Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting around Tokyo and Kyoto

Just came back from Land of the Rising Sun and I am so excited that I feel like blogging about it. I absolutely love Japan, the people are so friendly, the place is clean and just everything Japan is awesome except...the language barrier. Gosh, I should try learning some Japanese (or Korean first? *sigh*).

This time around I went to Japan with my former housemates of A-5-5 Plaza Prima Setapak. The last time we all went on a trip together was back in June 2011 to Taiwan. I was pretty excited since I have never been to Japan before but I have heard that visiting there is fun but confusing. So, initially when the group decided not to join any travel agencies but rather to walk on our own, I was pretty worried. But in the end I am glad we did decided to venture on our own. Of course, we had our own share of problems such as bringing our heavy luggage across train stations, getting lost when it came to searching directions of the places that we want to go and not knowing what to eat.

I took up the challenge of planning our itinerary in Tokyo and that means first and foremost I had to learn about the Tokyo subway lines.

***Here, I want to thank Stephy so much for helping to answer my enquiries about Tokyo since she went there in Oct 2012***

When I first saw it, my mind went blank and I ignored procrastinated it for a few days before finally taking up the courage to finally learn it. Omg, how can anyone understand this confusing map? 

Anyway from what I gathered, there are mainly 3 operating subway lines that me and my friends used. Tokyo subway is divided into the 2 main lines (and different companies) - Tokyo Metro and Toei-Oedo plus few private subway lines. Tokyo Metro consists of 9 lines - Ginza (G), Marunouchi (M), Hibiya (H), Tozai (T), Chiyoda (C), Yurakucho (Y), Hanzomon (Z), Namboku (N) and Fukutoshin (F) whilst Toei-Oedo consists of 4 lines - Asakusa (A), Oedo (E), Mita (M) and Shinjuku (S). There are also private lines such as Yurikamome and Rinkai which brings you to Odaiba (which is one of the main attractions that we visited).

We bought the Tokyo Metro 2-day Open Pass which costs 980 yen (~RM34) which allowed us access on any of the 9 Tokyo Metro Lines but not on the 4 Toei-Oedo Lines and also not for any lines owned by private companies. There is also the Tokyo Open Subway Pass which actually allowed access on all 13 lines but it is only for one day and costs 1000 yen (~RM35). Buying our 2-day pass meant that we had to pay fares to places which can only be reached by Toei-Oedo Lines such as Tokyo Metropolitan Govt Office observatories, Tsukiji Fish Market and Asakusa Sensoji Temple.

Another famous thing I have heard from many travellers to Japan is the JR Pass. It gives you access to any JR lines which are usually long distance trains. So, if you are planning to go to places such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hokkaido, Iwate, etc. it is advisable to get one of these. However, there are 6 types of JR Passes - the JR Central, JR Shihoku, JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR West and JR Kyushu. It is good to first look up which places do these passes covered before deciding which pass to get. We bought the main JR Pass as we were going to Kyoto. It costs 28300 yen (~RM1047) for the ordinary pass for a minimum of duration of 7 days.

You cannot buy the JR Pass in Japan. You have to purchase the exchange order first at your own country. But to do so, means you also have to do your visa first as they required a copy of it. After getting your exchange order you may then exchange it for JR Passes at any JR Exchange Offices located in main subway stations across Tokyo. We exchanged ours at Shinjuku station. Read more here:

Besides travelling long distance across Japan, JR pass can also be used within Tokyo. The JR Yamanote line links several main stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Hamamatsucho, etc. At Hamamatsucho station, you can also use JR Pass to take Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport.

Navigating through the subway stations is actually pretty simple if you know beforehand which station you want to go. There are clear signboards (written in English too!) all over the stations. The only problem for us was knowing which exit to go to in order to reach the place of attraction. For that, you may need a Tokyo Map. If you don't have one, I highly recommend you pick up a Tokyo Handy Guide at the Japan Tourism Information Centre at Haneda Airport (the book in orange). It has a simple map of each major areas of Tokyo.

Also, in order to know the best transfer routes, you should definitely download iphone apps (I forgot which one my friend used, sorry!) that teaches you which lines you should transfer to get from one station to another. I used this website which was so helpful for me in planning our subway routes.

That is mainly about our transportation in Tokyo. For Kyoto, we bought the All Day Kyoto Bus Pass which costs 500 yen (~RM18) that allowed us on any Kyoto buses within a certain area of coverage. However that area covers mainly all the famous tourist attractions so it is also a good idea to get one considering that you have to pay 220 yen each time you get into a Kyoto bus. If you don't like waiting around for buses, Kyoto has 2 subway lines - Tozai and Karasuma. You can also use JR Pass to access JR Nara Line that brings you to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Read more in here: 

When you purchase the bus pass, they will also provide a bus route map for you which will teach you which buses are available for you to transfer. But the problem we had with the map was it did not teach you which bus stop on which side of the road were we supposed to wait for =.=

Okay, that is all I know about transportation in Japan. Going to start my resolution to blog more ;) 

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