Public transportation in Japan: is it really that well organised?

For everyone that’s not interested in reading a full article about why Japan’s public transportation is or is not well organised, let me give you the quick answer: yes. Public transportation in Japan really is that well organised. And for everyone wanting to know why that is my opinion, I’ll explain now.


Let me start off that I only spent 11 days in Japan and did not use every single for of public transportation while there. I did however use their metro system, or subway system, and the night bus from Tokyo to Osaka. This was enough for me to realize that public transportation, like everything else in Japan, is super well organised and has lots of rules too. 

I have once read an article about a train being late in Japan and the staff was apologizing to each and every passenger on this train, giving out official notes that the people could give to their bosses to show that is was not their fault they were three minutes late. Amazing, I thought. This is why I had pretty high expectations of their public transport system.

Reality: metro’s

And you know what? The expectations were definitely not too high. We haven’t had any subway or metro be late, not even once, not even 30 seconds. And we used the metro quite a lot! The last two days however, a lot of trains and metros got cancelled because of extreme weather. The heavy rain had made it unsafe for lots of trains and metros to do their route. This decision was obviously the safest one for everybody. Luckily our train to the airport still went. I don’t think they were giving out official notes for cancelling the trains. I mean it was all over the news and stuff so people could take it into consideration when going to work and take a taxi instead for example.

Apart from the trains and metros never being late, they were also super clean and most major lines had English translations of the stops inside. This was amazing! We don’t have things like that here in The Netherlands. Everything is in Dutch, not even an English translation anywhere apart from maybe at the airport itself. If you’re lucky the conductor will announce the next few stops in Dutch and English when approaching Amsterdam or the airport, but that’s about it. It’s terrible when you think about it.

Reality: stations

The metrostations/subway stations temselves are also super organised. That doesn’t always mean that things are easy to be found though, but most of the time they are. Some stations are just so incredibly humongous that you get lost even while following the right signs. But mostly it’s incredibly easy to navigate through the stations and find the right line. They all have different colors and names and numbers. Especiall the colors make it easy to find the right line, but make sure you always know the name of the line, just in case there are two with the same color. The stops have numbers too.

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Checking in and out is as easy as swiping a card in front of a sensor. Buying tickets or this card, or uploading more money on the card at the machines is all super convenient because all of the machines have this button that translates everything to English. We had no trouble at all, apart from the fact that there are two different public transportation cards that you can buy and we wanted a specific one, but you can’t buy both at the same machine. They each have their own machine so we ended up buying the other one. Honestly though, there is no difference in their usage I think. Also, if you look really lost anywhere in Japan for more than two minutes some nice Japanese person will most definitely come to the rescue. Japanese people are not just incredibly polite, they are also incredibly kind and really want to help.

Reality: platforms

What’s also very well organised about the stations, are the platforms. The platforms themselves have numbers, so you know on which side to wait for your train. There are these digital signs as well, on each side of the platform. They will tell you which train will arrive next, and which two will arrive after that and at what time. These signs will also tell you where exactly to stand and wait in order to have the train’s doors stop right in front of you. You see, the platforms have circles and triangles drawn on the floor, at the edges. These indicate where the doors stop and open. Some trains will stop at the circles and some at the triangles. So if you stand exactly in front of these triangles for example, you’ll be the first to enter the train. People will line up behind you too, how neat is that! They actually line up to enter the train! Apart from these digital signs there are also regular signs at every platform that will show you where you are right now and all of the stops that the train will go to.

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Honestly, there is just one thing I found to be very inconvenient about Japanese stations: if you want to walk from one side of Tokyo station to the other, so you enter at one side and exit at the other, you have to pay 140 yen. You didn’t tak any train, just walked through, and you still have to pay. This made no sense to me. Apart from that everything was perfect and easy.

Reality: nightbus

So at the beginning of this article I told you I only used the metros and the nightbus. The busstation was just as organised as the metrostation. There was a huge digital board showing every bus that was going to leave within the next couple or hours, as well as which parking spot they were leaving from. I think there were only like 14 parking spots so it was easy to keep an eye on all of them.

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There were these employees guiding the busses to the right parking spots and the staff inside the bus was super nice. We bought our ticket online before we even left to Japan. They just scanned it and everything was okay. Most buscompanies don’t allow you to bring more than one small suitcase and one backpack with you on the bus though. Unless you pay more that is. So keep that in mind.

The bus also arrived and left right on time. I think we even arrived in Osaka early but I’m not completely sure.

What I didn’t like about the night bus we were on, is that they didn’t turn off the lights until after we were completely out of Tokyo, which took like at least one hour, but most probably two. Because of this we didn’t sleep much. And because of sitting in uncomfortable chairs of course haha.


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