ka?” or if you are able to read kanji, check out the information boards.
Be aware that some trains will split at some point in the journey (occasionally on the shinkansen back from Tokyo), so make sure your carriage is going where you think it is! The conductors will usually point you in the right direction if you ask them. Of course, if you have a reserved seat, you don’t need to worry about this.
One thing to be careful is that the trains are very often affected by the weather, especially WIND and SNOW! You can check the operating condition from any JR station. Or you can call them 05020161600 (in Japanese)
TICKET PASSES AND SPECIAL TICKETS
COMMUTER PASS (“Teikiken”)
If you travel between the same two stations every day for work, you might want to consider getting a commuter pass. In Japanese, it’s called the “Tekikken”. It allows you to have unlimited travel between the two stations for the time period that you purchase. (E.g. monthly or tri-monthly)
MULTI-RIDE TICKETS (“Kaisuken”)
Other than the commuter pass, you can also consider buying multi-ride tickets called the “Kaisuken”. For Kaisuken, you can usually get 11 tickets for the price of ten. You are usually issued 11 individual tickets.
REGIONAL RAIL PASSES
Depending on the region that you’re traveling in, there might different rail passes available. The rail passes can make train travel more economical, so definitely check them out! You can read about the different rail passes here.
The most popular seasonal train pass is the Youth 18 (Seishun Jyuhachi Kippu) train pass. This ticket allows you to travel practically anywhere in Japan very cheaply (2300 yen per day)! You buy them in a sheet of 5 tickets (11,500 yen in total) which can be used on 5 consecutive or non-consecutive days. You can even split them with a friend! However, this is a seasonal ticket that is usually only on sale during vacation periods. You can read more about this ticket here.
HOKURIKU SHINKANSEN (BULLET TRAIN)
Expansion of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line was completed in March 2015. From Toyama station, you can take this line as far east as Kanazawa (in about 23 minutes) or as far west as Tokyo (in about 2 hours). The shinkansen is the fastest land option, and one-way tickets to Tokyo start at around 12,900 yen.