Are you moving to Nagoya?! I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a great first introduction to Japan though, and one of the most important things you’ll need to know how to use is its transportation system! This guide will walk you through everything you need to know.
Every major city in Japan has a railway network. This is made up of the city’s subway system as well as private train lines. Some private train lines, like JR, run throughout the entire country whereas others, like Nagoya’s Meitetsu, are only located in a single city. You will likely have to utilize both the public subway as well as these private train lines to fully explore the city. All of these rail providers are completely separate from each other (meaning you have to pay separately to use each, even if two or more are necessary to reach your destination), although they will often have stops at the same train stations.
If you find a map of the train lines, it is most likely the map for a single rail provider so keep in mind that it’s an incomplete map of the city’s full rail system.
For example, this is Nagoya’s public subway system:
And this is the map for Nagoya’s Meitetsu railway system:
If you put all the railway lines together it kinda looks like this:
But don't worry about how confusing those are. You get used to it fast!
Nagoya’s train lines and what you might use them for
The majority of Nagoya can fortunately be explored just by using the city’s subway system. There are many subway lines, but you’ll learn them pretty quickly. This is also the system you can use your ichi nichi ken on (covered in detail below).
JR is Japan’s largest private railway corporation and spans the entirety of Japan, and includes the Shinkansen. If you get the “Rail Pass” to visit Japan, it is the JR Rail Pass and can only be used on these train lines. You likely won’t be using JR much in Nagoya unless you’re living along one of its lines or you’re traveling out of the city, like to get to Gifu city. Many of the routes that JR covers in Nagoya are also covered by the Meitetsu lines, so make sure you check the two railways to see which one’s cheapest and gets you there fastest, and then choose JR anyway because Meitetsu is the Satan’s spawn of Japanese rail systems.
What’s there to say about Meitetsu? The trains are old. Most don’t have screen or lit up maps clearly outlining where you are and what stations the train you’re in is stopping at (most subway and JR trains do). Some Meitetsu trains are reserved, meaning you have to buy a special ticket before boarding or a guy will come down the aisle, internally tut at you and then ask you to pay an extra fare. Some Meitetsu trains randomly end at certain stations and you have to get out and stand on the platform and wait for the next Meitetsu train to arrive before you can continue on your journey. Some Meitetsu trains can branch off in two different directions, so if you accidentally get on one that branches the way you didn’t want to go and you don’t know all the stations in between because there are no LCD screens showing you where you are you can end up riding for 45 minutes out into the middle of nowhere until you realize you’re on the opposite side of the city from where you needed to be. Meitetsu is fun. I’m definitely not biased.
Meitetsu also has a very expansive rail system in Nagoya so you’ll probably use it at some point. Most notably, Meitetsu is the only train that connects to the airport. As long as you pay attention to which cars/trains are reserved (sometimes only certain cars are reserved and sometimes the whole train is reserved) and make sure the train you’re getting on actually stops at the station you want to go to, you should be fine. Have a map open though so you can listen to the station stops as you go along to make sure you’re going the right way.
The Aonami Line is a single line of 11 stops starting at Nagoya station and ending at Kinjo-Futo. This is the line you’ll use to get to Nagoya’s Immigration Office to renew or change your visa. You want stop 07 – Nagoya-keibajo-mae. Pro-tip: make sure you check Japan’s holiday calendars so you don’t go all the way out to the Immigration Office only to find it closed. Not that that’s happened to me before...
Linimo is a bit of a ways outside of the city, but it’s kind of cool so you might want to head out that way at some point. It connects to the subway system via the very last stop on the Higashiyama Line—Fujigaoka station. Linimo is an unmanned maglev train that starts out underground but soon heads up high above the city. You can use this line to get to the Aichi Expo Park, the spot that held the 2005 World Fair. There are still some cool things to see there including an ice skating rink, a water park, and Mei and Satsuki’s house from Totoro. This line is comparatively expensive, but the ride is smooth and it’s pretty neat to sit on a train that uses magnets to levitate.
Figuring out where you’re going
There are a bunch of train apps you can download in Japan but honestly Google maps is all you really need. It shows you multiple routes, transfers, the cost, the exact time, and it even lets you plan in advance if you want to figure out how to arrive somewhere by a specific time on a certain day, like if you want to find when you need to leave if you have to be in Sakae by 11:30 next Tuesday.
Different train lines have different times for their first and last trains, but keep those in mind if you plan on being out late so you don’t miss the last train capable of getting you back home! You can always call a taxi if you need to, but outside of cities like Kyoto they’re usually prohibitively expensive so it’s best not to rely on them when possible.
Many train lines also have rapid, semi-rapid, and local trains. Local trains stop at every station along the way whereas rapid trains only hit the big ones. If you’re not using an app to plan your route for you, make sure you select a train that actually stops at your station. On the station platform there will be a screen that lists which stations the next train stops at so check that to be sure!
How to buy train tickets
You can buy physical train tickets outside the gates of the specific rail system you’re using. Above the ticket machines there will be a map of that system’s lines and how much it costs to get from the station you’re at to any other station.
There will also be a map in English, and you can also set the ticket machine to English if you want. Simply select a button for how many people you’re buying a ticket for, select whether you want round trip tickets, push the button for the correct fare amount using the map above the machine, and then decide if you want a receipt. Easy-peasy!
If you make a mistake, don’t worry. Once you’ve gone through the gates there are fare adjustment machines, and you can also take your ticket to the office next to the gates if you realize you don’t need it at all and want to return it.
That office next to the gates, by the way? You’ll be using that. A lot! If your ticket doesn’t work, if you put your ticket in the machine but forget to pick it back up, if you’re lost, if you need directions, or if you find a wallet and want to turn it in—all things you can talk to the dude in the window about!
How to use your tickets
To use your ticket just insert it into the gate.
Don’t forget to pick it back up!!
If you forget, it gets sucked down into a little box inside the gate and you have to get a station attendant to open up the gate and retrieve it for you. If you get on the train without your ticket and reach your next destination you can talk to the station attendant there. The one time that happened to me they were able to call the station I left from and find my ticket inside that little gate box. They may not always be able to do that though, and in that case you might have to pay for another ticket.
When you reach your destination put your ticket into the machine again and then it’s gone for good!
Most people no longer use physical tickets, though. IC cards are a necessity if you’re going to be living in Japan for a while! These are physical cards that you charge (at any train station) and then just use to beep your way through the ticket gates. It automatically handles the fares for you so you don’t have to calculate anything yourself, it saves time, and some of them collect points to give you slight discounts on future uses!
There are many brands of IC cards but try to get one from the city you’ll be living in because they don’t all work on every train line. Nagoya’s IC card is the Manaca and can be used on all of the aforementioned trains, excluding the Linimo. If you get an IC card from another city (for example, I have a Pasmo from Tokyo), you may not be able to use them on smaller local lines. Mine does not work for the Aonami Line.
IC cards cost 500 yen and the Manaca can be registered in your name, if you wish. If you register it then your name will be printed on the front of the card and it can be mailed back to you if you lose it (which is nice if you have a 4000 yen charge on it!) Any points you’ve accumulated will also be saved if you register it. They say if it’s registered it can’t be used by anyone else, but honestly no one is ever going to know. The card I’ve been using for two years is a spare registered card from one of my friends. Waiting for the train police to show up any minute…!
The Manaca also accumulates points, as well as gives you discounts for making certain connections, so be sure to read through their website for the full details! You can use the points you’ve accumulated to charge your card at any card charging station. IC cards can also be used on most buses as well as on some vending machines at train stations and at conbini! To maximize your mindless spending, use your IC card everywhere!
The 1 Day Pass (or Ichi Nichi Ken)
One of the greatest tragedies of the foreigner in Japan is living for years without knowing about the existence of day passes. Oh the untold amounts of unnecessary money spent on tickets! Major cities in Japan have their own versions of single day passes that can be used on specific train lines. In Nagoya the day pass can be used on the public subways as well as city buses.
The cost of the day pass on weekends, holidays, and the 8th of every month is 600 yen and that includes buses. Considering the cheapest subway ticket you can buy is 200 yen, you only need to make a couple stops for the price to be worth it! If you’re planning on spending the weekend riding around the city and shopping then make sure to buy a day pass!
The cost during weekdays is 850 yen if you include buses, or 740 yen for only the subway. It’s still often worth it!
Day Pass machines are separate from regular ticket machines and look like this:
If you want to spread the love, when you’re done with your all day pass you can hand it off to someone else in line to buy train tickets (assuming you didn’t use it until last train). You’re probably not supposed to do this, but it’s an easy way to make someone’s day!
Rules of the train
There are some general rules that are true for most trains across Japan. No talking on your cellphone, no applying makeup, no playing music out loud--in general just be courteous of the other passengers. Some trains have women's only cars (sometimes all day and sometimes only during certain hours). There are also priority seats that are meant to be used for the elderly, disabled, or pregnant, so try to avoid those seats if possible or give them up if someone gets on the train who needs it. On long distance trains like the Shinkansen (which look more like the inside of an airplane with their tray tables and refreshment carts) you're allowed to eat, but on commuter trains and the subway eating and drinking is generally frowned upon if not outright against the rules.
WARNING – Navigating train stations
A warning to all Japan newbies. When you’re leaving a train station, DO NOT just exit out of the nearest gate. Many train stations in Japan have numerous exits that DO NOT CONNECT TO EACH OTHER so if you go out the wrong one, you might find yourself walking around the entire train station (or even around several blocks) to get to the side you wanted to be on. It’s just one of the “fun” quirks of Japan.
Either figure out which exit you need on your smartphone or find an information map (posted in most stations) that details the important buildings and tourist destinations nearby and which exit you need to go through to get to them.
There will be arrows overhead that loosely point in the direction that the different exits are located.
If you need to transfer train lines, there will also be banners overhead loosely pointing in their direction as well. Sometimes they’re not very clear so if you try following the signs and get lost, don’t worry. We’ve all been there.
Train stations can be insanely crowded, but don’t feel pressured to move forward with everyone else if you don’t know where you’re going. Feel free to step aside and get your bearings or backtrack if necessary! Some stations (like Shinjuku in Tokyo) are notoriously confusing and it can sometimes take quite a while to figure out where you need to be. But it’s better to take a few minutes to look around rather than going out the wrong gate and finding you just added a 15 minute walk to your journey.
Every major train station (and most smaller ones as well) either have an elevator or a wheelchair accessible escalator available, although sometimes the elevators are located in strange, far-away spots. When you get to the ticket gate you can talk to the worker in the window and let them know which station you’re going to. They will bring you a ramp to help you get on the train and then call ahead to the station you’re going to so someone will be waiting there with a ramp as well.
That should cover it
This is just about all you'll need to know to get around Nagoya. There are tons of signs, plenty of English, and there are always people around to help if you need it! You get used to it all really quickly. And the trains in most cities work just about the same so once you've ridden around Nagoya a few times you'll be good to travel anywhere else in the country. Don't worry if you make mistakes or take the wrong trains because we've all done it. Enjoy those heated seats!
Rachel & Jun
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