Not getting lost when using Japanese public transport

By now, you know how to reserve and purchase a ticket for any type of transport in Japan. However, as you may have heard already, public transport in Japan can be confusing and difficult to understand especially if you are not local. Therefore, this section will equip you with some essential phrases to make sure that you DO NOT get lost!

What time does the train come?

( is a useful website to find out transport times)

Trains run regularly on major city lines and are extremely reliable.


The above shows what a timetable for an interstate trip may look like. However, if you are unable to find this information, you may want to ask the station officers when the next train is.

Q: つぎの東京行き何時ですか。

Possible Responses

A: 11時です。
A: 11時に(なりたくうこうを)出ます。
A: 11時にしゅっぱつします。


If you want to know when the train would arrive at the destination.

Q: この電車は大阪何時につきますか。

Possible Responses

A: 大阪に10時40分につきます。
A: 10時40分にとうちゃくします。


Which platform?

Now you know what time the train will leave, you need to get to the correct platform to get on the train. Unfortunately, you won’t find Platform 9 3/4 in Japan, unless if you go to Universal Studio Japan (USJ) in Osaka.


How do you ask which platform you need to get to?

Q: Place行きは何ばんせんですか。
A: 〜ばんせんです。

For example:

A: よこはま行きは何ばんせんですか。
B: 1ばんせんです。11時半にしゅっぱつします。


So you get to Platform 1 and see a train waiting to leave, but are unsure if this is the right one.

Q: この電車はよこはまへ・に・まで行きますか。

Possible Responses:

A: はい、行きます。
A: いいえ、行きません。つぎの電車にのってください。


Use the following timetable to practice.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 7.00.08 pm.png

  1. Decide where you are in Japan and what time it is.
    (ie. I’m in Nagoya and it’s 12 noon.)
  2. Decide where you are going.
  3. Ask a language partner (a native speaker or a learner), a station officer,
    a) how much it would cost,
    b) when’s the next train,
    c) what time it leaves the station,
    d) what time it’ll arrive at the destination,
    e) which platform the train leaves.


Fun Fact!

Not only is it difficult to travel on public transport, it is extremely difficult to find the the most convenient exit to get to your destination even if you have arrived at the right station.

Talking about the means of transport: ~で

So far, we have learnt that the particle で is used to indicate a place where an activity occurs. In this unit, we will see that it can also be placed after the means of transport by which you travel.

Revise vocabualry: Transport

  • ひこうきで by aeroplane
  • 電車で by train
  • とっきゅうで by special express
  • しんかんせんで by bullet train
  • ちかてつで by subway
  • じてんしゃで by bicycle
  • ふねで by boat
  • フェリーで by ferry
  • タクシーで by taxi
  • バスで by bus
  • 車で by car
  • つぎの電車で by the next train
  • 東京行きのバスで by the bus bound for Tokyo
  • あるいて on foot (あるきます→てfor)


Read as ~ゆき or ~いき, this is written after the destination (place) to mean ‘bound for’.


  • 東京行きの電車で行きます。I’ll go by the Tokyo-bound train.
  • 大阪にJALで行きます。I’ll go to Osaka by/on JAL.
  • 東京えきまで、ちかてつで行けますか。Can I get to Tokyo station by subway?
  • つぎのフェリーで行きたいです。I want to take the next ferry.

More on ~で

This particle can also be used to indicate the instrument by which an action is performed.

  • ペンでかいてください。
  • テレビでそのニュースを見ました。


Topic 5 Unit 1 Expand!

Map of Japan (Major Cities)


What to do in…

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Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)

Shinkansen means ‘new main line’. The building of the Shinkansen began in 1959 and was completed between Tokyo and Osaka in 1965. It had a top speed of 200km/h and ran from Tokyo to Osaka in 3 hours. It was the fasted train in the world when built. Afterwards, the network expanded to over 2,400km of lines with maximum speeds of 270 to 300km/h for daily operation. By 2012, the network linked most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, with constructions of a link to the northern islands of Hokkaido underway and plan to increase speed on the Tohoku Shinkansen up to 320km/h. Experimental test runs have reached 443km/h for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record, 581km/h for maglev (magnetic levitation)trains in 2003.

The Shinkansen is not only fast, it is also very safe and comfortable. The trains run on time and are very frequent at busy periods. Most of the trains are usually quite full. First called the ‘Green Carriage’ 「グリーン車」 because it is decorated with green clover designs on the outside. The second class has reserved seats 「していせき」and non-reserved seats 「じゆうせき」.

If by any unforeseen circumstances there is an extreme delay, you may get your money back.


Ekiben (駅弁, railway boxed meals) are a specific type of bento boxed meals, sold on trains and train stations in Japan. Today, many types of ekiben can still be purchased at stands in the station, on the platform, or on the train itself. They come with disposable chopsticks (when necessary) or spoons. Ekiben containers can be made from plastic, wood, or ceramic. Many train stations have since become famous for their especially tasty ekiben, made from local food specialities. The “Golden Age” of ekiben, however, ended in the 1980s. At that time, air travel was quite expensive and trains were slower. Many tourists needed them during their train journeys.

Click here to find out more.

Japanese classical entertainment


Kabuki theatre developed in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867) and reached its peak in about 1700. Kabuki plays consists of two categories: historical dramas, which deal with the fortunes of the warrior classes; and plays depicting the daily lives of common people.

Kabuki costumes are said to be the most lavish and extravagant in the world. The actors are dressed in elaborate period costumes and wear equally elaborate make-up. Some faces are painted with various colours to show power and strength. All the actors are male. When the men act the part of women, their faces are painted white.

Another feature is that the change of costume takes places on the stage, helped by assistants dressed in black.

The art of Kabuki is passed from father to son, and training begins at a very early age. Only men born within the tradition are able to become Kabuki actors.


Noh is highly stylised lyric drama performed to the accompaniment of music and song. Noh is Japan’s oldest theatrical form. The main characters are supposed to be spirits, ghosts or superhuman beings, and for this reason, the actors wear masks to represent these characters.

Noh costumes are very elaborate but elegant. The female characters are played by men as in Kabuki. The masks may represent male, female or demon.


Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theatre. The puppet consits of head, trunk, hands, feet and elaborate costumes. They are about one to one and a half metres tall.

The puppeteers stand on a lowered part of the stage behind the puppets. The audience is not supposed to see the puppeteers, although they are clearly visible.

Bunraku themes are similar to that of Kabukim, but perhaps a wider range of themes is included: love, jealousy, loyalty and treason.

Unlike puppet shows in the west, Bunraku is not intended for children. The dialogues is chanted and the plot requires a mature understanding.

Geisha & Maiko

Travelling on public transport in Japan

Watch the following videos to experience what it’s like to get on trains in Japan:

Manners on Japanese Trains

Watch the following video to enhance your understanding of appropriate behaviour on Japanese transport.

More Tips:

  • Do not speak loudly on trains – this can disrupt others’ peace and harmony, which is not welcomed in Japanese culture.
  • Refrain from talking on the phone. Texting is acceptable.
    Nonetheless, it is strictly forbidden to use your phone near designated priority seats, as people with heart pacemaker could be sitting in the area, and wireless devices would put those people at risk.
  • Finally, avoid eating on trains – unless, if you are travelling on shinkansen.

Buying tickets

When you ask for tickets the きっぷうりば (ticket office), use the following expression.

Placeまで + (Number of tickets)まい ください。/ おねがいします。

まい, as we have already learnt, is the counter for any thin objects, such as paper and t-shirts. Revise counters here.

For example:

  • 大阪まで、2まいください。Please, give me two tickets to Osaka.

If you want to specify a single or a return ticket, say:

Placeまで + Return/Single + (Number of tickets)まい ください。/ おねがいします。

  • 京都まで、おうふく2まいください。Please, give me two return tickets to Kyoto.
  • さっぽろまで、かたみち1まいおねがいします。Please, give me a one-way ticket to Sapporo.

Lastly, if you want to specify adult, child or student, you may add 大人(おとな), 子ども or がくさい.

  • 広島まで、おうふくおとな2まいください。
  • 京都まで、かたみち学生1まいおねがいします。


How much does it cost?

JR Tokyo Map with price

As you may notice from the picture above, train maps at stations don’t often have English to help you buy tickets. So here are some tips to find out how much it would cost from Place A to B.

  1. Visit the Tourist Information Centre as soon as you land at the airport. Request for an English version of the train map (it may be a good idea to ask them for both JR line and metro/subway lines)
  2. Find the station you’d like to go to on your English map and search for the corresponding on the map in the station.
  3. The red arrow indicates where you are currently. Every other station will have a number below its name to indicate how much you need to pay.
  4. Follow the instructions on the machine to purchase your ticket.
  5. If you’re still confused, ask someone around you or go to the きっぷうりば to speak to a station staff.


Watch how to use the じどうはんばいき



Let’s imagine you are at the きっぷうりば at Narita Airport Train Station. How would you ask for:

  • how much a ticket is to Akihabara
  • 2 one-way ticket to Tokyo
  • 1 return ticket to Kyoto
  • 1 reserved ticket to Hiroshima
  • 3 unreserved express ticket to Osaka


When do we use katakana?

  • Loan (foreign) words except for Chinese origin words, which are written in kanji
    • Names of countries and people
  • Company names and their products
  • Onomatopoeia e.g. ワンワン, ドキドキ
    • Sounds made by rain, wind, motorbikes and animals
    • Even imagined sounds – even a death stare (ジー)
  • Some animal and insect names e.g. ゴキブリ
  • Emphasis e.g. それはダメです。
  • Change of tone – Use of katakana suggests more masculine and stronger tone, whereas hiragana suggests a softer and feminine speech.

Use of katakana

Signs in dotonbori
Manga (Emphasis)
Manga (Onomatopoeia)
Scientific name of plants (Loan Words)

How do we use katakana?

Essentially, katakana is used and read the same way as hiragana. Refer to the katakana chart below for its pronunciation.


Basic Katakana

Katakana Basic Reading

Modified Syllables (dakuon)

Dakuon Katakana

Consonants Plus “y”

Consonant Y.PNG

Long Vowels

Long vowels in katakana are indicated by “ー” for horizontal writing and flipped 90 degrees for vertical writing for all rows of katakana table.

Long vowel Katakana.PNG

Double Consonants

Doubling consonants is indicated by the katakana small tsu, ッ.

double consonants

Special device

So far, except for the simpler method of lengthening vowels, the use of katakana has been identical to the use of hiragana. We next come to a device that is used in katakana but not in hiragana. Some foreign words use sounds that are not used in Japanese. In order to express these sounds, a small a, i, e, o (ァ,ィ,ェ,ォ) is used. Their methods of use should be clear from examples below.


When compound words or names are written in katakana, sometimes, a dot is placed between the words.

  • ジョン・スミス (John Smith)
  • ホーム・ステイ (home-stay)
  • アウトドア・リビング (outdoor living)
  • ファッション・ショー (fashion show)
  • ハーバー・ブリッジ (harbour bridge)

Tools to help you learn

Katakana by Marugoto

Katakana stroke order animations, listen to each katakana, see how the katakana is used in common vocabulary, and take katakana quizzes.
(Click image to play)


Learn katakana in 10 days (Playlist)

Katakana Practice Booklet

(Click image to download)


Katakana Reading Exercises

Organised in levels of difficulty (Lv. 1 to 9)
(Click image to download)


Katakana Mnemonics

(Click image for access)


Katakana Memory Hint App by Japan Foundation

(Click image to download)

Katakana Quiz

(Click image to play)



Basic Hiragana

The Japanese writing system is made up from 46 basic syllabic letters. The basic hiragana are shown in the chart below. The method of writing them is shown in the Stroke Order Videos further down the page.


Basically, in Japanese script, all letters are pronounced individually (exceptions to this will be mentioned later). For instance, look at the first column.

あ い う え お

あおい, blue, is pronounced, a, o, i, as three separate vowels. There is no blurring of vowels as in the English word peal. An exception to this is when one vowel is repeated. It is then read as one long sound (i.e. the sound is held for two syllables), rather than being voiced twice. For instance:

  • いい good
  • ええ yes
  • ああ oh!




See more from


Similar Hiragana

Click image for more

Reading practice

Reading Practice

Advanced Hiragana

Modified Syllables (dakuon)

Some basic syllables can be modified by adding two dots (e.g. が) or a circle (e.g. ぺ). The pronunciation of these syllables is shown below.


When ga, gi, gu, ge or go is in the middle of the word, it may also be pronounced with a nasal ng or with the English pronunciation sound.

  • おりがみ paper folding
  • でんわ telephone
  • かぞく family
  • ともだち friend
  • さんぽ walk/stroll
  • えんぴつ pencil

Consonants plus “y”

If a small ゃ is added after the syllable き, it is then pronounced kya and written as きゃ. The small ゃ,ゅor ょ can be added any い sounds.

See Combo Hiragana below.Combo.PNG


It has been previously mentioned that いい, ええ and ああ are each pronounced as one long vowel. The vowels that are sounded in combination with consonants may also be lengthened by adding a vowel. For example, かあ is pronounced kaa (long a), not ka, a (two distinct vowel sounds).

Long vowels

It has been previously mentioned that いい, ええ and ああ are each pronounced as one long vowel. The vowels that are sounded in combination with consonants may also be lengthened by adding a vowel. For example, かあ is pronounced kaa (long a), not ka, a (two distinct vowel sounds).


  • あ sound + あ = long a sound
    • おかあさん mother
    • おばあさん grandmother
  • い sound + い = long i sound
    • いいえ no
    • いい good
    • ちいさい small
    • おにいさん older brother
  • お sound + う = long sound
    • こうこう high school
    • こうえん park
    • どうぞ please
  • え sound + い = long e sound
    • せんせい teacher
    • せいふく uniform
    • ていしょく set menu/meal
  • お sound + う = long sound
    • こうこう high school
    • こうえん park
    • どうぞ please
  • However, the following common words are exceptions, since they are lengthed by adding お instead:
    • おおきい big
    • おおさか Osaka
    • とおい far

Double Consonants

There are no syllables for individual consonants in Japanese. Hence, a special device is needed to indicate a double consonant. This device is called small tsu, っ.  Notice the difference in the size between つ and っ. The small っ is not pronounced. Instead, it indicates a pause before the next letter.

Practise writing hiragana including those with ten ten and maru.
(Click to download)

Practice booklets

Practise writing hiragana including those with ten ten and maru.
(Click to download)


Tools to help you learn

Hiragana by Marugoto

Hiragana stroke order animations, listen to each hiragana, see how the hiragana is used in common vocabulary, and take hiragana quizzes.
(Click image to play)


Hiragana Drag-n-Drop

(Click image to play)

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.49.34 pm.png

Hiragana Listening Acitivity

(Click image to play)


Hiragana Memory App by Japan Foundation

Download Link:

Hiragana Board Games

(Click image to download)

Basic Version
Advanced Version

Stroke Order Video Playlist