One of the things I was most excited about when moving to Japan was public transportation. We don’t take the train a much as we thought we would, since driving is sometimes a better deal for more than one person and sometimes even if it isn’t, with weather or time it’s the better choice. But we still take the trains a lot!
Japan is known for its super efficient, on time train system. But I’ve lost count of the times train have been delayed (and I don’t even use them every day!) – however, not having used public transport much elsewhere I can’t compare it to other places and how often their trains get delayed!
The trains are very clean and quiet, with most people keeping to themselves… which is great, unless you’re a pregnant lady with a toddler trying to get a seat. Even by the priority seats it can be hard to pull someone out of their phone or sleeping enough for them to notice you’re someone that really does need a seat! S often gets lots of attention from elderly ladies and school girls, and sometimes manages to pull a smile from a businessman too, though.
One of the big pluses of the train system is that most signs are in English as well as Japanese, so finding your way around in stations and knowing which train to take isn’t usually that difficult. And there are apps that are very helpful for finding the most efficient way to get from A to B or knowing your options in case you miss a train or your train is delayed or your train car disconnects for maintenance (rule #1: if everyone in your train car gets off… GET OFF).
They do get very crowded during rush hour, something we have tried to avoid as much as possible.
For the most part, train stations are stroller-friendly, with elevators in most major stations, but we tend to babywear most often since it takes up less space on the train and means we don’t have to search for an elevator or deal with carrying the stroller up and down stairs if we can’t find an elevator. If I’m by myself I definitely leave the stroller at home, especially now that S is older and does well sitting on her own on the train.
We also decided to take a trip on the Shinkansen just to try it because we probably aren’t going to make it to Kyoto or Hiroshima. So we took it from Tokyo to Odawara, which is about 30 minutes. It picked up the most speed between Shin-Yokohama and Odawara, though.
Between Shinagawa and Shin-Yokohama it felt fast, but mostly just smoother
than the regular trains.
Then after Shin-Yokohama we got up to check out the bathroom and that’s when
things really got moving. At first I thought it was just due to us being in
between cars in the bathroom (something I remembered from trains in Europe),
but when we walked back to our seats it was clear we were going way faster
Leg room! The shinkansen are very spacious and comfortable, with reclining seats and everything! S absolutely loved our ride (probably mostly because she could eat and it wasn’t crowded). I liked the experience and am glad we did it, however, I really didn’t like how fast it was going. I couldn’t settle down and felt overwhelmed by the speed. Some people say they can’t tell how fast it is, but I really could and didn’t like it.
selling Ekiben – another reason we took the Shinkansen! Some more info on them. I wasn’t interested in spending a lot (Shinkansen are expensive enough already!) and most of the bigger ones didn’t look that appetizing to me at that time, so we got a snack box for 400Y with 2 onigiri and a few other little bites. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with the quality of it and none of the option seemed any more special than bentos from the department store, but maybe they would have been more interesting outside of the Tokyo area.
We got to Odawara, and I had heard that a few of the Nozomi (the fastest
ones) go through every hour, so we hung out on the platform to wait for
some. One zipped by almost as soon as we arrived, and another before our
train left, but our train was in the way so I couldn’t get any videos, so we
waited a little longer. S got really scared whenever one came by, and I
don’t blame her because it was loud and they seemed to come out of nowhere.
Driving is also an experience here! Being on the other side of the road is actually the easiest part!
Streets are narrower than in the US and often filled with bicyclists and pedestrians, making it so that you often have to go into the middle of the road to pass by them or parked cars, and most people do so without slowing down, so it can be really nerve-wracking, especially in areas where you are also having to watch for pedestrians popping out of nowhere.
But on the toll roads that’s not a problem so those are much less stressful, although juggling directions, toll tickets, and cash can be a struggle and I much prefer having someone else up front in the car with me than going by myself!
Google Maps is a lifesaver, but still does mess up sometimes or we misinterpret it… but so far we’ve always gotten where we were planning on going eventually!
They are also big on tunnels here, and in the mountains some were as long as 10 kilometers!
Domestic air travel: the Japanese airlines are very nice (though I haven’t flown their budget ones), and they often have a LOT you can do at the airports. The New Chitose airport in Hokkaido even has a chocolate factory inside! They also have lots of play areas for kids and bathrooms and nursing rooms equipped for diaper changes and going to the bathroom with kids in tow.