Thursday, May 11, 2006

Getting around: Japan edition

Getting from one airport to another is seldom a problem regardless of whether or not you know the language in a particular country. Most people in airports know enough English to help a hopeless foreigner like myself. All of the signs have English translations and pictures, so navigating an airport isn't a problem. Once you leave the protection of the terminal, however, things can get a bit tricky.

Taxi drivers here don't seem to know much English, so it helps if you can get the name and address of your destination printed on a note card in Japanese and English (so you can read it yourself) That will get you most anyplace just as long as you have cash (Don't expect too many cabs to take credit cards like in America)

But what about the other major mode of transportation?

The train system isn't necessarily difficult to navigate, but it can take some getting used to. If you know how to properly pronounce the name of the place where you're going, then a ticket agent can take care of the rest. Searching the ticket for your car and seat number is easy, as is matching the train number with the platform and time. So overall reserved seat travel isn't difficult.

What happens when you're just trying to get around Tokyo?

In the bustle of a train station it's often possible find someone who speaks English (especially if you stand out in the crowd) But if you don't want to rely upon the kindness of strangers you will have to buy your own ticket from one of the touch-screen consoles in the station. All you have to do is look at the fare map located above the consoles and find your destination. The price to get there is listed right on the map.

Simple right?

Not so fast. Look at the map a little more carefully.

That's a bit tricky unless you know the language. So what's a fellow to do?
Well, luckly there are English versions of JR and subway systems availible online. They don't have the fares (because those vary depending on your starting point) but keeping one of these English maps folded up in your pocket gives you just enough information to identify the name of your destination on the fare map.

After that you just have to get used to the currency.

I'll post more about Tokyo and Japan when I get some more time.


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