How I found my way around Japan’s metropolitan maze can best be summarized as:
2 Words, 1 App
As bizarre and fetish-like as that sounds, it is anything but because…
Those 2 words are: GOOGLE MAPS
The app is (you guessed it): GOOGLE MAPS
Have you seen Japan’s rail system?
It’s a rail system in beast mode.
Having tried HyperDia, Japan Navitime, and a couple of other phone apps, I found shortcomings with each. HyperDia provides the timetable and fare routes for all railway and aviation routes. What I like most about Hyperdia is the Japan Rail search, which allows me to search only for routes on that line. This noteworthy feature is only handy if you have a Rail pass, which I highly recommend, or if you particularly favor the JR line over other local rails. Read more about my JR Pass write-up here: Japan Rail Pass review.
Although HyperDia excelled at its purpose and is the best standalone app for times and routes, it didn’t provide me the ease of use and convenience that Maps offered. While HyperDia required me to put a starting and ending station, Maps just needs me to punch in the destination and it will do all the guiding for me… including the walking to the nearest station. An all-in-one navigation app, it provided walking routes, business locations, reviews, and rail routes. In addition to getting me around Japan’s ultra-cool, extensive train system, I used Maps to create itineraries for the whole day.
BENEFITS OF USING GOOGLE MAPS
Maps provides the train fare for each route listed. For journeys with multiple destinations, keep in mind that it displays the TOTAL price for the entire trip. Whenever I’m presented with a route with multiple stops, I always check the fare for each individual route only. While there are fare adjustment machines, I don’t particularly like to use them.
Maps is THE ONE AND ONLY navigation app you need. Period. Whether it’s by car or train or bus, just punch in your destination and Maps will route the fastest way to get there.
CONS OF USING GOOGLE MAPS
Using Maps in Japan requires Internet connection, whether through your own mobile provider, through the WiFi provided by many of the cities, such as Shinjuku or Shibuya, or through a pocket-WiFi device. Without an active connection, Maps simply won’t work, and downloading the map beforehand for offline directions won’t work either because that functionality is not available in Japan. This is why I recommend switching to T-Mobile for free international data.
On one occasion, Maps instructed to remain on the train even though it looked like the route I was on required 2 different lines. As the remaining passengers trickled out the door, I asked a train personnel if the one I was on was bound for Shibuya, and he said to disembark and wait for the train on the other side of the platform.
Perhaps the biggest peeve with Maps was its inability to provide me with a shinkansen option that was NOT on the Nozomi line. The Nozomi line is the fastest shinkansen with the least stops between major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto and Shin-Osaka, and the JR pass does not cover the Nozomi or Mizuho line. When I was going from Osaka to Hiroshima and Kobe, Maps only displayed the Sakura shinkansen option half of the time.
Readers who’ve traveled to Japan, what is your preferred method of navigating through Japan’s amazing train labyrinth? Sound off in the comments below!