Getting Around Japan: From Shinkansen to Ferries

Traveling around Japan is exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or unsafe. Our local insider, Nick, breaks down the transport options to help you get to your next adventure.


Packed Train in Tokyo Photo © iStock/ViewApart

Urban Transport Within Cities


In Japanese cities, the rail and metro systems are often the easiest ways to travel. You can usually buy multiple-day passes, making it even more convenient. Rail staff operate at all ticket gates and are generally very helpful to foreign tourists.


Several major cities such as Hiroshima, Kumamoto and Nagasaki have tram systems, which are a great way to get around. These cities often offer 1-3 day passes which allow you unlimited travel on the tram system. 


Buses are available in major cities, but they aren’t very easy to use for non-Japanese speakers. Typically, trains, metro and trams are more convenient and clearly signposted.


These are everywhere in Japan, and their distinctive look makes them easy to pick outside train stations and on the streets. However, they are by far the most expensive mode of transport in Japan, so think twice before ordering a taxi from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station to Narita airport for example, a journey which will set you back an eye-watering USD$240.

Cross-Country Options


One of the best ways to travel if you want to get to your destination with minimum hassle is Japan’s Shinkansen, or bullet train. Hurtling through mountains and around coastlines at up to 320kph (200mph), the shinkansen brings even the furthest parts of japan within an easy few hours’ journey. 

A convenient way to travel cross-country in Japan is use the Japan Rail Pass, which is available to those on tourist visas and gives you unlimited rail access to all but the fastest Shinkansen for 7-21 days. It can only be bought before arriving in Japan. Be advised though - without the JR pass, Shinkansen tickets are pricey. If speed is your priority and you don’t have a rail pass, domestic flights will almost certainly be cheaper. 

Night buses

These are a very low-cost option, and leave stations of metropolitan areas in the evening, arriving first thing in the morning. Taking a bus through the mountains of Japan can be a great experience – not recommended for light sleepers though!

Express Trains

For those with more time on their hands, by far the most economical way to travel around Japan is with a ticket called the Seishun 18 Kippu. This ticket is unbelievably good value for money compared to other modes of transport, giving you 5 non-consecutive days of unlimited rail travel excluding Shinkansen trains. It is only available at certain times of year though, so make sure to check the website to help plan your trip


Japan consists of thousands of islands, and you can catch ferries from many of the larger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Many ferries even have uniquely Japanese features such as public bath houses. Overnight ferries involve sleeping in a room full of Japanese families, which is a great way to see a slice of Japanese life, but bring ear plugs in case you end up next to granddad.

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