How to use the train system
We highly recommend the Japanese train system for all travelers. It’s clean, cheap, safe, fast, convenient, goes everywhere, comes often, and is strictly punctual. However, the fact that it so often amazes travelers signifies its rarity in travelers’ home countries. So here are some practical tips for Japanese train system beginners!
How to ride the train
1) Buy a ticket from the vending machines at the station. The vending machines are mostly located near the ticket gates and feature maps of the rail system.
2) Walk through the ticket gate by slipping the ticket into the machine. Make sure to pick up your ticket again, as you will need it when you leave.
3) Find the right platform to board your train. Make sure that you get on the train going in the right direction that stops at your destination, as not all trains at a particular platform will stop at the same stops.
Japanese trains are strictly punctual, so be sure to be at the platform at boarding time. Do not run for your train.
4) Once you get off the train, walk to the ticket gates and slip your ticket into the machine. This time you won’t get your ticket back.
5) Once you get off the train, make sure you exit the right gate, especially at large stations or subway stations. If you exit the wrong gate, you may find yourself unable to reach your final destination! The train staff at the ticket gates can help you figure out which exit to take. Show a map or guidebook to the staff to and ask them which exit to use. They’ll point you in the right direction.
Understanding the train system
There are are three major train lines in Kobe which are often mentioned in our “how to get there” section: the JR Line, the Hankyu Line, and the Hanshin Line. Each line has many different types of trains, so our suggestion is to ask someone whether a particular train will stop at your destination or not. Even non-local Japanese sometimes have difficulty figuring it out. Don’t hesitate to ask a Japanese person: once you speak to them, they’ll try their best to help you out.
Types of trains
FUTSU: Local – stops at every station. Slowest train.
KAISOKU: Rapid service – skips a few stations.
SHIN-KAISOKU: Special Rapid service – skips several stations, runs for a long distance. Fast for long-distance transportation, but if you get on the wrong train, you’ll end up going a long way in the wrong direction!
TOKKYU: Special Express – On JR lines, an express fee is added for special express trains, and they stop only at major stations. Buy these tickets at the ticket service center.
SHINKANSEN: Super Express – Bullet trains are operated on different lines and fees and are usually boarded from a separate ticket gate. Make sure to board your ticketed train and car.
JR provides access from Kobe to Himeji, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, as well as various destinations in northern Hyogo. JR also runs the Shinkansen bullet train system to cities throughout Japan.
JR trains feature English-language announcements in major metropolitan areas.
FUTSU: Local – stops at every station.
TOKKYU: Limited Express – skips many stations.
Hankyu provides access from Kobe to Himeji, Osaka, and Kyoto, as well as the Takarazuka area.
FUTSU: Local – stops at every station.
TOKKYU or CHOKUTSU TOKKYU: Limited Express – skips many stations.
Hanshin provides access from Kobe to Himeji, Osaka, and Nara.
Hanshin Lines have a great variety of trains and may be too complicated for non-Japanese travelers to figure out. So our suggestion is again to ask someone whether the train will stop at your destination or not.
If you’re going to travel on public transportation, the pre-charge smart card called ICOCA will be very helpful. Smart cards can be easily purchased at ticket machines on the JR lines and refilled with cash at ticket machines everywhere. Because you don’t have to buy a ticket each time you travel, you don’t have to search for the price on confusing subway diagrams. To use the smart card, simply touch the card to the pad on the ticket gate machine when you enter and exit. Smart cards also make paying for buses (a common difficulty for travelers) easy!
Long-distance tickets: if you plan to ride a JR special express or a bullet train, go to the ticket service center at major stations to buy a ticket.
Note: there are several route-planning websites that will help you plan your train travel. See Useful Links for more information.
Getting to Hyogo
Only 20 minutes from Osaka and 30 minutes from Kyoto, Hyogo is an easy side trip for any traveler to Japan.
Many people imagine the trip to Japan to be long and arduous, but in fact, there are many direct flights to Kansai International Airport from various regions. Your destination is closer than you think!
Direct flights from: Dubai, Doha, Luxor, Cairo, Istanbul, Auckland, Cairns, Gold Coast, Sydney, Noumea, Guam, Saipan, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Roma, Tashkent, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu, Mumbai, Delhi, Denpasar, Singapore, Kuching, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Bangkok, Manila, Seoul, Macau, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, and many other major cities in China.
(Data from http://flight.kansai-airport.or.jp/en/flight/all_search/index.aspx, current Feb 2, 2011)
There are also numerous connecting flights from these great hub airports close to Japan: Changi Airport (Singapore), Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport (Thailand), Hong Kong International Airport, Incheon International Airport (Korea), Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and more.