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Train types explained

Guide on Japanese train types

Japanese train types introduction

Japan’s public transportation system is renowned for its efficiency, punctuality, and convenience. With a vast network of trains covering urban and rural areas, it offers an excellent way to explore the country. This guide will provide an overview of the various types of trains in Japan, including JR and non-JR trains, and discuss the benefits of obtaining a Japan Rail Pass.

Shinkansen signs roof

JR Trains (Japan Railways Group)

The Japan Railways Group, or JR, is a major operator of trains in Japan. It comprises six regional companies that provide extensive coverage across the country. The main types of JR trains include:

Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)
The Shinkansen is Japan’s iconic high-speed rail system, operating up to 320 km/h (200 mph). There are several lines, including the Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Hokuriku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido Shinkansen.

Limited Express Trains
These trains offer faster services than regular express trains, with fewer stops and reserved seating. They operate on major routes and provide connections to popular destinations.

Express Trains
Express trains make more stops than limited express trains but still offer a faster journey than local trains. They are commonly used for medium to long distances.

Rapid Trains
Rapid trains operate on urban and suburban routes, stopping at fewer stations than local trains. They provide quicker commutes during peak hours.

Local Trains
Local trains are the most basic service, stopping at all stations along their route. They are suitable for short-distance travel and exploring rural areas.


The Shinkansen, also known as the “bullet train,” is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan.

It revolutionized rail travel by providing fast, efficient, and comfortable transportation across the country.

Launched in 1964, the Shinkansen is known for its punctuality, safety record, and sleek aerodynamic design, which reduces air resistance and noise.

The trains can reach speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph), significantly cutting down travel time.

The Shinkansen has become an iconic symbol of Japan’s advanced technology and has inspired high-speed rail systems worldwide.

Shinkansen bullet train
JR Staff

Metro lines

Japan’s major cities have extensive metro networks that offer efficient transportation within urban areas. Tokyo, for example, has 13 metro lines operated by two main companies: Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Similarly, Osaka has a metro network run by Osaka Metro, and Nagoya’s metro system is operated by Nagoya City Transportation Bureau.

Non-JR Trains​

In addition to JR trains, numerous private railway companies are operating in Japan. These companies often operate limited express, express, and local services, providing convenient access to destinations not served by JR lines. Some notable examples include:

Tobu Railway, Keikyu Corporation, Keio Corporation, Odakyu Electric Railway, Kintetsu Railway, Hankyu Corporation, Nankai Electric Railway.

Cherry clossom train
People on subway train

Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway

However, it is essential to note that the Japan Rail Pass does not cover non-JR metro and subway lines within Tokyo, which are operated by separate companies, such as Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway.

To access these services, Japan Rail Pass holders will need to purchase separate tickets or opt for a prepaid IC card, such as Suica or Pasmo, which can be used on various public transportation options, including non-JR trains, subways, and buses.

Metro tickets

If you plan to travel extensively within Tokyo using non-JR metro and subway lines, you may consider purchasing a Tokyo Metro 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour Ticket, which offers unlimited travel on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines within the designated time frame. These passes can be used in conjunction with the Japan Rail Pass for comprehensive coverage of Tokyo’s transportation network.

Passing ticket gate

Japan Rail Pass benefits

The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective and convenient option for tourists, providing unlimited travel on most JR trains, including Shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid, and local trains. It also covers some bus and ferry services. The main benefits of the Japan Rail Pass are:

Savings: The pass offers significant savings compared to purchasing individual tickets, especially for long-distance travel and frequent train use.

Convenience: The pass eliminates the need to buy tickets for each journey, simplifying travel and allowing for spontaneous trips.

Flexibility: Passes are available for 7, 14, or 21 days, catering to various travel durations and itineraries.

Seat Reservations: Passholders can reserve seats for free on most trains, ensuring a comfortable journey.

JR Network Coverage: The pass provides access to an extensive network of trains, making it easier to explore both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Japan’s trains are an efficient and enjoyable way to explore the country. With a variety of train types, including JR and non-JR trains, and metro lines, travelers can easily reach their desired destinations. Obtaining a Japan Rail Pass is highly recommended for tourists, as it offers considerable savings, convenience, and flexibility during their trip. By understanding the different train types and services, visitors can make informed decisions and get the most out of their journey through Japan. Whether exploring the bustling metropolises or the serene countryside, Japan’s trains provide a reliable and comfortable means of transportation.

JR Lines in Tokyo

While the Japan Rail Pass primarily covers JR train lines, it offers limited access to certain non-JR transportation services within Tokyo. The following options are available for Japan Rail Pass holders within Tokyo:

JR Yamanote Line: This circular train line is a key transportation route within Tokyo, connecting major city centers such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno, and Tokyo Station. The Yamanote Line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, making it convenient for pass holders to travel within the city.

JR Chuo Line: The Chuo Line runs east-west through central Tokyo, providing easy access to popular areas such as Shinjuku, Akihabara, and Tokyo Station. As a JR train line, the Chuo Line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

JR Keihin-Tohoku Line: This line connects Saitama, Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokohama, serving major stations such as Shinagawa, Tokyo, and Ueno. The Keihin-Tohoku Line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Other JR Lines: Japan Rail Pass or green Japan Rail Pass holders can also use other JR lines in Tokyo, such as the Saikyo, Shonan-Shinjuku, and Sobu lines.

Sakura infront of castle

JR lines Osaka

JR Osaka Loop Line: This circular line connects major stations in Osaka, including Osaka Station, Tennoji, and Kyobashi.

JR Kyoto Line: Connects Osaka to Kyoto, stopping at important stations like Shin-Osaka and Kyoto Station.

JR Kobe Line: Connects Osaka to Kobe, stopping at key stations like Sannomiya and Kobe Station.

JR lines Kobe

JR Kobe Line (Tokaido-Sanyo Line). This line runs between Osaka and Himeji, connecting major stations in Kobe, such as Sannomiya and Kobe Station.

Kobe harbor nighttime
Deers in nara

JR lines Nara

JR Nara Line: Connects Kyoto to Nara, stopping at key stations like Nara Station and Uji.

JR lines Fukuoka

JR Kagoshima Main Line: This line connects Fukuoka (Hakata Station) to Kagoshima and provides access to other cities in Kyushu.

JR Chikuhi Line: Connects Fukuoka to Karatsu and Imari, serving popular stations like Nishitetsu-Shingu and Chikuzen-Maebaru.

Bridge over water
Ruins from hiroshima

JR lines Hiroshima

JR Sanyo Main Line: This line connects Hiroshima to other cities, such as Fukuoka, Okayama, and Kobe, with Hiroshima Station as the central hub.

JR Kure Line: Connects Hiroshima to Kure and provides access to popular destinations like the Yamato Museum and Kure Maritime Museum.

JR lines Kyoto

JR Sagano Line (Sanin Main Line): This line connects Kyoto to Saga-Arashiyama, a popular tourist area known for its bamboo groves and scenic landscapes.

JR Nara Line: Connects Kyoto to Nara, providing access to key stations such as Inari (Fushimi Inari Shrine) and Uji.

JR Biwako Line (Tokaido Main Line): This line connects Kyoto to Maibara, providing access to destinations along Lake Biwa.

Bamboo forest
Overview city center

JR lines Sapporo and Hokkaido

JR Hakodate Main Line: This line connects Hakodate to Sapporo and offers access to Otaru and other destinations in southern Hokkaido.

JR Chitose Line: Connects Sapporo to New Chitose Airport and offers access to Tomakomai and other destinations in the region.

JR Muroran Main Line: This line connects Sapporo to Muroran, providing access to Noboribetsu, a famous hot spring area in Hokkaido.

JR lines Nagoya

JR Tokaido Main Line: This line connects Nagoya with Tokyo, Kyoto, and other major cities in the Tokai region.

JR Chuo Main Line: Connects Nagoya to Gifu, Nakatsugawa, and other destinations in Gifu Prefecture.

JR Kansai Main Line: This line connects Nagoya to Yokkaichi, Kameyama, and other destinations in Mie Prefecture.

Museum entrance
Warm steams

JR Lines Nagasaki

JR Nagasaki Main Line: This line connects Hakata (Fukuoka) to Nagasaki, stopping at key stations such as Tosu, Saga, and Hizen-Yamaguchi.

JR Omura Line: Connects Nagasaki to Sasebo and provides access to popular destinations such as Huis Ten Bosch theme park.

JR lines Yokohama

JR Tokaido Main Line: This line connects Yokohama with Tokyo, Kawasaki, and other cities in the Greater Tokyo Area.

JR Keihin-Tohoku Line: Connects Yokohama to Tokyo, Kawasaki, and other cities in the Greater Tokyo Area, as well as northern cities like Saitama and Omiya.

JR Negishi Line: Runs between Yokohama and Ofuna, providing access to local attractions such as the Yokohama Chinatown, Yamashita Park, and Sankeien Garden.

Yokohama ferris wheel

IC Suica & Pasmo

For more comprehensive coverage of public transportation in each city, Japan Rail Pass holders may need to purchase additional tickets or prepaid IC cards (e.g., Suica, Pasmo, or regional variants like ICOCA in Kansai). These cards can be used on non-JR trains, subways, and buses. Cards like Suica can also be used for vending machines, coin lockers, and much more.

In some cities, like Osaka and Kyoto, specific sightseeing passes may be useful for tourists. For instance, the Osaka Amazing Pass offers unlimited travel on non-JR subway, tram, and bus lines within Osaka, as well as free or discounted admission to various attractions. In Kyoto, the Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass or Two-Day Pass can be purchased for unlimited bus travel within designated areas, complementing the Japan Rail Pass for more efficient exploration of the city.