On my previously posted article, Getting Around Japan, Manner Mode, I shared about little cultural tidbits that might be of help to make your Japan trip even more pleasant.
This series is more of acquainting the newbies and first-time visitors on the conveniences available that is currently in effect with the Japanese transportation system with which even the most OCs of persons would marvel at. Read on and enjoy your stay in Japan!
On time trains
The billboards posted on the train stations doesn’t only show the train’s routes and stations / pit stops. The time tables (departures / arrivals) and running time in between stations are also posted. The trains work like clockwork and are precisely on time in that people who are very particular with order would find this beautiful and quite a big help in planning your itinerary.
Timetable for train arrivals/departures.
For Negishi Line for instance, it takes 42 minutes to get to Tokyo from Sakuragicho by local train (blue indication) and 40 minutes if rapid train (red indication; the one with pink background is for weekends). Notice that some stations (example: Shimbashi and Yurakucho) doesn’t have minute indication for rapid train since rapid train will not be making a stopover on these stations.
The train schedules are so dependable in that I often see friends, couples meeting right at the train – one person would be hailing from one station and meet a friend in another station without getting off the train! The first time I saw this, I thought it was just chance coincidence and happenstance that friends chanced upon each other on the same train and car. But when later I figured out what people are doing, my friends and I tried it and oh what convenience! Since you have the train timetable with which you know the arrivals / departures of the train down to the last minute, the travel time in between stations, the number of the car (1, 2, 3 etc) and number of the door for a particular car (1A, 1B, 2A, etc), the train itself can be a very convenient meeting place. And yes, factor-in the excitement of taking the risk too. Do try the fun! But do be sure you have means to communicate with your friends just in case you missed the train.
On time buses
Back in my University days in the Philippines, there were many a weekend which were spent either waiting for late buses to arrive or for the bus to leave (the bus will absolutely not leave if it doesn’t reach the minimum required number of passengers which may vary depending on the driver and ticket collector). There were also buses which would stop several times on the highway if they see a passenger hailing them. This can definitely drive you nuts especially if you are trying to reach your destination in time to catch your exams! Hence it was such a novelty to find that buses in Japan have appointed stops, have schedules, and are on time.
Meet your friends inside the train, right by Car no. 4, Door no. 2!
The buses going around the city with definite stops along the way may be late for a couple of minutes or so, depending on traffic and passengers embarkation / disembarkation. You’d find this welcome couple-of-minutes tardiness quite a relief especially when you’re only five seconds late and you’ve experienced that the bus driver will NEVER wait up for you even if you flailed and waved your hands and shouted at the top of your lungs whilst sprinting to get the bus driver’s attention. It’s curious too how bus drivers change for a certain route at a given time on a daily basis. For example, if you usually take bus # 20 at 8:24AM at Sakuragicho Station, you’d find that you won’t be seeing the same driver every day. Which makes me ponder really, on how the operators manage the assignment matrix especially since the bus drivers also need to master the bus route since some streets may have corners that are very narrow for buses. And I ponder too if the main reason for this is for the drivers to avoid the establishment of some “relationship” with the passengers, in which case the driver may feel compelled to wait up for you if he sees you sprinting for the bus from some distance which would then result to the bus being late from schedule. Because indeed, since you have specific bus schedules, it’s easy to establish friendships, even in the bus.
One remarkable thing too with buses in Japan is that they will really depart as scheduled, even when you’re the single lone passenger. I once picked up my parents in Narita airport via YCAT Limousine Bus. Departure time at YCAT came yet there was still just me and the driver. We still went ahead as scheduled though. Since I’ll be returning to Yokohama via Limousine bus as well, I bought discounted roundtrip, within-the-day tickets (TIP: roundtrip tickets are cheaper; roundtrip and within the day return is even cheaper). Yet, even if I’ve bought the single trip regular priced tickets, it still will not be enough to compensate for the operating cost of that ride to Narita across expressways. But then again, the bus I’m riding might be the turnaround bus for the subsequent trip from Narita to Yokohama.
Pease do remember as I’ve seen a number of foreigners getting confused with this: Particularly in Kanto region, bus embarkation (and payment) is through the bus front entrance whereas disembarkation is through the door right in the middle side of the bus. Some buses in Kansai and Chugoku regions however have the ticket/payment machines right by the exit doors (still at the middle side of the bus) in which case you pay as you alight from the bus.
Blowing of horns
Unless it’s traffic safety-related, Japanese drivers don’t sound their automobile horns. So if you’re walking in the middle of a small alley, you just might find yourself being followed by a car that’s been patiently waiting for you to notice it so that you can go to the side and let it pass by. It can get a bit creepy though, especially if you’re walking alone at night. But imagine how much less stress this is, compared to a jam-packed crossing full of impatient drivers blaring their horns as if it could alleviate the traffic condition!
The same can’t be said for bicycles though, as you’d most definitely hear their pretty bells, which is just as well since it’s most likely safety related, especially if your group has been crowding the sidewalk and are walking in a horizontal line.
So, there it is; hope above small tips prove helpful for a more convenient stay in Japan. Setting aside the language barrier, which the Japanese government has already taken steps by providing more billboard signs in English, Japan is probably one of the most convenient (and safest!) country to travel around. Enjoy your stay!