Category Archives: Japan by Rail

How to ride the train

The Tokyo train system can be very intimidating to a newcomer, but it’s not that bad when armed with the right tools. There are two train systems, the above ground lines and the underground lines (subway). I was terrified the first time I saw the train system maps below! But, don’t spend too much time with the maps, the best way to navigate is with a smart phone.
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There are many apps to choose from, but my favorite is called Hyperdia. (**TIP- Just google on your phone and bookmark it rather than buy the app. It’ll save you money and I actually found the app not as efficient.) Then follow a few easy steps.

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STEP 1 Type in the station you are leaving from, where you want to go, and the time you wish to leave.

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STEP 2 A lot of different routes will display. Look them over and select your favorite.

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STEP 3 Each route will tell you how long the trip will take and how much yen it will cost. Also, which station and line to transfer to. For example, when you arrive in Shinjuku station, look for a sign that says “Yamanote line”, and go there to wait for the final leg of your trip.

***TIP- See under the Tachikawa station where it says “special rapid”? This is a faster train that does not make as many stops, so your travel time to Shinjuku will only take about 35 minutes. There is also a “rapid” which is not quite as fast, and then the “local” line, which will make every stop on the line. This will add at least 15 minutes to your trip.

When you enter the station, you will need to know where you are going in order to buy the correct fare. This is where having a Suica card comes in handy becuase the signs are not always in English. (Learn how to buy a Suica card here: 09.57.16

Enter through the turn style and proceed to the platform.2015-06-25 10.11.25

Watch for the signs directing you to the correct track.2015-06-25 10.14.34

Now, its time to wait.2015-06-25 10.09.41 HDR

 Look for the electronic sign above, it switches between Japanese and English and will tell you if you are waiting in the right place. It also indicates if it is a Special rapid, rapid, or local train.2015-06-25 10.10.15 HDR

When you reach your destination, look for the map near the exit and it will tell you landmarks in the area, and also which exit to take to get you where you’re going. Some of the train station’s are massive, so this is really helpful.   2015-06-25 09.56.57

And, that’s about it! The best way to get started is to JUST DO IT! Plan a trip that is nearby, like Tachikawa, and go for it. The more you challenge yourself, the easier it will become. Also, don’t hesitate to ask people for help, you will usually always find someone with enough English to point you in the right direction. And if you miss a train? No worries, another one will be along in a few minutes. Now, get out and see something! Jamie Cowan, July 2015

How to buy a Suica card

Train travel in Japan can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, the sky’s the limit! Yes, you can purchase an individual fare ticket, but life is so much easier with the Suica card. It is a re-loadable card that allows you to simply scan the card at the station, and it will deduct the money as you exit at your destination, just like a debit card. Here’s how you do it in a few easy steps!

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STEP 1 Find a ticket machine at the station with the Suica banner above. (Not all machines sell new Suica cards.)

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STEP 2 In the top right corner of the machine, there will be an “English” button, first select that, then choose the blue button titled “purchase new Suica”.

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STEP 3 Select the middle button titled Suica. (NOT the one called My Suica).

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STEP 4 Select how much money you would like to load onto the card. (Keep in mind, the purchase of the Suica card is Y500, so that will not count towards your balance.)

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STEP 5 Insert your money (cash only) into the proper slot at the bottom of the machine.

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And your card will dispense from the slot below. It’s that easy! (Remember, losing your card is just like losing cash, you will not be refunded any balance.)

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You are good to go! Approach the turn style with the green “in” arrow.

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Place your card directly over the blue window and the gate will open. And that’s it!

***Don’t forget- this card is re-loadable. To check your balance, simply insert your card into any machine, and it will display your balance. Then, add more yen if needed.

A children’s Suica card is also available for purchase, but you must go to the window with the child’s passport and purchase directly with an agent, since children travel at half fare. Not every station sells children’s cards , but depending on which side of base you live on, Akishima (at Moritown mall),  and Haijima,  are the closest options.2015-06-25 10.14.08

***Children under 6 years of age do not need train fare. Simply swipe your own card and walk through the turn style together. There is usually a wider lane with no turn style doors for strollers or wheel chair use. (The rules regarding children’s fares can be a bit confusing, but 6 years of age is when the child is considered school age, therefore needing train fare.The Japanese school system begins in April, so if your child turns 6 prior to April, 1st of the current year, you must buy a card. If your child turns 6 after April of the current year, you are good until the next April. Hope that makes sense!) Jamie Cowan, June 2015.

Japan by Rail

The Yujo Community Center is a great place to start your adventure on the rails. It has English versions of the train and subway maps that are invaluable. The Airman and Family Readiness Center also offers a one-day train-riding class  – more of a field trip, really – for those who want expert coaching.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, you’ll find these two websites invaluable:

Both have free online route planners to plot your optimal itinerary.

Also, this train system map, showing JR East trains, is helpful.
Yokotans usually catch the train at Fussa Station, on the Ome Line of Japan Railway (JR East). There is a closer station at Higashi Fussa on the Hachiko Line but it is not the quickest way to Tokyo. Many of us park at the Fussa Gate and walk to the station. It takes about 15 minutes. Parking is limited near the station. The closest is the garage at the Seiyu, which charges ¥150 per half hour. (Store purchases of ¥3000 or more gets you a maximum of four hours free parking). Some of the other lots are run by Times Parking which charges up to ¥1000 per 24 hours. (East Side residents sometimes prefer parking at Moritown Shopping Center to catch the train at Akishima, a few stations closer to Tokyo on the Ome Line.) Underground bicycle parking is available for ¥100 per day via the ramp outside the grocery entrance of Seiyu.
DIRECTIONS TO FUSSA STATION: Walk out the Fussa Gate, cross Rt. 16 and continue straight. Cross the tracks and continue walking. Veer right through a “Y” intersection. Go through one traffic light and continue walking until you come to the second traffic light. The cross street at this intersection is called Yanagi Dori. Turn right. Up ahead on the left you will see Seiyu department store. The train station is also on the left, just before Seiyu. To reach it, turn left at the first street intersecting Yanagi Dori, and follow it as it curves around to the right.

Getting Your Ticket
You can still get an old-fashioned ticket, but for a slicker travel experience, you’ll want a Suica. These are rechargeable plastic cards you wave over a sensor at the turnstiles, coming and going. You can use it on trains, subways and some buses in Tokyo. You can buy one from the ticket machines at Fussa station. Press the button for “English” and follow the instructions. The cost, as of late 2010, is ¥2000 for a card that comes with ¥1500 credit already on it. You can recharge the card at the tickets machines, on both sides of the turnstiles, but you have to use cash. For full details: – category02.
But let’s say you need to buy an old-fashioned ticket. When you get to the station, go up the stairs and you will see the ticket booth and ticket machines, just past where the attendant sits. Look at the charts to the left of the machines to figure out the fare to where you are going. The map will show the Ome Line leading into Tachikawa, the seventh stop from Fussa. It becomes the Chuo Mainline after Tachikawa and continues into Tokyo. Once you have found your fare, go to the ticket machine and put your money in the coin slot or the bill feed. The buttons will light up, indicating the tickets you can purchase for that amount. Push the button for the fare that you want. A ticket will come out of the machine along with change. Now go to the turnstile to enter the station. Insert your ticket and it will come out the slot at the other end. Keep your ticket because you need it to exit at your destination.

Riding the Train
Walk down the stairs to the train platform. You will find that one side of the platform has trains that go toward Ome or Okutama, into the mountains away from Tokyo. The other side is for trains to Haijima, Tachikawa and Tokyo. A train schedule is posted on the platform and the electronic sign will tell you when the next train arrives. Some trains terminate at Tachikawa. Others continue on to Tokyo, but you probably want to change at Tachikawa to a faster train.
Two types of trains leave Tachikawa station toward Tokyo. One is Rapid (Kaisoku), which stops at almost every station and takes about 50 minutes to reach Shinjuku. The other is the Special Rapid (Tokubetsu Kaisoku), which makes about four stops before Shinjuku. It takes about 35 minutes to reach Shinjuku. On the schedule, the Special Rapid train times are highlighted. Some things to keep in mind: smoking is not permitted on the trains, and it is impolite to eat or drink. Don’t play music without headphones, talk loudly, or disturb the people who are reading, sleeping or meditating. Posted signs request you put cell phones on silent mode and refrain from talking on them.

Getting Back to Fussa Station

Returning from Tokyo isn’t too challenging. It takes about an hour and a half. If you are anywhere near Tokyo Station, consider going there to catch the train. It is the beginning of the line and you can usually get a seat. Go to tracks 1 and 2 to catch any train to Tachikawa, Toyoda, Takao or Ome. Unless you happen to get the Tokubetsu Kaisoku Special Rapid for Ome (about one per hour 10am-5pm), you will need to transfer at Tachikawa. When you arrive at Tachikawa, go to Tracks 2 or 3 and catch a train for Ome, Okutama, or Kabe, all of which stop at Fussa. (Ome trains sometimes arrive and depart from Track 7; when changing trains, look up at the platform guides showing the trains coming in for the next train to Ome.) Remember the last train from Tachikawa to Fussa leaves about 12:40am. You will need to leave Tokyo in time to catch it or be prepared for a long walk, large taxi bill or long wait. The next train for Fussa leaves after 4am!

Higashi-Fussa Station
The Hachiko Line is accessible from the Higashi-Fussa Station and train schedules are available from the Yujo Community Center. You can use this train to get to Hachioji, Kawagoe, Yokohama or Yokosuka. It also connects with the Sagamihara Line to get to the Tama area. DIRECTIONS: Walk out the Fussa Gate and go right. At the first light, turn left. At the first street, Waratsuke Kaido (before the tracks) turn right. The station is half a block ahead on the left. This station is small. There’s no actual turnstile, but there’s a Suica reader you need to flash at the stairs down to the platform. Pay attention: There are separate machines for exiting and entering. Or, if you need to buy a ticket and the ticket machine is often turned off, just get on the train and buy your ticket either from the conductor, or from the fare adjustment window. They will figure your fare for you. When you return home, the conductor usually collects tickets as you leave the platform.

Some Helpful Kanji – Hiragana
____________立川______たちかわ____________(aka “shake and fries”)

One-Day Tickets & Prepaid Cards
If you are going to be traveling all day in Tokyo, you might want to buy a pass for unlimited riding. You can get the pass at Fussa Station and it costs ¥1600 for adults and ¥800 for children. Ask for the Tokunai Free Pass. There are also One Day Free tickets for the subways that cost ¥700 for adults and ¥350 for children. You can get these passes at Shinjuku, other large subway stations, and the New Sanno Travel Desk. You can also check with the Yujo Community Center to get more information about these passes. If you owe some on your last ride, you will be told so by the fare-adjustment machine near the exit.

Seibu-Shinjuku Line

More adventurous souls might try taking the Seibu Shinjuku Line from Seibu Tachikawa or Haijima stations. It costs about half the fare of the Chuo/Ome Line. The station names appear on signs printed in romaji (English) along most of the route. Be warned, however, the trains themselves are usually labeled only in kanji. The train stops at Takadanobaba on the Yamanote Line. When you get off the train, follow the signs for JR Yamanote Line. Go upstairs and walk over, and across, to the next platform. Turn in your ticket at the window at the top of the stairs and tell the clerk your destination on the Yamanote Line to get a transfer ticket. Or you may decide to ride the train to the end of the line at Seibu Shinjuku Station. This station is separated by a short, slightly complicated walk from the west exit of the main JR Shinjuku Station. To get to the JR, use the underground tunnels and follow the signs in English. The Seibu Tachikawa station offers Kyuko rapid service in the morning before 9am, which only takes 45min to Seibu Shinjuku. The regular trip takes about one hour, just a bit faster than the Ome and Chuo Lines. If you get off before Shinjuku at Takadanobaba you can catch the Yamanote easily without transfers at Tachikawa. Takadanobaba also gives access to the Tozai subway.
DIRECTIONS: To get to the Seibu Tachikawa Station, go out the East Gate and turn right. At the first light, turn left. The next light you come to will be a five-way intersection. Take a hard right and continue down this street until you cross the train tracks. Turn right just past the tracks and follow the little lane into the train station parking lot. Warning: There is no parking at this station, so have someone drop you off. Motorcycle, scooter or bicycle parking is available and Seibu Tachikawa Station is a close ride from the East Gate. You can always walk, if you are active. It takes about twenty-five minutes from the gate. If you are biking, there is a free place to park and a shorter walking route by going out the East Gate and turning right. Stay on this route until the road narrows and becomes one lane as you cross the Seibu Shinjuku line tracks (about seven minutes). Just after the tracks, you will see the bicycle parking on the right. Just before the tracks you could park a scooter with no problem. Then, to get to the station, follow the paved path parallel to the tracks on the outside of the fence. If someone is dropping you off, get out just before the tracks and the driver can turn around easily. Returning to Seibu Tachikawa can be tricky. Trains for different destinations depart from the same platform at Seibu Shinjuku or Takadanobaba station. Always get on one of the two front cars because the train sometimes splits at Kodaira or Hagiyama stations. The front part always goes to Haijima, the back part may go elsewhere. As with all trains, if you make a mistake, you can always get off, turn around and come back, so no real damage is done.

Taking the bullet train

Taking to the Roads

Space-A Travel

Japan by Air

JR East Map