Tokyo boasts of one of the most extensive metropolitan transit systems in the world. It consists of Japan Rail (JR) and private train operators, numerous subway systems, and bus service. However, be prepared for a long commute. It is not uncommon for a business person to commute for two to four hours round trip each day. KCP will try to find host families and dormitories as close to the KCP campus as possible, but finding good host families is difficult. It is not always possible to find host families in downtown Tokyo.
The massive web of public transportation may seem overwhelming at first. In time, however, you will become accustomed to it and feel confident traveling anywhere in Tokyo. Most participants of this program quickly learn to explore Tokyo and its surrounding areas like a native!
The train system
Japan has an extensive rail system for access to all areas of the country. Trains are frequent and punctual. Purchase tickets for long-distance trips at a station’s ticket office or a travel agency. Subways and trains are relatively inexpensive, usually have some maps and signs in English, and are quite regular. Timetables differ by line, though none run 24 hours. The cost is at least ¥ 120. There are usually change machines, but most of the ticket dispensers take bills as well. In order to exit without being fined, hold on to your ticket for the entire ride. Tickets are sold at vending machines. On a map above the ticket machine, find your destination stop and pay the fare listed next to it. If you can’t find your destination stop, pay the lowest fare, get off at your destination, and look for a fare adjustment machine to pay the difference. After you have your ticket, be sure to keep it! You need to put it into a machine to get out of the station.
Other modes of transport
Bus service is readily available within Tokyo and between Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. Ferries provide economical transportation to Japan’s many islands. Taxis are readily available but very expensive, particularly late at night. In a taxi, the door you enter and exit from opens and closes automatically.
In Japan, drivers drive on the left side of the road, not the right side. Be aware of this when walking on and crossing roads. KCP does not allow students to drive in Japan.
Do not hitchhike. It is not a common practice in Japan, and it can be dangerous.
A transportation pass between lodging and school is included for students whose housing is arranged by KCP. Students not enrolled in housing through KCP are responsible for their own transportation. Dormitory and Homestay students will receive train passes or train coupons from KCP staff on the arrival day. You can use them and go to KCP next day. KCP staff will tell you how to get to KCP from your lodging place when they pick you up at the airport.
Train passes are valid for a month.
In case you receive train coupons at the airport, KCP will give you train passes before you use up the tickets. For the first month, KCP will procure the passes, but after the first time, you are responsible for your own monthly passes. If you wish to take a different route to school than the most direct one, you are responsible for the difference in the transportation fee.
When your monthly transportation pass is about to expire, your student coordinator will give you the money to extend your pass for another month. Make sure you:
- bring your current pass with you when you go to extend.
- Long-term students who have a student visa can apply for student discount for their commute. The students can fill out an application form and receive the document at the KCP office.
If you lose your pass, you will be responsible for replacing it. If you change your housing or choose the course-only program, you are responsible for your own local transportation.
You are about to visit an exquisite part of the world. If possible, make the most out of this opportunity by setting aside some time after your term of study to explore other parts of Japan. (Students staying for more than one term will have a one- to 2-week break between terms as well.) One of the challenges of your stay in Japan is to balance study and fun. We recommend travel after a term rather than before. Make sure you have enough time left on your visa to travel.
A 90-day temporary visa will allow a few days afterwards. For more time, plan for an extended visa (see below). Lonely Planet, Fodor, and Let’s Go produce excellent guides to Japan. These three travel publishers also have websites; see Useful Travel Links. We know it sounds harsh, but you will not have time to travel during the term because the program is so intense. You will be concentrating on study during the term, and you’ll enjoy both study and travel more if you save travel for after your term. Your Japanese will be at its best, too.
Students planning to travel independently within Japan can get information from one of the Tourist Information Centers in Tokyo. There are two Tourist Information Centers (TIC) operated by the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) in the Tokyo metropolitan area. These centers offer a wide variety of literature in English about travel, cultural activities, and other resources for foreign people. Among the most popular free publications are “Your Guide to Japan,” “Tourist Map of Japan,” and “Economical Travel in Japan.” The Teletourist service provides 24-hour, English-recorded announcements about current events in and around Tokyo.
The Tourist Information Center (TIC) office in Tokyo is a short walk from Yurakucho JR Station in the basement of the Tokyo International Forum. The address is: Tokyo Information Center 10th floor, 2-10-1, Yurakucho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0006 Tel: 03-3201-3331. This office of the TIC is open weekdays from 9:00 to 17:00 and Saturdays from 9:00 to 12:00. The office is closed on Sundays and national holidays. The TIC may also be able to suggest travel itineraries.
Peak travel times
Plan any travel well beforehand. If possible, plan to travel during non-peak travel times, since there is a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside and then back again. During peak travel, almost all long-distance trains, ferries, airlines, and accommodations are booked solid. Also, peak airline tickets are very expensive, especially during Year end/New Year (Dec 27–Jan 4 and adjacent weekends).
Youth hostels in Japan
Youth hostels are the best deal for lodging in Japan. One of the best guides to youth hostels in Japan is available for a small fee at the Japan Youth Hostel Association (JYHA) office. Their telephone number is 03-3288-0260, and they are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00. JYHA is closed on the 2nd Saturday of each month.To get there, take the west exit of JR Suidobashi Station and make a left. Continue down the road and make another left at McDonald’s. JYHA is located in the third building to the left. Annual membership is available to students for ¥ 2800.
Japan Rail Pass
If you plan to travel a week or more in Japan after the program, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. You must purchase an Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass outside Japan. It can save you a lot of money. The Japan Rail Pass is available in 7-, 14-, and 21-day periods. Certain restrictions do apply. For example, you must be a “Temporary Visitor.” If you are a U.S. citizen staying for less than 90 days (and are not entering under a student visa), then you should have no problem obtaining your voucher. More about the Japan Rail Pass, including where to purchase Exchange Orders and where to redeem them for a pass.