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.

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