A Quick Guide to Public Transportation in Japan

Setting out to explore Japan’s cities? Check out this quick guide to public transportation in Japan to plan out the transportation for your trip.
A Quick Guide to Public Transportation in Japan

When traveling to Japan, you want your stay to be as smooth and hassle-free as possible, from booking your flight to reserving your accommodations to exploring the city.

Unless you've booked a travel agency or are renting a private car, you'll most likely be using  Japan’s public transportation to get around. It might be overwhelming at first, but this quick guide will help you plan your trip for a stress-free experience around the city.

How to get in and out of Narita International Airport

Narita International Airport (NRT), the major international airport in Tokyo, is 40 miles away from the city proper. After you clear immigration and collect your luggage, there are two ways to go to the city:

The Narita Express

The Narita Express

The Narita Express is the most recommended means of transportation. It’s fast, comfortable, and you don’t have to worry about losing your seat since seats are reserved in advance. Each ticket costs JPY 3,200, and foreign passport holders can buy discounted tickets. If you bought a Japan Rail Pass in advance, it includes unlimited train rides on the Narita Express.

If you’re a little hungry, you can purchase food and drinks to enjoy en route as you relax and look forward to your stay in Japan. There is also a restroom that you can use to freshen up.

However, it’s important to note that luggage space is limited, and you cannot take luggage carts onto the train platform. Make sure to bring bags that you can easily transport from one train station to another. If you want to skip checking in and go straight sightseeing, you can use Japan Airlines’ luggage delivery service, where your luggage is sent directly to your hotel, inn, or wherever you are staying.

Airport limousine bus

Airport limousine bus

Another popular option is the airport limousine bus, especially if you are traveling with family and have lots of luggage. You can easily buy a ticket (JPY 4,000) at the airport. Traveling by train can be pretty overwhelming, especially during rush hours in the metro area. The limousine bus takes a little longer to get to the city center, but you don’t have to worry about your luggage and can relax as you anticipate your arrival.

Like in the Narita Express, you will have access to onboard wifi so you can catch up on emails, check your reservations, or even update your social media about your experiences thus far. Please note that the limousine bus and the luxurious limo are two different transportation options. Make sure to get on the right one!

If you land in Haneda Airport, it is a lot closer to downtown Tokyo. Traveling to the city center might take about 25-40 minutes, depending on your transportation method.

How to get around Japan

After settling in, it’s now time to start exploring the city. Here are some ways you can get around Tokyo and Japan's other cities:



Train travel around Japan is simple and convenient. Numbered stations and color-coded train lines make it easy to hop from one train to another. Some trains offer two kinds of tickets—the basic train fare and one that allows you to reserve your tickets ahead of time. You will want to avoid rush hour if you can when the trains are full: 8-9 a.m. and shortly after 5 p.m. Remember to observe the standard etiquette inside the train:

・Stand behind the yellow line when waiting to board the train.

・Wait for passengers to exit first.

・Avoid eating.

・Refrain from talking on your mobile phone.

・Avoid putting on make-up.

・Avoid taking up more room than required.



Bus schedules and routes are posted at bus stops so you can easily see when the bus will arrive and how long you will have to wait. Enter the bus from the rear door as the front door is often used by exiting passengers (note: it’s the other way around for city buses).

You can tap your IC card or pick up a paper ticket from the small machine by the door if you intend to pay with cash. The bus will announce each stop. When you hear your destination, press the button found along the side of the bus to let the driver know you will be getting off.



Taxis are safe and trustworthy, though they can be a bit pricey. Nevertheless, they are the only means of getting around when the trains and buses stop operating at midnight. In smaller places, like Kyoto, where public transportation is less convenient, taking a taxi to your next destination can be a good alternative to walking.

You can hop on a taxi in one of the various taxi stands around the city or flag one down. Remember the Japanese character for occupied (賃走) and vacant (空車), so you don’t need to wave at taxis that will zip past you anyway.

Other ride-hailing services

Other ride-hailing services

Japan has other ride-hailing services that make it easy to call a cab or car. For example, JapanTaxi is available in all 47 prefectures to select your pick-up spot and destination.

Uber is another popular app available in major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and more. However, Uber is pricier than regular taxis, with the minimum fare being approximately JPY 823. If you are looking for an alternative to JapanTaxi and Uber, you can check out DiDi, MOV, and Grab.

The Japan Rail Pass and the Shinkansen

When traveling around Japan, you’ll find out how convenient it is to travel when you have the Japan Rail Pass. You will need a “temporary visitor” stamp on your passport to be eligible for this pass.

Depending on how many days you will be in Japan, you can buy a pass for seven days, 14 days, or 21 days. You also have to get their ordinary pass or opt to get a “green” one that lets you ride in the first-class reserved car.

You can also use the JR Pass on the shinkansen (bullet trains) except for the Nozomi express and the Mizuho express (reserved and non-reserved tickets).

IC Card options

IC Card options

IC cards are prepaid travel cards that you can use on trains, buses, ferries, cable cars, and more. They do not, however, include travel on bullet trains, long-distance trains, or airport transfers, like the Narita Express. Still, it is recommended that you get one to complement your JR Pass, especially if you are going to towns that have other train and bus lines.

They are rechargeable—load them with funds, and you’re good to go. They are also accepted in convenience stores, vending machines, and restaurants. While there are many IC card options, the most popular are SUICA, PASMO, AND ICOCA.


SUICA (offered by JR East) allows you to access trains, subways, monorails, and buses in the Kanto region such as Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, etc., Sendai, Niigata, and Okinawa. You can also use it in restaurants, taxis, vending machines, and food stores as long as they have the SUICA logo. You can purchase the card costs starting from JPY 1,000, with JPY 500 as a refundable deposit at a major station via vending machine or at a counter. A minimum down payment is not required if you download SUICA using Apple Wallet apps.


PASMO is a great complementary card to the JR Pass. It is available for all non-Japan Rail transportation in Tokyo and easily purchased at Tokyo Metro stations. The basic card costs JPY 1,000, with JPY 500 as credit and the other half as a deposit (refundable when you return the card at the end of your trip). You can also use it in convenience stores and some vending machines.


The ICOCA Card (offered by JR West) services JR trains in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, and Okayama. There is even a special pass for foreign tourists that qualifies them for various discounts for attractions in the Kansai Region. The ICOCA card costs JPY 2,000 with a refundable deposit of JPY 500. You can easily recharge it in ticket machines.

Experience the ease of Japan’s public transportation

Once you have a solid grasp of how Japan’s public transportation works, it’s easy to get around. Whether by bus, taxi, or train, you’ll discover how convenient it is to get from one destination to another as you tour the city.

Getting There