Japanese Trains For Short-Distance Travel

Exploring nearby destinations: a guide to Short-Distance travel trains in Japan.
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Express, Rapid & Local Trains in Japan

We have already established that Shinkansen and limited express trains are both go-to options when it comes to intercity travel. But if you don't plan to travel far or think of going to a destination not covered by high-speed trains, the best option is to take one of the Japanese trains meant for the job.

There are three main types of Japan's trains not included in the "high-speed travel" category - express, rapid, and local. They come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, but one glance is usually enough to see that a train belongs to the group. While Shinkansen and limited express trains give a vibe of modernity, intensity, and sharpness, the short-distance trains seem charmingly old-fashioned.

The main reason why the trains of the group are not the wisest choice for traveling anywhere further away than a 30-minute ride is their slow travel times. The reasons for that are quite simple. Firstly, they just can't boast an impressive top speed (clearly, not the best-case scenario when you need to travel through the whole country).

Secondly, as you know, the trains in Japan are divided into five main categories, depending on the number of stations they service. Express, rapid, and local trains boast a much wider coverage than their high-speed brothers in arms, with express trains making more stops than limited express trains, but less than rapid trains. Local trains are the slowest of the bunch, as they stop at every train station along the way.

Amenities Onboard Japanese Commuter Trains

As all these types of trains are not usually used for long journeys, they offer much less comfort during the ride. Almost all have only one travel class with coaches of standard commuter type. The seats are always unreserved, and the trains can be quite crowded during rush hour, so if you are traveling with a group, keep in mind that you might not be able to sit all together. There are no dining cars or food trolleys to take advantage of during the journey, and you shouldn't bring your own food, as it can be considered rude to eat in public in Japan (apart from the dining venues meant exactly for that, of course, or trains specifically allowing it, like Shinkansen).

But, the undeniable plus is the low price of a train ticket. There is no additional fare to pay for these trains unlike it is with Shinkansen and limited express trains (hence their second name - basic-fare trains), so the tickets are much cheaper. Plus, they all are covered by JR Pass.

Most Traveled Japanese Train Lines