Japanese rail- Not as daunting as you thought
To Use a Rail Pass or Not? That is the question?
This article can be summarized very fast for some so you may not need to read on.
Are you predominantly spending your time in Hakuba and Tokyo?
If the answer is yes just pay the 8,200 yen(roughly $100 each way) if you spend a long amount of time in Hakuba your pass is just costing you. Local Tokyo trains are pretty cheap too, we have an English map in our getting here section.
If your planning on a full tour of sites and delights then yes, start planning, here’s some handy links:
Several maps are available on the internet. Here is a useful selection. The underground in Tokyo: http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/subwaymap/index.html JR trains in Tokyo: http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/info/map_a4ol.pdf The undergound in Kyoto: http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/access/subway.html The underground in Osaka: http://www.kotsu.city.osaka.jp/foreign/english/subway/img/map.pdf
Exchange your voucher for a JRP To use the trains on the Japan Railways (JR) network, the voucher given to you at the time of purchase must be exchanged at a JR ticket office. The list of stations where you can exchange it is shown on your voucher. All the major stations in Japan and Tokyo in particular have a dedicated ticket office.
Using your Japan Rail Pass The Japan Rail Pass means you don't need to buy tickets for every journey (except if you want to book a seat on a Shinkansen). You therefore need to go through the free passage area staffed by the ticket inspector (and not through the gates). It is a good idea to have your passport with you as the ticket inspector may want to check that you are the Rail Pass holder.
Use the automatic ticket machines
For the metro (in Tokyo in particular) or on certain private train lines, you must buy your ticket from the automatic machines. The idea is to locate the amount necessary to go to the station that you are interested in, by looking at the large panels generally located to the top of the ticket machines. Then insert this amount in the ticket machine which will print your ticket. Each of these distributors is available in English.
Book your Shinkansen seat at a ticket counter
To book a seat on board a mainline train (Shinkansen), you need to ask for your ticket numbered in a 'JR Ticket Office' identifiable by the green signs. This booked seat is called 'Shiteiseki'. Of course, you can also take sit where you want: this is the "Jiyuseki" system. Finally, since 2007 Japanese trains are all non-smoking, with the exception of some of the mainline trains which are equipped with smoking cars. The same rule applies in the station platforms.
Finding your train
The train number and destination are always shown in Japanese and Latin characters. On many platforms, floor markings show where the train doors are located. The trains stop exactly at the door marking location. It is a good idea to queue to access the door as the trains do not stop for long. Additionally, seats are not booked in advance on local trains and the sooner you board, the better your chances of securing a seat. Don't hesitate to ask a traveller on the platform if the train you are waiting for is going to your destination. Finally, be careful not to take a "Nozomi" train on the Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Hiroshima line. You must board the "Hikari" or "Kodama" which make a few extra stops.
Carrying your luggage
There is no porter service at Japanese stations. The major stations have escalators and lifts but the small stations only have steps. If you are going on a trip lasting one or two days, you can use the Takkyu-bin luggage-sending service for a modest fee to have your luggage delivered to your destination. Example: You are departing from Kyoto for Tokyo and want to spend 2 nights in Takayama and Kanazawa. For these 2 nights you can keep a minimum amount in a bag and have your suitcase delivered to your hotel in Tokyo.
Using the automatic luggage locker
With the lockers you can stop for 2 or 3 hours in a town, take a tour and then continue your journey on the next train. For example, departing from Kyoto on the Okayama route: you can only visit Himeji (2 ½ to 4 h) if you leave your luggage behind. Most of the major stations have quite large lockers (sometimes in limited numbers however). It is easier to fit in 2 medium-sized bags than a large suitcase.Small stations sometimes do not have lockers for large suitcases: it is better to have soft bags that be easily squashed down than rigid suitcases. There are also traditional lockers with a service ending quite early in the evening. Tokyo Station lockers have longer operational hours than most.
The station as an information centre
Nearly all stations have a tourist office. There is plenty of literature (unfortunately this is often only available in Japanese) to help you discover places of interest in the town or the region. Employees often speak English and can help you make hotel bookings.