Based on my reading of seemingly every other blog post and trip report I read before we left, I may be in the minority here, but I was absolutely traumatized by Japanese trains, for many reasons. I did not find them to be intuitive at all, and in fact, they were one of my least favorite parts of our time in Japan.
Before we left, we bought Japan Rail passes, and while they were absolutely a great value, they didn’t work to get around the city in Kyoto, where we spent most of our time. Instead, we had to figure out the ticketing system and work out the number of stops we needed for each trip.
We didn’t take the metro enough to warrant buying day passes, but we did take it enough to be thoroughly confused on multiple occasions, to the point where we would sometimes walk a mile or two to our next destination instead of taking the metro because we didn’t want to deal with it.
I’m sure that someone out there is going to school me on how elementary the process is, and how I could have figured it out simply if I had only done something extremely basic – and honestly, I hope someone does. And then I hope that someone else reads this post and gets that information before a trip to Japan. Then I will feel like this worked out karmically. 😉
In the meantime, here is exactly what was confusing and/or traumatizing for us:
1. Lost in Translation.
Almost everything is written in Japanese.
And of course it is – it’s Japan, after all.
Often, we would seek out and then happily encounter “Information” signs, only to have our hopes completely dashed when all of the info we needed was completely inaccessible because we couldn’t read it.
There are just so many people in busy train stations. If you know where you are going, this would probably not phase you at all. However, when you:
a) Have absolutely no idea where you need to go to catch your train
b) Are traveling with two kids who don’t want to hold you hand, but who have a tendency to get separated from you if you don’t have your eye on them at all times
c) Are on any kind of time schedule (for example, your train is leaving in three minutes)
d) All of the above
this can be stressful.
I am an extremely prompt person. In fact, before this trip to Japan I would fantasize about living in a world where trains, buses and planes departed a couple of minutes early, just to keep stragglers on their toes. So I never, EVER thought I would say this, but the fact that Japanese trains leave exactly on time was very stressful for me. There is just no leeway. If you’re late, you’re late. And woe to you if you happen to (ahem) get on the wrong bullet train and then realize it as soon as you step on and the doors close.
4. Assigned Seats
While we’re on the subject of things I’ve said that I’d maybe like to retract, the assigned seats on the bullet trains are also a little stressful. Because yeah, we got on the wrong train once. So our reserved seats? They weren’t any good. And that’s kind of a bummer when all the unreserved seats are taken. Even though there were numerous open seats in all of the reserved cars, we couldn’t sit in them, because they weren’t assigned to us.
5. Different train companies in the same station.
I understand the concept behind this – sort of. For example, in San Francisco, BART and the Muni train are in the same station. That is probably very confusing for visitors. But at least there are only two of them, and they don’t really serve the same function.
The fact that there are multiple train companies serving the city of Kyoto, all on the same information maps and signs? Impossible. I give up. Seriously.
On the bright side, we saw a lot of the city on foot, and it was just beautiful.
Have you ever been frustrated/confused by public transportation? Did you figure it out?