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Goin’ Japanesque!

Japanese Trains: What to Know Before You Ride

Though the stations of the Tokyo area already have all their necessary information in English, there are still many rural stations with signage in Japanese only, which is sure to have been the cause of some less-than-pleasant travel experiences. However, the charm of these rural destinations is a popular topic lately, and we’re confident that you’ll visit one of them one day too, if you haven’t already. We’ve compiled a selection of station-related need-to-knows sure to help you out when the need arises, together with the relevant Japanese. Photo:


みどりの窓口 (Midori no Madoguchi) – The “Green” Office

This is a station’s reservation and general information center, marked in green (“midori”). If you’re lost or uncertain but asking for help from a Japanese person hasn’t worked, try simply asking, “Midori no madoguchi wa doko desu ka?” Almost all your station-related issues (and ticket purchases, too!) can be resolved here.


上り/下り (Nobori/Kudari) – “Up” Trains and “Down” Trains

下り (“down train”) written on a station sign

Just like their siblings internationally, train routes in Japan are composed of two lines going in opposite directions. These lines are known as either “nobori” or “kudari”, which means “(going) up” and “(going) down”. If you get on the wrong line, you’ll be heading off in the completely opposite direction to where you want to go, so if you must remember just two words today, remember these:

  • Nobori (up/inbound train): going “up” in to Tokyo
  • Kudari (down/outbound train): going “down” out of Tokyo

Keep these in mind and you won’t end up riding away from your destination right from the start. “Nobori” and “kudari” also apply to expressways, and the Japanese characters are the same, too.


Women-Only Cars

Though train lines vary, in general from around 7 AM to 10 AM the very first car on a line is reserved for female passengers only. This can apply to the last train of the day, as well. There will be large pink labels attached to the train car to let you know. If you’re male, or traveling with males, be sure not to get on these accidentally during those times!


Types of Trains

Electric signs with 快速 (“rapid”) 始発 (“departure [station]”) and 各停 (“local”)

As with most transit systems globally, Japan has a variety of train types, e.g. rapid, local, etc. If you board a rapid train that isn’t stopping where you want to get off, you’ll ride right past your destination. To prevent this, we’ve compiled a basic list of the kanji, readings, and meanings of the train types in their order of speed (e.g., least to most stops).

  • 特急 – とっきゅう – Tokkyuu – Limited Express
  • 急行 – きゅうこう – Kyukou – Express
  • 快速 – かいそく – Kaisoku – Rapid
  • 普通/各駅停車/各停 – ふつう/かくえきていしゃ/かくてい – Futsuu/Kakuekiteisha/Kakutei – Regular/Every Station/Local *different names for same type of train


Station Vocabulary

In addition, there are also a number of words below that you’ll see regularly at train stations. We hope they’ll come in handy!

Kanji Hiragana Roma-ji English
 入口  いりぐち  Iriguchi  Entrance
 出口  でぐち  Deguchi  Exit
 北口  きたぐち  Kitaguchi  North Exit
 東口  ひがしぐち  Higashiguchi  East Exit
 南口  みなみぐち  Minamiguchi  South Exit
 西口  にしぐち  Nishiguchi  West Exit
 切符  きっぷ  Kippu  Ticket
 乗換  のりかえ  Norikae  Transfer
 改札口  かいさつぐち  Kaisatsuguchi  Ticket Gate
 X行き  Xゆき/Xいき  X-yuki/X-iki  Bound for X
 方面  ほうめん  Houmen  Direction
 始発  しはつ  Shihatsu  (Station of) Origin *also, first train of the morning
 終点  しゅうてん  Syuuten  Last stop


Traveling with the information we’ve presented today will make a big difference to your trip, so be sure to tuck these tips away!

Related: Help for Your First Trip to Japan! 6 Best Things to Know Ahead of Time

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