Public TransportationChristopher | July 8, 2009
I wrote a little bit about the trains when I first arrived in Japan. Now that I’ve returned to San Francisco and had some time to compare the two, I decided to elaborate on about my experiences.
Getting around Tokyo via train is an incredible, enlightening experience for Americans. Our public transportation systems are a hollow and lifeless copy of those overseas. It reminds me of the old movie, Mulitiplicity, with Michael Keaton where he clones himself. Our public transportation is much like Doug #4. (Watch the trailer to get a hint.)
Japanese trains run efficiently. They are on time with remarkable frequency. There is an information display at every train station that will accurately tell you which train will arrive when. There are limited trains, express trains, limited express trains, and bullet trains for the long hauls. There are systems of subways that cover the dense urban jungle of Tokyo. There are buses and even a monorail.
There are multiple companies that operate different lines. JR (Japan Rail) is the largest company providing rail service around Japan. There are also dozens of regional line such as the Odakyu, Keio, and Toei lines run by smaller operations. Switching from one line to another is a relatively simple affair, especially if you have a prepaid IC card.
There are two systems for obtaining a prepaided card: Suica and Pasmo. You can purchase a card for 500 yen from most ticket machines. The best part about these two systems is their interoperability. It’s kind of like Visa and Mastercard here in the US. It doesn’t much matter which one you have. They’re both going to work in the same places.
Once you have one of these cards, you can just wave the card over the reader and pass through the turnstile. Once you reach your destination, the system will debit the amount of the fare from your card.
Plus you can use the cards for more than just the trains. All bus systems also use the IC card systems. So do many vending machines for when you need a quick can of coffee before your voyage! And I’ve heard tales that some mobile phones have the IC chip so your purchases can be charged to your monthly bill! How convenient!