[From February Issue 2010]
Trains are convenient for getting around in Japan. People who can not speak Japanese will have no problem at stations since most of the information boards and signs also use English besides Japanese. Recently Chinese and Korean are also used. Well then, let’s go to a station.
If you can’t find a station, or a ticket office, to ask for directions just say “Station?” or “Ticket?”, then someone will kindly direct you to these places. These words are now used as Japanese terms. Most English words used in the station can be understood. The word “train” is one of them.
You will buy a ticket through an automatic ticket machine. The station names and train fare are written on a panel on the wall, so you just put the amount of the fare into the machine. Generally the station names are written in kanji. If you don’t read kanji, just tell a station worker your destination. Then, the person will help you find the fare.
If you are going to a small station, it is likely that not many people know where it is, so you will have to tell the name of the line (sen), too. Take for example Kitami station on the Odakyu Line. Say “Odakyuu-sen no Kitami eki.” (Some of panels in big stations show station names written in English.)
Next, you will go to a ticket gate, kaisatsuguchi in Japanese. You should learn the word kaisatsuguchi since not many Japanese understand “ticket gate.” The ticket gate is also automatic. Put your ticket into the ticket mouth of gate and then collect it from the other side. These days most people buy a train pass, which can be purchased in units of 1,000 yen. It will enable you to pass through ticket gates just by holding the pass over the illuminated scanner on the ticket gate.
You will do the same thing at the station where you get off. Your train fee will be automatically deducted from your pass. If you don’t have enough money on your pass, the ticket gate door will be automatically closed. In that case, with a nearby fare adjustment machine you will either pay an additional fare by touching the additional fare button written as “精算,” or deposit some money by touching the charge button written as “チャージ.”
Then, you will go to the platform. Each platform is numbered like “1 ban-sen” and “2 ban-sen.” As you see, the word “ ~ sen” is also used here. On a direction board you probably find the word “houmen” like “Shinjuku houmen” (for Shinjuku). If you don’t know the platform number.
There are basically two kinds of trains. One is called kakueki-teisya (各駅停車local train). Usually the shortened word kakutei (各停) is used, which stops at each station, and the other called kyuukou (急行express), which stops only at big stations. Besides these, other categories of train are running, including junkyuu (準急semi-express), which runs at the speed between kakutei and kyuukou, and tokkyuu (特急), which runs faster than kyuukou. Furthermore, the word kaisoku (快速) has different meanings depending on each railway company. English words are not commonly used for such words as kakutei and kyuukou. Norikae (乗換transfer) is also often used. It is advisable for you to learn them.