Travelling around Japan doesn’t have to be difficult
I get a lot of emails from people asking for advice when they are coming to Japan: places to go, things to see as well as logistical stuff about travelling around the country. Besides mastering the use of chopsticks before getting off the plane, by far the single piece of advice I can give you is GET A SMART CARD AS SOON AS YOU ARRIVE.
So what is a Smart Card? Well it’s a prepaid card that you simply load up with money, similar to an Oyster card in London. You can use it on the overground trains, metro, buses, trams… pretty much all forms of public transport. “What’s so good about that?” I hear you scoff. Well, you won’t really know the answer until you have stood before a giant map of the Tokyo transport network written entirely in kanji. You try figuring that out with severe jet lag. Trying to decipher the price of your individual journey can be a nightmare for first-time visitors, as can navigating the ticket machines. But with a Smart Card all you have to do is touch it at the ticket barriers and you go straight through. It calculates the price of your journey for you, and deducts it from your card. Easy peasy.
Every single person who I have met in Tokyo owns a Smart Card, so it makes sense that visitors and tourists should get one too. It means no queuing for tickets and not having to worry about speaking Japanese. And at the end of your trip you can even refund all the money you still have left on your card, minus a small handling fee.
Each part of Japan has its own Smart Card. In Tokyo, we use Suica and Pasmo. But the beauty of these things is that you can use them right across the country. I went to Nagoya for work a while back, and my card worked fine down there. Better still, your Smart Card can be used to buy stuff from vending machines, in convenience stores – even certain restaurants and department stores. So you can cut down on having pointless loose change rattling around in your pockets. Although if you do have some, feel free to give it to me.