Dec 25

Travel Book Review: ‘Japan by Rail’

Posted by Eden Law (Fukushima ALT 2010-2011, President of JETAANSW, Australian Country Representative, JETAAI Webmaster… I guess the very model of a modern Major-General?)

Japan by Rail

Not just for trainspotters

Travelling from one major city to another in Japan is a fantastic experience – the efficiency, the comfort, and for foreign travellers, the affordability, by way of the many available tourist travel passes. The extensive rail network and its famous and speedy bullet train (shinkansen) makes rail travel a viable choice to explore the country. And if you’ve ever thought about using this mode of transport for your next trip to Japan, then the recently published “Japan by Rail” travel guide would be a great way to start your planning.

Written by Ramsey Zarifeh (himself a former JET), Anna Udagawa, Andrew Picknell and James Hodgson, “Japan by Rail” is comprehensive – anywhere the rail network reaches, it will be covered in the book – except for the islands of Okinawa. Each chapter or part deals with the regions of Japan, such as Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Following along the major train route from either Tokyo or Osaka as a starting point, the chapters also detail and recommend many side-trips to lesser known destinations of towns, villages and noteworthy nature locations. Helpfully, it also lists the modes of transport and ticket prices where required, if needing to change between trains, buses or boat, and estimated travel times. While not extensive in every entry, accommodation, places to eat and shop are also included.

True to its specialisation, the book provides a generous amount of information on all things rail-related. Information on the various train passes are available – and there’s a quite a variety. There are even passes for short trips between just two destinations (for example, the Kawagoe Discount Pass between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe or “Little Edo”), which are described where applicable. Included are also train schedules for major rail routes by shinkansen, and suggested itinerary by rail. Note that the travel information is primarily based on the JR company, which dominates the country’s rail network infrastructure, though the text does include non-JR transport if needed to complete the journey. If you wish to use local travel routes that rely on non-JR lines, doing a self-guided tour by hired car, or choosing to base yourself from a place not covered in this book, “Japan by Rail” will be less useful, but can still provide some description of places and local sightseeing spots. Unusually, the guide book does not include JR’s railway maps, which would be useful (perhaps for future editions).

A great practical and detailed guide, “Japan by Rail” is highly recommended to start you off on your planning.

Japan by Rail 4th ed, Trailblazer Publications, and written by Ramsey Zarifeh, Anna Udagawa, Andrew Picknell and James Hodgson and available from the Trailblazer website

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