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Train Stations in Japan: How to Use Them!

Devon Lord-MoncriefDevon Lord-Moncrief
Published Time
Posted on 
March 12, 2024
Modified Time
Updated last 
March 15, 2024
A woman on a train coming out of the train station.

Traveling to Japan can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. With so many restaurants to dine at, museums to visit, and historical locations, a trip to Japan can take a visitor across the country. However, one of the most important things to remember when visiting Japan is to appropriately using its train stations!

When did train stations debut in Japan?

Japan’s first venture into locomotive transportation began with the US in 1854. Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy came to Japan and demanded that the country open itself up to foreign trade. As forceful as this development was, Perry gifted Japan with a quarter-size steam locomotive.

A hazy train station in Japan.
Japan opened its first station in 1872. Image via Shutterstock

Later, after much effort, development, and foreign influence. Japan first began to use trains on October 14th, 1872. The first train ran from Shinbashi, Tokyo, to Yokohama, with Emperor Meiji riding as one of Japan’s first railway passengers. Today, Japan’s trains are easier to use if you remember these five essential tips!

Buy a ticket ahead of time.

As obvious as it may sound, buy a ticket in advance. Japan’s train stations, especially those in Tokyo, can be highly intimidating to those who are not experienced with them. Buying your ticket in advance ensures you know where you are heading, how to get there, and which train you will need to ride. This can be done in person at a station or by purchasing pre-paid travel cards. 

People at a ticket machine.
You can buy tickets and refill IC cards at a ticket machine. Image via Shutterstock

Those traveling frequently during their visit can sign up for a JapanRail ticket at Narita Airport. Many ticket prices are available by checking their respective maps. In Japan, self-service cards such as Suica and Passmo are trendy, and while they are temporarily suspended at the moment, they can still be used via smartphone.

Follow the signs to your train line and platform.

Buying a train ticket and boarding your train seems straightforward. However, many train stations are massive underground centers. It’s easy to get lost, especially during busy work hours. So, check the color of the line you’re traveling on. Follow the corresponding lines to your platform.

Train signs in Shibuya leading to platforms.
There are signs in both English and Japanese that will lead you to the right platform. Image via Shutterstock

For example, the Yamanote Line in Tokyo is light green. Look for signs with that color by the ceiling. Also, look for colored lines on the floor to guide you to your appropriate platform. Japan’s trains arrive at the exact minute they are scheduled for. So, arriving at a platform late can be very upsetting.

Stand in the appropriate place and board safely.

People waiting on a platform at a train station.
Be sure to wait patiently for your train. Image via Shutterstock

It’s important not to block entry and exit paths and to ensure you are not cutting in line when boarding or exiting a train. Many platforms have identifiable lines to stand in while you wait. It can become very hectic when passengers board and exit trains, so keep your bearings.  

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Mind your manners on board.

This is incredibly important no matter where you are in Japan. It’s rude to talk loudly, listen to music loudly, or take up unnecessary space on a train. Sit quietly, use headphones if listening to music or watching videos, keep your bags tucked in and out of the way, and offer your seat to those who might need it more.

A slightly packed train car.
Be sure to mind your manners while riding the train. Image via Shutterstock

When boarding a train, always be aware of who is around you. It can be challenging to maintain a line when crowds of people start crashing against each other but never resort to pushing and forcing your way through. This is equally important when getting off a train, too. The gap between the train and the platform can be dangerous if you enter it or drop a belonging. Always be patient and courteous when boarding or leaving a train, no matter how crowded it can become.

Exit the gates correctly.

Ticket gates at Shinjuku Station.
Always check out at the proper ticket gates. Image via Shutterstock

Leaving a train in Japan can become hectic and stressful as crowds pass you by and line up behind you. When leaving a train, ensure you have arrived at the proper station, have your travel card handy, and scan it properly as you pass through the turnstiles. If using a train ticket, move quickly through the turnstile, as the machine will return your ticket.

Why should I learn how to use train stations in Japan?

Trains are Japan’s most preferred method of travel, whether on small local lines, more extensive city-spanning lines, or even the super-fast bullet trains. Mastering the train systems is imperative no matter where or what time of day you are traveling.

While they are not parts of the physical trains themselves, the many eateries, cafes, shops, and stores in Japanese train stations can be very useful for those in a rush. Finding a quick snack for a short ride or the perfect ekiben for a long shinkansen trip can be a lifesaver.

A train coming out of a train station in Nikko.
Have you ever used a train station in Japan before? Image via Shutterstock

For those who use train stations as vital waypoints during extended travel, finding souvenirs and gifts can be a fun and memorable experience. Learning the layout of a train station is similar to learning how to navigate malls in the US (and knowing where you need to go in a hurry is also super important.)

What was your experience like riding trains in Japan? Did you only stick with the significant Tokyo lines, or did you use smaller local lines? Did you travel on a shinkansen? Please let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear about your adventures in Japan!

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