Signage and announcement in the station and train

Signage at Nishikujo station platform. Most of signage are shown in Japanese and English.
Signage at Nishikujo station platform. Most of signage are shown in Japanese and English.

Some of you are very nervous of language barrier. But in 2014, more than 13 million tourists have visited Japan. I believe 99% of tourists did not understand Japanese. But most of tourist have completed their travel without a huge issue. It is not very hard to make a trip to Japan without speaking Japanese. I think the signage and the announcement in both station and train help travellers and take them to the right direction.

In this post, I would like to show you the signage in the station and train. I hope this post will relief your pain.

In the station building

Station signage of Yurakucho station in Tokyo
Station signage of Yurakucho station in Tokyo

At first, I would like to show you the signage in the station.

How to find the station

The station name is shown in both Japanese and English as you saw Yurakucho station photo above. So even if you do not under stand Japanese at all, you can find the station name in English.

Station building of Hakodate station in Hokkaido. JR stations have JR logo and very easy to find.
Station building of Hakodate station in Hokkaido. JR stations have JR logo and very easy to find.

There are many signage at the entrance and the ticket gate. But all signage is shown in Japanese and English as well. In major stations, it is shown in Chinese and Korean too.

Direction signage at Kokura station in Kyushu. Kyushu is very popular among Asian toursits. Therefore four language, Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean are written on the most of signage.
Direction signage at Kokura station in Kyushu. Kyushu is very popular among Asian toursits. Therefore four language, Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean are written on the most of signage.

How to find subway station

Subway station is not easy to find because it is located underground. But it has name of station and line. And also all stations have number.
Subway station is not easy to find because it is located underground. But it has name of station and line. And also all stations have number.

Subway station is located in underground and thus sometimes hard to find it. The station name of subway is written in both Japanese and English too. And also subway station and line in major cities have number. It makes you to find the station and line easily.

Ticket Vending machine

Ticket vending machine of Fukuoka subway. It is shown in Japanese but if you push English button, all text are shown in English.
Ticket vending machine of Fukuoka subway. It is shown in Japanese but if you push English button, all text are shown in English.

If you do not use any rail passes, you need to purchase a ticket. For the short transfer, like train trip within downtown Tokyo, you purchase a ticket at the vending machine. Most of vending machine in major cities offer us English signage or guidance.

But if you need to purchase long transfer ticket, you need to go to the ticket office. In most of JR stations, ticket office is called Midori no Madoguchi in Japanese. But in English, the signage shows “Ticket” only.

Midori no Madoguchi is JR trains ticket reservation window.
Midori no Madoguchi is JR trains ticket reservation window.

How to find the direction in the station

If you arrive or depart at major terminal station, like Tokyo, Osaka, there are many tracks, ticket gates and entrance. But there are lots of signage that are written in both English and Japanese. 99% of signage in the station are written in both English and Japanese. As long as you understand English, you will never lose your way.

Direction signage near ticket gate of JR Kyoto station. It shows us exit and platform information in both Japanese and English.
Direction signage near ticket gate of JR Kyoto station. It shows us exit and platform information in both Japanese and English.

How to find the track where you need to ride a train

This signage shows many trains direction.
This signage shows many trains direction.

Most of station have train departure information board at the ticket gate. You can find the train name and destination when you enter the station.

The ticket gate of JR Shijuku station. Train departure information board is located just behind the ticket gate. Of course it is shown in both Japanese and English.
The ticket gate of JR Shijuku station. Train departure information board is located just behind the ticket gate. Of course it is shown in both Japanese and English.
Train departure information board at Odakyu Railway Odawara station
Train departure information board at Odakyu Railway Odawara station
Train departure information board at Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station
Train departure information board at Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station
Shinkansen departure information board at Shinkansen transfer gate in Shin-Osaka station
Shinkansen departure information board at Shinkansen transfer gate in Shin-Osaka station

You may watch the movie below to see how it shows in both Japanese and English.

At the platform

The signage at walkway shows you platform number, the name of line and destination.
The signage at walkway shows you platform number, the name of line and destination.

At the ticket gate, you can find the track number where your train depart. You may find the number and destination at the stairs or escalators to the platform.

Track number and train number / name are shown in the LED board.
Track number and train number / name are shown in the LED board.

Now I would like to show you the signage at platform.

Station name board

The JR standard station board on the platform. It is written in Japanese and English.
The JR standard station board on the platform. It is written in Japanese and English.

It is written in Japanese and English basically as you see above. I would like to show you some more samples.

Nishikujo station is the transfer point to Universal Studio Japan on Osaka Loop line.
Nishikujo station is the transfer point to Universal Studio Japan on Osaka Loop line.
Kita-Matsumoto station is located just outside Matsumoto.  It is very common countryside station.
Kita-Matsumoto station is located just outside Matsumoto. It is very common countryside station.

In some stations near/in tourist spot, it is written in Korean and Chinese too.

Odakyu Railway Odawara station. It is the gateway to Hakone. The station name is written in four languages.
Odakyu Railway Odawara station. It is the gateway to Hakone. The station name is written in four languages.
Nankai railway Namba station. It may  be the first place to arrive in downtown Osaka from the airport.
Nankai railway Namba station. It may be the first place to arrive in downtown Osaka from the airport.

As I mentioned above, subway in major cities have numbers for lines and stations. You may find the station number on station name board too.

Tokyo Metro Subway Omotesando station. Station number G02 is shown with station name.
Tokyo Metro Subway Omotesando station. Station number G02 is shown with station name.
Tokyo Toei Subway Mita station. Station number A08 is shown with station name too.
Tokyo Toei Subway Mita station. Station number A08 is shown with station name too.

Conventional train platform

I show you several sample images of train information board at the platform.

JR Nishikujo station train departure information board
JR Nishikujo station train departure information board
JR Nishikujo station train departure information board
JR Nishikujo station train departure information board
Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station train departure information board.
Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station train departure information board.
Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station train departure information board.
Hanshin Railway Amagasaki station train departure information board.

Most of signage is shown in both Japanese and English. The movie below shows you very typical LED signage at the platform of JR Gifu station.

Shinkansen (Bullet Train) platform

Shinkansen platform is very tourist friendly place. Both English signage and English announcement are available too.

At Shinkansen platform, there are many signage at the place where Shinkansen train stops. It is exactly same place as Shinkansen passengers door.
At Shinkansen platform, there are many signage at the place where Shinkansen train stops. It is exactly same place as Shinkansen passengers door.

The next movie shows you display at Tokyo station when Hokuriku Shinkansen Kagayaki 501 arrived. Please see how signage shows you the information and listen the announcement at the platform.

All Shinkansen stations have multilingual display and announcement. I would like to show you one more movie. This was recorded at Hiroshima station.

Signage and announcement in the train

Train information signage are shown beside the door. This is Limited Express Nichirin, car #1, Green car.
Train information signage are shown beside the door. This is Limited Express Nichirin, car #1, Green car.

As long as you travel in major cities, you will find both Japanese and English signage on the train.

Commute train in major cities

Most of signage are written in both English and Japanese.

Kansai Airport Rapid car#4 and destination to Kyobashi station.
Kansai Airport Rapid car#4 and destination to Kyobashi station.
Local train to Universal City and Sakurajima on Yumesaki line
Local train to Universal City and Sakurajima on Yumesaki line
Rapid Airport for Otaru - Sapporo - New Chitose airport, Reserved Seat car
Rapid Airport for Otaru – SapporoNew Chitose airport, Reserved Seat car

In the train, there are many signage. In these days, Korean and Chinese signage have been seen very often.

Osaka subway Midousuji line signage in the train.
Osaka subway Midousuji line signage in the train.
The signage of Hakodate street car.
The signage of Hakodate street car.

The following movie shows you the display above the door in Yamanote line train. You can listen the announcement in both Japanese and English too.

This is one of very common commute trains in Tokyo. Most of JR trains in Tokyo have same type of display and announce.

Limited Express train

Express trains have reserved seat, non reserved seat and Green cars too. Those information are shown beside the passengers door.

Limited Express Super Tokachi, destination to Obihiro, car#3, reserved seat and non smoking
Limited Express Super Tokachi, destination to Obihiro, car#3, reserved seat and non smoking
Limited Express Sonic, destination to Hakata, car# 1, Green car, reserved seat
Limited Express Sonic, destination to Hakata, car# 1, Green car, reserved seat
Kansai airport express Haruka, destination to Kyoto
Kansai airport express Haruka, destination to Kyoto
Limited Express Haruka has signage beside the door, car#8, non reserved seat car
Limited Express Haruka has signage beside the door, car#8, non reserved seat car

In the trains, most of signage are shown in Japanese and English. But airport express trains have four language signage.

Information in the train of Narita Express
Information in the train of Narita Express
Information in the train of Narita Express
Information in the train of Narita Express

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Shinkansen train has same features as limited express trains.

Shinkansen Hikari train# 504, car# 16, destination to Tokyo, reserved seat, non smoking
Shinkansen Hikari train# 504, car# 16, destination to Tokyo, reserved seat, non smoking

The next movie is made by some train fan. It shows you the display in Hokuriku Shinkansen train from Kanazawa to Tokyo. You can listen the announce in both Japanese and English too.

No problem in major cities, may be challenging in country side

As you have seen this post above, you will find the signage at least in English. Especially train that runs in major cities, airport and popular tourist sites, is very friendly for overseas tourist. Even if you travel in country side, you are able to find English signage in the station. However you may not be able to find any English signage in the train. Of course it does not have any English announcement either. If you intend to visit country side, all information must be prepared.

How much typical Japanese speak English?

Most of Japanese do not speak English fluently even though Japanese learn English in high school for 6 years. However most of Japanese are more comfortable reading and writing much more than speaking and listening. When you face a problem, try to write the issue and explain slowly. It is much easier for typical Japanese to understand what is your issue.

Things will be much easier than that you think!

28 thoughts on “Signage and announcement in the station and train”

  1. Hi Takeshi!

    My friends and I are going to Kyoto two weeks from now.

    Upon arrival, can we use ICOCA Haruka from KIX to Kyoto then going back on the 8th day from Osaka to KIX? Or should we originate from Kyoto?

    Thanks.

      1. Hi Takeshi-san!

        It just dawned on me that on Day 1 upon arrival from KIX we will not be staying in Kyoto. We will just leave our luggage at Kyoto Station then take train going Miyazu via JR Sagano Line for Sonobe and JR San In Line for Fukuchiyama.

        1. Are the above JR trains going Fukuchiyama covered by IC-Haruka card?

        2. In my understanding, we have to consume within the day the pre-charged 1,500Yen in our card since we will only purchase a one-way card and not a round-trip valid for 14 days. Am I correct?

        3. If we charge our cards on day 2, is there any validity or expiration for the amount we loaded?

        I found your other thread specifically on IC-Haruka cards but I opted to follow up my questions here. Hope you don’t mind.

        Sorry for my very basic questions. Thanks again.

        Best regards,
        Jude

        1. Hi Jude san,

          If you go to Miyazu, you should use Kansai Wide area pass.
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/the-newest-jr-west-rail-pass-for-kansai-and-okayama-kurashiki-kinosakai-and-shingu-area-kansai-wide-area-pass.html

          ICOCA cannot be used for the trip to Fukuchiyama. It covers the trip until Sonobe. But ICOCA card is valid for 10 years. You don’t need to use it for arrival day. You can come back to Japan in next 10 years and can use it if you want.

          But if you use Kansai Wide area pass, you don’t need to have ICOCA and Haruka. If you pay single fare and if you take limited express train to Fukuchiyama, one way fare is around 3000 yen. Total fare for this trip and KIX-Kyoto trip by Haruka will be almost same amount as Kansai Wide Area pass. It’s valid for 5 days. You can use it for other trip outside Kyoto.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Happy Sunday, Takeshi-san!

            The Kansai Wide area pass is really a great deal! Thank you for explaining it so well. Is that being sold in Kansai Airport? I can’t find any here in our country.

            Also since Kansai Wide area pass is good only for 5 days, Is it wise to buy an ICOCA-Haruka card (one-way) so we can use it to explore the 3 remaining days in Osaka and get a discount from Tennoji to Kansai Airport? Can we get that also from the airport upon arrival?

            Many thanks!

            Jude

  2. It is most detailed information I have ever seen. I live in Japan & I see signs you showed on the article everyday, but it is totally new for people from foreign countries. I’m sure you help tourists to Japan with understanding the transportation system in Japan.

  3. Takishi-San,

    Traveled to Japan 2 times in 2014 and I can say that taking train in Japan is very easy.

    My suggestion for travellers is take your time to study route map, arrive at platform early, and enjoy the ride.

    I personally tried to took notice of the onboard announcement and take notice of the Japanese wording that would mean “Next Station” and “This station is”

    I can’t recall them exactly at this time, but if you write them out in Romanji, that would help a lot of travellers to prepare as some of the more rural train doesn’t have english announcement. (I found this on some line in Kyushu)

  4. All this is very reassuring for us first time visitors. Please could you tell me if it is possible to reserve all the seats we wish to use with our three week JR rail pass in advance, as soon as we have the pass at the beginning of our train travel. We would like to reserve them all together in advance, on the first day of travel, if possible.

  5. Hi Takeshi..when you say non reserved seat do we still have to pay the 970 non reserved seat fare to Kyoto or is it already included in the 4,060 round trip type icoca? Also, can we use the round trip ticket and exit at tennoji station? We are staying at Kyoto for 3 days and 4 days at Osaka. Planning to just take the bus from Osaka to Kansai after. Would appreciate alternative option or suggestion. Thank you

  6. Every time I visit Japan with my friends they all agree on one thing: japanese stations and trains in major cities of eastern japan are among the most tourist friendly of the world. The same cannot be said about western japan, especially train announcement can be difficult to hear and not every tokkyu have English announcements. Signs, instead, are excellent in all and every station.
    What is really confusing are the ticket machine and the fare maps and I really hope that IC card validity widen even more, especially on bus services.

    1. Hi Ela,

      No. It gives you non reserved seat only. That means it’s first come first serve. Your seat is not secured.
      But it’s easy to find the seat in non reserved car. I have used Haruka several times and I have never had a problem to find the seat in non reserved car.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Our family traveled to Japan for the first time this summer and we went to both major centers as well as rural communities. We found no problems whatsoever finding our way around as the English signs were excellent. Also, the staff even with their limited English were very helpful. A couple of hints for travellers though:

    1. The trains run exactly on time so please be sure to arrive at your platform early. If you miss your Shinkansen, don’t worry as you can catch the next rain however you will need to board the cars that have Unreserved seating.

    2. In Tokyo, take the time to understand the subway system before you arrive as there are more than one system within the city. For me, it took a couple of days to finally understand the systems and after spending a lot of unnecessary time and expense to purchase tickets that were not needed.

    Takeshi, perhaps it would be good to write a short blog on the differences between the Tokyo subway systems and lines.

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