Firstly some photos:
So anyway, I knew we had to get tickets to go to Kyoto from Tokyo on the train. I had no idea how to do this. Today our plan was to go up north a very short distance to Nippori, where we were planning to explore some graveyards and shrines. This meant we were to depart from Tokyo station, which seemed an ideal opportunity to buy those tickets.
In preparation, I wrote down all the words I though I would need, since I had no idea how much English the ticket guy would speak. We wanted to go on the Nozomi train (the fastest), in “green” class (First Class), with reserved seats in non smoking. This extravagance was why we did not get a JR pass, since I though you could not go in green class. However it turns out that you can get a green-class JR pass, which is valid for all trains except for the Nozomi. Drat!
So, I wrote the following on a piece of paper:
Ofuku (round trip)
Futatsu Kippu (two tickets, although I’m not sure if I’m using the right counting words)
Tokyo -> Kyoto (luckily the names are the same in Japanese :)
Shinkansen, Nozomi, (The bullet train, the fast one)
Gurinsha (green class = first class, about 50% extra)
Kinensha (non-smoking, very important)
Shiteiseki (reserved seats – although I suspected gurinsha was reserved anyway).
I then wrote the dates of travel, 3/28 and our hoped for time of departure 08:30
I then added the day and time for the return trip.
With this piece of paper in had we strode to the Tokyo station, a short walk from our hotel. There we spotted the “Ticket office”, and entered. When our turn arrived I approached and said “do you speak english?”, and the ticket guy said what I assumed was the Japanese for “No, but let’s see what we can do here”.
So, plan A (speak english) failed, and plan B (speak Japanese) swung into action. I pulled out my piece of paper and basically just said all the words above in order, pointing at the date and time. This worked slowly, but quite well. There was some initial difficulty as he indicated something to do with the time was a problem. This turned out to be that the train departed three minutes later than I asked, at 8:33. So I okayed that. Then he asked if I also wanted the the return trip gurinsha, and I said “hai“. Actually I said a lot of “hai”.
So, it seems arranged. I whip out my credit card and say “credito carto?”. He says “Oh! Credito carto!”, and punches a few buttons, swipes my card, and apparently it does not work. I get out another card, that does not work either. He says something about a “travelo office” an gesticulates elsewhere. But after ten minutes of building up to this point I was not about to go elsewhere, so Holly and I pool our cash and pay for our tickets the old fashioned way, leaving us with very little money. But we have the tickets!!! Nice ticket guy point out the date and our car and seat numbers. We say “hai” a lot. The tickets are entirely in Japanese except for numbers, which is basically the date, the train car and the seat numbers. I stick the tickets in my wallet, and we are off to try to get to Nippori.
Advice for fellow travellers: don’t expect any English speakers at the station, not even slightly. Figure out exactly what you want before you enter the ticket office. If possible figure out the train times. Take cash – I’ve no idea why my credit card was not acceptable, I used it at the hotel later to buy some drinks. Write everything down before you go. If possible get someone to write it down in Japanese. Do it in advance of your trip, or you may miss your train while buying the tickets. And really you should have a JR pass if you are doing a trip like we did. It’s a lot cheaper, and only limits your train choices slightly.