You may live right next to a major JR Shinkansen station, or you may live in a place from where you have to take a 1-hour bus (which comes only twice a day) to the nearest local train station from where you have to take a 1-hour local train to the nearest major JR station.

There are many transportation options for you in Shizuoka, and in Japan. With a little bit of planning and preparation, your travel experience can be a very enjoyable one. This page will give you some information on the transportation options available to you to travel in Shizuoka, and Japan.

  1. Bicycles
  2. Local Buses
  3. Special / Overnight Buses
  4. Local Trains and Subways
  5. Taxis

1. Bicycles

There are more bicycles than people in Japan. As part of your transportation needs, you should most definitely own a bicycle.

Most, if not all, Japanese have what is known as the `mamachari` – a heavy iron bike with auto-light and basket over the front tire. This bike costs about 10,000 – 15,000 new (though you can get much more expensive ones), and serves well for your short-distance travel needs to go to school or shopping.

You will want to avoid travel for longer than 30 minutes, especially if your path goes up hills and if you are tall, as the bikes are made for people under 6 feet tall and the saddle does not rise very high… you will use muscles you did not know you had, and may take some time and sore thighs getting used to. Unless you’re going to do some serious biking, you will be just fine with a the classical chari. Get one at the used recycle shop, or at any bike shop.

Parking can be strict for bikes, and in cities as well as train stations there are designated areas for parking. Don`t park just anywhere, in the city especially, your bike may get taken away and you may get a hefty fine. When you buy a new bike, you must register it with the police (the shop will give you the paper – it costs about 500 yen), so the police will come to your house if your bike has been involved in any illegal activity – including parking violations!

Though generally theft is much lower than in other parts of the world, bikes and umbrellas are the top two items stolen in Japan. Typically, bikes are stolen at train stations by drunk salary men who want a quick ride home. Most bikes are recovered within a few days, by police. A police officer or two will come to your school or your home to return your bike to you. So, be sure to lock your bike (mama charis have a lock built in), and if you have a new bike other than a mamachari, you should invest in a more sturdy lock to tie the frame, front tire and saddle to a sturdy piece of metal.

2. Local Buses

Local buses are a cheap way to get around. They are punctual, if not early, and  far more economical than the train (the further you go, the more economical bus rides become).

It’s easy to take a local bus, but hard to determine which bus to take. You have to know Kanji to be able to get on the right bus. Usually you don’t have time to ask the driver if the bus will stop at your stop, as the entrance to the bus is in the back of the bus and by the time you make your way to the driver, you’ll be on your way in whatever direction.

To grab a local bus, flag it down with your hand at your stop (if you don’t signal the driver to stop he may pass by), and get in the back door(if you are in a rural area, it may only have one door). On the stairs up, or at the top of the stairs, grab a ticket from the machine. The ticket should have a number, and this number corresponds to an electronic fare / zone board at the front of the bus. Below your zone number it will show the cost of the bus ride if you get off at the next stop.

When you are ready to exit, pull or press the stop button and make your way to the front. Drop exact change into the machine next to the driver.   If you don’t have the exact change, there is a change machine as part of the same apparatus, the change slot is facing into the bus whereas the fare slot is much closer to the driver, and on the top. Be sure to sort out change before the bus comes to a stop, so you don’t hold up the line. (The slot you use to pay bus fare will not give change)

Drop the change and your ticket into the machine, and it will beep – that’s your signal to leave.

The fares vary, in the city it’s about 200 yen for an inner-city ride.

If you aren’t sure if you are on the right bus, you can ask the driver “Sumimasen, Shizuoka eki o tomarimasuka” (Excuse me, are you going to stop at Shizuoka station). You can also ask the driver to tell you when you have arrived at Shizuoka station by saying “Shizuoka eki tsuitara oshiete kudasai.”

3. Special/Overnight Buses

The bus system in Japan is vast and efficient, not to mention it is far cheaper than the expensive taxis in Japan.

Here is a link to the JR Highway bus website.

Major cities will have buses that go almost anywhere, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and much further south.

Some long distance (LD) buses require a reservation by paying in advance, others you just hop on and pay at the end. On most LD buses you can buy a ticket early, that way you don’t have to deal with money on the day of the travel. Almost all bus lines have online ticket sales, but that is useful only if you can read Japanese. If you are ever not sure when or how much to pay, just ask the driver or an attendant “sakibarai”, which means pay in advance.

Most LD buses go from train station to train station in the major cities, and also include a stop at city hall.

Note: LD buses will almost always mean overnight travel, so you should plan for that when you are planning to travel by bus.

Here is some more information on bus travel:

The Japan Bus Pass is a cheap (relatively speaking) bus pass (rates depend on what days of the week you are traveling and for how many days), that can be used for overnight and daytime express buses anywhere in Japan. You’ll need to make an account with their website, and their policy is generally that it is only for tourists, so you may need to send it to your family/someone not in Japan, who will then have to send it to you.

Japan Rail operates not only trains but also a bus network. Search for JR Highway bus on google to find them, however the website is in Japanese only. Meitetsu is another railway company that operates the Meitetsu Highway bus – again you can find them through Google, but all in Japanese.

4. Local Trains and Subways

Chances are, you’re not placed in a major urban center, and you will be relying on local trains to get you where you need to go.

The train system in Japan is very efficient, as you might expect. Trains are also by far the most popular method of transportation in Japan.  Local trains are slow, but convenient and inexpensive. On the major local lines, trains start up around 5-6am and stop running around midnight with trains running every 10 minutes or so during that time. Train lines going away from urban centers into the countryside stop running much earlier. Sometimes the last train headed into the countryside will leave as early as 8 or 9pm. There are infamous stories of ALTs who miss their last train and sleep at the station to take the first train in the morning (not recommended).

Buying a ticket

You typically buy your ticket from the machine.  If you did have the chance to pick this up at Tokyo orientation, it’s actually very easy.

When you are at the gates to enter the tracks, you`ll see a variety of machines along the wall. Above them will be a map of the train system in the area, along with a red marker of the station you’re currently at. Depending on the size of the station, the map may also have English names for some of the stations. If you cannot recognize the Kanji of the station you want to go to, you should check and memorize/write it down it beforehand. On the map, every city has a price written underneath it. This is the price you need to pay to get there, you will need to know this later.

You can buy for multiple people at once, for that there is a column of buttons on the side with a different number of people (both children and adults), one adult is selected automatically. You must select the number of people before you pay. On the main screen there will be several buttons labeled with different prices. Select the one that is equal to your train fare, and then insert your money. It should then dispense your change and your ticket. (Some stations will simply have buttons labeled with the destination)

The fare almost never changes, so it’s easy to do from memory once you’ve been somewhere once or twice.

Another option is to buy the cheapest ticket, usually around 200 yen, and then go to a “fare adjustment” machine at the station you get off at (every station has this machine at the exit). Just get off the train, find the machine, insert your ticket, and it will tell you what balance you have to pay to exit through the gate. These machines are typically in the same area as the gates.

If you’re taking a longer trip, we suggest the following:

  • Check your train times and connections before hand
  • Write them on a piece of paper/in your smartphone
  • Check multiple train times, in case you miss a train. It happens to all of us sooner or later.
  • Only take the train you have checked online, even if another appears earlier on the same track. It’s possible it will branch off to a different track, run past your stop, or stop short of your destination. (Once you know how trains in your area operate, this is less of an issue. You’d be surprised how quickly you pick this up.)
  • Always know when your last train is.

Alternatively, there are various Japan train schedule apps for your smartphone. One that also has a website is “hyperdia”, so you can look up routes ahead of time (which we recommend if you want to go sightseeing anywhere).

Getting on the train (and off!)

Once you’ve bought your ticket, head for the gates. Your ticket has a black magnetic strip. Stick it into the gave machine, strip-side down. The gate will open and you can walk through. Don’t forget to take your ticket on the other side of the machine because you’ll need it to get out of your destination’s train station.

If your ticket has a white back (or otherwise not a black strip), you’ll need to go to office on the side to validate.

If you have multiple tickets for one trip, you must insert all tickets at once, piled on top of each other. The machine will separate them, stamp them, and return them to you on the other side.

Always keep your ticket while riding the train as there occasionally are checks, especially in reserved seating areas and of course on the Shinkansen. If you can’t produce a ticket, you must pay for the entire trip the train makes on this journey. For example, that means if you’re just going from Shizuoka to Higashi-Shizuoka (a 210 yen trip), but that train originally came from Nagoya, you may be forced to pay as if you had gone from Nagoya to Higashi-Shizuoka, which is a 3600 yen trip, if you lose or otherwise cannot produce your ticket.

Once you arrive

Once you arrive, get off the train and walk to the exit gate. Here, you need to stick your ticket into the front of the gate as you walk through. The gate will open and will keep your ticket, unless you need it for changing trains or if you have multiple tickets. In this case it will keep just the used tickets and return the unused tickets. As with entering, you must insert ALL your tickets for all parts of your trip to get through.

If you didn’t buy the right ticket, you can find the “Fare Adjustment” machine next to the exit gates. Here you can insert your ticket and it will display the amount you have to pay to exit at the current station.

You cannot get a refund if you paid too much, though there have been cases where staff have taken pity on an ALT just trying to get home late at night. In any case, if you have a problem, head to the office next to the exit gates, and they will be able to help you.

You shouldn’t try to pass through the gate if you did not pay enough, the flaps will kick out and block you, a two toned alarm will sound, and the office staff will flag you to come see them. So, to save the embarrassment, skip the extra steps and just pay the extra fare at the fare adjustment machine.

Rural stations

There are some very rural stations in Japan.  One of the most important things about these stations is the ticket procedures. Not all stops are manned, and not all stops have ticket gates. Luckily, there is a generally accepted procedure, which is much like a bus.

When you get on the train, unless you already have a ticket, you should enter through one of the back doors. Typically, there are machines that dispense tickets at the doors on the inside of the train. There, you must take a ticket as you enter the train. Usually, the ticket has a number, which corresponds to your fare zone. In this situation, you must exit through the front of the train. There, you can pay the conductor as you exit. Some people will get off the back doors, they have purchased monthly passes. So, just to be sure, you should just get off the front either way. If you could buy a ticket prior to boarding, this procedure isn’t necessary.

If exiting at a larger station, you do not have to pay at with the conductor, but pay the station staff as you exit. In this case you cannot use the automatic gates and you cannot use the fare adjustment machine, but must hand your ticket to the station staff at the exit.

Another important point is that, sometimes, you cannot use your ticket to transfer trains. The ticket you receive inside a local train may just be a simple token with a number, so if you want to transfer to another train to another city, you may sometimes have to exit the gates and pay, then purchase your ticket for the next part of the journey and enter again through the automatic gates. 

5. Taxis

Taxis in Japan are very different from taxis in western countries. The taxis here are very clean, there is no tipping, they are very punctual, and always polite. The doors open and close automatically (except for the front seat), which you may forget the first few times you take a taxi.

Taxis in Japan are also generally more expensive, at least initially. Taxis here usually start at 600 yen, and sometimes 700 yen or more late at night. The increments are 40-80 yen. A 10-minute journey will cost you approximately about 1,000 to 1,400 yen depending on the distance travelled.

Rather than giving an address, it is more helpful to provide the name of your destination, or be able to describe what it is. Knowing landmarks near your destination is also a big plus because while they may not know the back alley restaurant you’re going to, but they probably know the large bank nearby. Also, if you live near your school or next to a supermarket it’s best to tell the driver to go there, and then get out there, or give more detailed directions as you get closer (if possible). Before you get out, the driver will announce the total, which is also displayed on his dashboard. Don’t hand money to him directly, instead put the money in the tray between the two front seats. You will also receive your change back on that tray.

Please remember that for a common taxi only 4 passengers are permitted, and this is strictly enforced. Some taxis back home may have allowed you 5 passengers for a short distance, but this is an absolute no-go here. Many ALTs have tried, none have succeeded. With that being said, there are the mythical “medium” taxis that hold up to 5 people. Usually you have to specially request this vehicle by phone, if that company has any available at that time. When calling for a taxi on the phone, it is important to say how many people need to be picked up. In addition, there is an extra charge for a taxi driving to your location to pick you up. It’s usually around 100-200 yen, but this should be kept in mind.

When looking for taxis “in the wild”, if there is a red light on the left front window, it means the taxi is available. If it’s green, then there is an evening surcharge. A yellow light means that the taxi is on a call, and some taxis may add 20% to the total fee if you flag down a taxi with a yellow light on.

Flag a taxi by holding out your arm,  hand flat, and palm facing down, making a “slow down / wave” motion. This is the same hand movement used to signal a bus to stop (some buses may not stop unless you signal the driver that you want him to stop). Simply holding your hand up has seen mixed results.

Copyright notice: Some of the information on transportation is loosely based on a very well put-together book received by a Shizuoka AJET member. The original was written for Tokyo Orientation by Ryan MacDonald in Fukushima and Alina Stubbs in Iwate.