Japan is a complicated place to travel around-no doubt about it. Now add children into the mix and you have your work cut out for you! Even after lots of research I managed to get on the wrong shinkansen (bullet train), get off at the wrong stop and take the wrong exit out of the subway stations numerous times! But don’t worry there is usually another train coming just a few minutes later if you miss your train or hop on the wrong one-just get off at the next stop and ask the train agents for help.
Japan is serviced by many different railway companies. JR is one of the big ones but many cities are serviced by multiple companies so you may have to change trains and purchase new tickets to get to your destination. It will make your mind boggle when you first start researching.
Research, research, research! Plan how you are going to get to your
destinations beforehand. Hyperdia is
going to be your best friend. This
ingenious website (or you can purchase the app) will give you all the options
to get your from station to station, many times even including track numbers. Get a pocket wirleess hotspot so you always have wifi to help you navigate.
Get the JR Pass. You must purchase this before you go and exchange the voucher for the pass once in Japan. Then you have unlimited travel on the JR train lines for either 7, 14 or 21 days. You can use this on most shinkansen trains (except for the fastest Nozumi trains-remember it by No Zoom Me!) and the local JR Lines. This can save you a lot of money over purchasing individual tickets. Child rates are available too (ages 6-11). You can also use it on the NEX (Narita Express) to and from Narita airport. We got the 7 day pass and used it to get from Narita all the way to Osaka. We then did day trips to Kyoto, Himeji, Kobe and Hiroshima on the pass and returned to Tokyo on last day of the pass. We then just purchased individual metro tickets as needed in Tokyo.
When getting on the train double
check that it is the right one. With the
shinkansens there can be different trains coming every few minutes on the
track. Check the electronic boards and make sure yours is showing at the top of
the board with the arrow pointing to your track. Then look at the train carriage and make sure
you see your train number eg Hikari 527 (The writing for Hikari for your train
type will be in Japanese so just match the number). For local trains there may be a description of the train on the side of it such as local or special rapid to help you decipher it.
Many trains will have English announcements and electronic boards showing the next stop coming up. There are usually maps on the metro or local trains showing the stations along the way.
As you pass through the ticket
gates there are train agents there who are great at telling you what track you
need to go to. Just tell them your destination station and they will get you headed
in the right direction.
Try to figure out what exit you need from the train station . Most stations have a North ,South, West, East and sometimes Central exit. Some of these stations are huge and can add a few hundred yen to your taxi fare or lots of additional walking if you pick the wrong exit! Some stations have more detailed exit information such as a park exit for Ueno Park at Ueno Station with lots of signs to help you pick the right exit.
If travelling with babies or toddlers in strollers there usually are escalators or elevators available in the main stations, however smaller stations may have only stairs. You can roll your stroller (although-mind the gap) right onto the metro or local trains and fold it up for the shinkansens. Be careful with the little ones on the train platforms as most are open, although some bullet stations do have gates protecting them.
Sidewalks and roads are smooth making it great for strollers, most areas will be easy to navigate but you will encounter some very crowded areas. Temples and castles often have lots of steps so a baby carrier may be a better option here.
Taxis can be a great option for
families. Check out if it makes sense to take the subway, bus, or walk to your
destination or to take a taxi. I used
this site to give me an idea of the cost of a taxi would be-I found it to be
fairly close in the price ranges given.
I found often times that a taxi was either close to the cost of
purchasing 4 metro tickets (my kids were too old for the child discounts) or
sometimes even cheaper than taking the subway. Other times we would take the subway to the closest station and then a taxi.
Taxis can hold 4 people and rates start between 500 and 750 yen depending on the city. Although they are some of the most expensive taxis in the world, if you are going a few km they are not so bad. Sometimes after a long day of sightseeing you just need to jump into a taxi and head to your hotel. Taxi’s are very nice in Japan as the they have automated doors that open and close for you and often the drivers are wearing white gloves. Be sure to have the address in Japanese available for your destination. This is another reason the pocket wifi was so useful. Taxis are readily available everywhere and easy to flag down.
Good luck out there! Travelling on the trains and subways is all part of the adventure!