Exploring Japan: An easy and efficient way to travel by train

If you look hard enough you can find adventure around every corner. Travel of course can be the most adventurous exercise and getting yourself from Point A to Point B can be a traveller’s greatest challenge.

Mount FujiMaking a holiday a little easier and run a little smoother is always a plus, isn’t it? On a recent trip to Japan I was introduced to the easy and efficient travel by train. I explored new areas, enjoyed new accommodation and new modes of transportation in a country that had already dazzled me on my first trip there one year ago.

Japan is always tidy; the streets and sidewalks are pristine just like you would expect. Everyone has a purpose and is usually in a hurry. The country can impress you with its big city life and urban design and yet just outside of Tokyo, life slows down and you’ll find a charm and natural landscape you most assuredly will treasure.

My tour in Japan began in Tokyo, where enormous train stations like Shinjuku and Shinagawa, stretch through city blocks and offer fantastic shopping options, casual dining, coffee houses and sweet treats. Everyone uses public transportation and companies like my hosts, Odakyu and Keihan, offer quite a long list of terrific options which carry every passenger where they need to go.

Trip to Hakone

After checking in with the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center, a very helpful language-friendly kiosk, we departed Shinjuku Station on the Romancecar. The adorable name comes from the fact that the seats are placed two by two so you can sit next to your sweetheart. All seats are reserved on this clean and beautiful electric train and the windows are large enough to be able have a fantastic view on this 80 minute trip to Hakone.

Romancecar to HakoneHakone is a very popular weekend destination where travelers from Tokyo can take a quick trip out to the countryside to enjoy the vast verdant forests, views of Mt Fuji, and the very popular onsen or hot springs. Of course other visitors come from around the world to experience this relaxing and revitalizing magical destination as well.

For our trip to Hakone, we used the Hakone Free Pass, a discount excursion ticket which allows travellers to use eight different transportation systems in the Hakone area and can be purchased in a two or three day option. Addtionally, the pass includes a round trip from Tokyo as well. It was so easy and convenient to hop on hop off by just swiping this pass.

We continued our journey riding several other forms of transportation and at times felt like we were on an amusement park ride because the cars were brightly painted, clean and just a whole lot of fun. On our way to Lake Ashi, we took the Hakone Cable Car up to the top and then switched over to the Hakone Ropeway with a surprise sighting of Mt Fuji herself. Our guide has travelled here many, many times and she had never seen the iconic volcano so clearly. A once in a lifetime experience!

What better way to travel across Lake Ashi than to ride in a pirate ship! This authentic looking vessel takes guests on a delightful trip with gorgeous water and peaceful shore views around the lake.

Lake Ashi, pirate ship and Mount FijiBuses, trains, ships, cable cars and ropeways, that is quite a long list of possible travel opportunities just between Tokyo and Kyoto. Each with its own personality and each easy to maneuver and enjoy. I found it all quite helpful and fascinating.

While touring the area, we stopped at the Hakone Open Air Museum, a glorious sculpture garden located directly on the mountain top. I was enamored with the unusual sculptures which integrated easily into the mountain landscape in their stunning design.

Can you imagine walking across the longest suspension bridge in Japan? How about one with a view of Mt Fuji, zip lining, a dog run, and Sky Garden? Although slightly acrophobic, I walked across this bridge like a champ and I was blown away by the view. This is a must see and experience while in the area as well.

Kyoto Resort Area

Our trip continued on to the Hieizan and Biwako resort area just outside of Kyoto. We felt like kids again as we traveled up to Mt Hiei on the Sakamoto Cable Railway, the longest cable car route in Japan which was opened in 1927! Mt Hiei is a world cultural heritage site as well as the birthplace of Japanese Buddhism and the views will astound you.

View from Biwako HotelAs guests of Keihan we were able to get where we needed to go from hotel to shrine – so convenient! We strolled over to the train station which took us to the cable car and straight to the peak offering views of Lake Biwa, the largest fresh water lake in Japan. While on the mountain, you can catch the bus between temples, where all of the schedules are listed. So the best idea is to time your visit around the next arriving bus.

Staying at the destination resort of Lake Biwa and the incomparable Biwako Hotel was such a treat. The rooms are impeccable, there are eight excellent upscale restaurants and views to make you swoon. In the summer Lake Biwa is extremely popular, but our time there in November was fantastic as well. Honestly, in my humble opinion there is no bad time to visit Japan.

If luxury is at the top of your vacation requirements, a stay at the newly opened The Thousand Hotel will please you immensely. This was my kind of place with extraordinary architectural design, innovative techy room accessories, a sleek urban aesthetic and magazine worthy restaurants. It was such an epic hotel experience that I was sorry only to stay one night!

Final thoughts

Then Thousand Hotel, KyotoTraveling by train and other public transportation throughout Japan seems to me to be the very best way to travel. The trains are extremely clean, quiet, prompt and abundant! If you miss the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Tokyo, there is one more right behind it 10 minutes later. So efficient and stress free. The brochures list everything you need to know and navigating this long list of options was very efficient.

I believe that travellers can be intimidated by travel to Japan, but after watching me effortlessly move through each of these transportation options, my friends and family have moved Japan to the top of their adventure list. How about you? Would you like to hop on the train and see one of the loveliest places on earth? Yes, I think so too.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Great Rail Journeys.

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Suzanne Stavert

Travel writer & blogger

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