Willer Express - Inexpensive Highway Bus Reservations in English

Japan has an extensive and efficient train network; however, without an intimate knowledge of the system, its complexity can make it difficult to figure out an efficient route. On top of that, while most railway, bus and ferry companies publish their timetables online, few offer good English language resources. Luckily there are several good English online route finders available on the internet to help travelers navigate the railway system in Japan.

Route finders allow you to find transportation routes between any two train stations in Japan. Below are some of the better tools available:

Jorudan (aka Japan Transit Planner)

Jorudan has been around since the early days of the Internet. Today, Jorudan offers a website and an app, both of which come with free basic search functions and some additional paid functions. The free options available differ between the web and app, with the app version being greatly superior to the website.

The free app includes a Japan Rail Pass option, which allows results to be limited to trains covered by the pass, and also lists platform details and stations along the way. None of these features are provided by the free web version. Neither web nor app allow to exclude specific train categories (e.g. shinkansen or limited express trains), which is an option reserved for users willing to pay the monthly subscription fee of 330 yen.

Covers: train, plane and bus

Pros and cons:

  • has Japan Rail Pass option (app only)
  • shows stations along the way (app only)
  • shows platform numbers (app only)
  • does not allow to exclude certain train categories (except paid version)

Website: https://world.jorudan.co.jp/mln/en/
Android app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.co.jorudan.japantransit
iPhone app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/japan-transit-planner/id524328198

Navitime (aka Japan Travel by Navitime)

The English route search service by Navitime is close to perfect - when it works. Not only does it have a Japan Rail Pass option, but it can similarly handle several other rail passes. It also allows to exclude results by train category and other means of transport. Besides covering train and flight connections, Navitime is particularly strong with bus connections across Japan and also covers driving routes, taxi fares and expressway tolls.

The service is free and comes as website and app; however, while the app has been working like a charm for us, we often fail being able to use the website because it would not let us enter any departure and destination points.

Covers: train, plane, bus, taxi, car, walk

Pros and cons:

  • has Japan Rail Pass (and other rail passes) option
  • can exclude certain train categories or transport types
  • shows taxi fares
  • shows expressway tolls
  • has wheelchair-friendly option
  • has eco-friendly option
  • allows to set walking speed
  • website does not always work properly

Website: https://japantravel.navitime.com/en/area/jp/route/
Android app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.navitime.inbound.walk
iPhone app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/japan-travel-route-map-jr/id686373726

Google Maps

Last but not least there is Google. Google map search results are tremendously powerful and not limited to trains, buses and flights, but also cover car, bicycle, walk and wheelchair-friendly options, while being interlinked with other useful Google services.

However, the Google Map connection tool does not currently allow users to exclude certain train categories from their search results and does not feature a Japan Rail Pass option to exclude trains that are not covered by the popular rail pass.

Covers: train, plane, bus, car, bicycle, walk

Pros and cons:

  • shows stations along the way
  • shows platform numbers
  • has wheelchair-friendly option
  • has no Japan Rail Pass option
  • does not allow to exclude certain train categories

Website: https://www.google.com/maps

Printed timetables

Printed railway timetables in Japanese are sold in bookstores and kiosks across Japan. Both nationwide timetables as well as those covering a specific region or railway company are available. The largest timetable books contain kana readings for all station names, but they can still be rather difficult to use without Japanese reading skills. Unfortunately, comprehensive printed English timetables are not widely available, however some rail companies print booklets and pamphlets of timetables for selected routes.

Among the most complete nationwide timetables are the JR and JTB timetable books, which are published monthy in full and pocket versions. Besides the full schedules of all train lines operated by Japan Railways (JR), they contain the basic schedules of trains by other railway, bus, ferry and airline companies as well as a wide array of practical information covering topics such as discount tickets, fares and regulations.