Jrail & bullet train
Hi, I’m Sheng Lee from Wisconsin, USA.
I graduated with my Masters in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014.
Currently, I am working as a case manager for individuals with a severe and persistent mental illness.
Right now, I am on vacation visiting both Korea and Japan with three other friends.
We will be visiting Hakata, Kumamoto, Kyoto, and lastly Tokyo.
We figured that the JR pass would be the best option for us as it gives us access to various Shinkansen aka “bullet train,”
JR buses, and local JR subways in Japan for a cost of $239.
08/07～08/15 South Korea
One of South Korea’s main transportation is the train. The train in Seoul has multiple lines with one taking you from the airport to the heart of Seoul. During my stay in Korea I found the subway to be extremely useful and easy once my friends and I started getting the hang of it. One of the greatest features offered by South Korea is an offline subway app that individuals can use to map out their trip and to showcase the train lines within each city. This was helpful as foreigners do not always have access to free wifi when they are out touring.
Another thing I appreciated about South Korea’s train was that there was a map of the train’s route located throughout the inside of the train and the train station. This allowed individuals to easily identify and keep track of their stops and trip.
08/16 Hakata Station to Kumamoto Station
As an individual who does not come from a state (Wisconsin) with train services, coming to Japan to use the JR was confusing at first. The most confusing part for my friends and I was exchanging the voucher for a Jrail pass and finding the right gate for the Shinkansen. Once were able to get on the Shinkansen we found the train to be very clean, spacious, and a great traveling device. It is fast, efficient, and travel friendly.
One of the greatest features about the Shinkansen is that there is enough space for both your luggage and feet. Other great qualities about the Shinkansen to Kumamoto from Hakata is that there was a drink vending machine located in various caboose, signs indicating that the restroom is occupied, individual seat trays, a sign showcasing the name of the stop the train was making, and staff passing through the caboose to offer help to those in need.
Overall, my experience on the Shinkansen was extremely positive. I would highly recommend all foreign travelers to use the JR Line. One suggestion I would like to make in regards to the JR pass is to make sure foreigners read their information packets and research the difference between reserved and non-reserved seats as this will prep individuals for an easier start with the JR Shinkansen in Japan.
08/17 Kumamoto to Kobe to Kyoto,Non-reserved seats
During my time in traveling from Kumamoto to Kyoto I had to use the non-reserved seating on a Kyushu Shinkansen as the reserved seats were all sold out. From this I found that the non-reserved seats are just as nice as the reserved seats with one major difference. This difference is that individuals do not have a guaranteed nor assigned seat. Nonetheless, it was not horribly difficult to acquire a seat on a non-reserved caboose (usually cabins 1-3 or 1-5), however, this varies, especially, during the holidays and rush hours.
Today was the end of the Obon holiday and as I watched the various Shinkansen passed me today, there were various trains with people standing and sitting in the pathway, as there were not enough seats for everyone. Although this was the case, I found it refreshing and nice to see that the train station allowed everyone on despite people not having a seat.
Some of the features I enjoyed from my ride on the non-reserved side include sporadic electronic chargers (with an American outlet), individual windows, individual seating trays, various markets and vending machines on the Shinkansen and loading area, a designated area for smokers, and a high tech bathroom with hand motion flushing sensors. Overall, my experience on the non-reserved side of the JR trains was a pleasant one.
Tips and Suggestions: The first suggestion I would like to offer to others is in regards to the non-reserved section. I highly recommend that individuals attempt to line up at cabin one first as people are less prone to line up here and this cabin often seems to have the most empty seats. The second suggestion I have is to make sure you are keeping track of your trip.
I missed a train today because there were delays due to the rain. The announcement acknowledged that the train was arriving late and stated that the train would arrive in 5minutes however; it arrived within 30secs to 1minute. This confused me and as the Hikari train did not have its number displayed on the outside I misunderstood the situation and missed my train.
08/18 Local train in Kyoto
The local train was a little confusing for my friends and I in Kyoto.
We did not know that there was a difference between the express, sub-express, and local train, thus, in a rush we got on the express train and missed our stop because the express train makes fewer stops. Despite missing our train, I found the trains in Kyoto to be very nice. On one of the local trains in Kyoto, the seats were extremely cushiony and comfortable.
It was great that the local train stations also have various vending machines. Purchasing a ticket for the local train is fairly easy however, it requires a little research ahead of time as you must determine how much money it will cost to reach your destination. There are maps above the ticket machines that will showcase the price it will cost to reach certain stops. Overall, the local train station is not horribly difficult in Kyoto however, be wary of the different types of train (local, express, sub-express).
08/19 Local train in Tokyo
In Tokyo, the local train gets fairly complicated and messy as there are multiple lines to take. My recommendation for foreigners with the JR pass is to use the JR Yamanote line. This line goes in a circle and hits all of the big spots in Tokyo such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and more. This train is usually crowded and very busy thus; it is very common to stand and not have a seat. Another great thing I liked about the local train stations in not only Tokyo but most of Japan is that the station has multiple lockers that individuals can rent. This was extremely helpful as it helped to take a load off of me as I was traveling and did not have storage for my luggage. It is easy to get lost in Tokyo therefore, I recommend.
08/20 Train to Nikko
On my way back to Tokyo from Nikko I took a non-reserved ride on the Shinkansen from Utsunomiya to Tokyo.
This was the first time that I ever stood while taking the Shinkansen as there were no available seats. Although it was somewhat tiring to stand during this ride, I was very thankful that the next stop this train made was within a 20-30 minute time frame, that there were hand rails on the seats I stood next to to hold onto, and that I was able to get on the train even though there were not enough seats. One suggestion I have for foreigners is to make sure that you are always wearing comfortable shoes, as you do not know when or when not you will need to stand on the Shinkansen.
08/22 Last day in Japan
Today was my last day in Japan and so I needed to get to the Narita airport. It was easy to get a reserved seat on the JR express to Narita (train is called NEX).
In order to do this, you must present to a JR ticketing desk and ask for a reservation. The NEX train was extremely nice and comfortable. Some great features that it had was a storage self for luggage by the entrance door of each car, large private bathrooms, and screens in the car to showcase the flight terminal and location of the train in correspondence to its destination.
I was pleasantly surprised by the NEX train and felt that it was fairly high-class train. (END)
—— written by Sheng L., 2015.8.