The subway? With children? Really?
We know what you’re thinking. You’ve probably seen the photos of Japanese commuters struggling to read their morning manga while pressed up against the sweaty window of a subway carriage, conductors politely but firmly squashing the last sardines into the can with sticks. Fancy hopping on there with kids in tow? No? Are you sure?
We’re kidding, of course. While we do think that getting swept along by the mega-crowds of Tokyo is one of those only-in-Japan things that are worth experiencing, it’s absolutely not worth experiencing with children – and you don’t have to.
There are times when the Tokyo transportation system is heaving, but they’re easy to avoid. The morning rush hour is from 7-9am, with stations staying fairly busy until about 10am; in the evenings it’s 5-7pm. The rest of the time, it’s a piece of cake. A piece of air-conditioned cake, in fact.
What about all our luggage?
We’re glad you asked. Among Japan’s many wonderful lifestyle innovations is a little thing called takuhaibin, a luggage forwarding service that’ll whisk your suitcase from hotel to hotel overnight, as if by magic.
All you need to do is drop your luggage with the hotel receptionist, who’ll arrange for it to be sent on to your next destination, where it’ll arrive the following day. You’ll need to carry an overnight bag for the night spent without your main baggage, and it costs a small fee each time, but it’s so much less hassle than lugging great big suitcases on and off transport — especially if you have children who might struggle with their own bags.
Without the stress of luggage, you’ll be free to hop on and off public transport to your heart’s content, enjoying all the amazing things Japan has to offer.
Will we be able to sit together on the train?
On limited express and bullet trains, absolutely. Whenever we buy individual tickets for clients, we always make sure they sit together. On subways it’s more of a free-for-all, but if you avoid the busy times we’ve mentioned above you should be fine.
If you‘re travelling with a Japan Rail Pass, which covers unlimited transport on the bullet train network, you’ll be able to reserve seats for your entire holiday when you pick up your pass at the beginning of the trip. Whoever you speak to at the counter will be able to check availability and find the best possible solution for any days that look busy.
How will we know when to get off?
These days, on all trains in Japan, stops are announed in Japanese and English, and at both ends of the carriage there will be a screen displaying the next stop in both languages. The announcement will also let you know which side of the train to exit.
If you’re the punctual type, you’re in good company: Japan’s bullet trains are famous for their on-the-dot timekeeping, which means you can usually rely on your arrival time to know when to get off. Limited express trains are much the same, and on subways you’ll be able to see which stop you’re at as soon as you arrive.
How do we tell if we’re taking the train in the right direction?
This isn’t as rare as you might think! Train departures will be listed in Japanese and English, but smaller stations may not appear. If you’re heading to a lesser-known station you can always head to the ticket window to double-check, just in case.
If you’re taking the bullet train, your ticket may not specify which platform you need to go to, but it will have the name and number of your train – which will be something like “Hikari 475”. Look for this name and number on the screens just after the bullet train gates and you’ll find the right platform number.