Japanese Terms and Phrases to Learn for Riding The Train (with helpful tips when visiting Japan!)

 Japanese Terms and Phrases to Learn for Riding The Train (with helpful tips when visiting Japan!)

If you are planning to visit Japan, you would most likely be making full use of its extensive metro system. Though, useful and convenient, it may be very complicated and intimidating at first.

Remembering my first train ride in the city, it was daunting, stressful, and honestly, I was scared.

So, to help you get your foot in the door, and prepare for your train ride adventure into exploring the cities of Japan, take a look into some of the terms and phrases you can use, and some tips in using the Metro.

各駅 – かくえき – kakueki

各駅 simply means, each station. 各 (かく, kaku) refers to ‘each’ or ‘every’, and 駅 (えき, eki) means ‘station’.

It’s also short for 各駅停車 (kakueki-teisha) meaning ‘stopping at each station’.

This typically means that the train will stop at every train station of a specific line’s direction.

急行 – きゅうこう – kyuukou

急行 means ‘Express’, and combined with two kanji; 急 (きゅう, kyuu) comes from the word 急ぐ (いそぐ, isogu) ‘to be in a hurry’ or ‘to hurry up’ and the other is 行く (行く, iku) which means ‘to go’.

If you combine the two, it can literally mean ‘to go in a hurry’.

準急 – じゅんきゅう – juneki

This means ‘semi-express’. Specifically, it has more stops than a 急行 train, but less stops than a 各駅 train.

準 (準, jun) comes from the word ‘sub’ or ‘semi’ and 急 is the same as the kanji used for 急行 in the above, meaning 急 (きゅう, kyuu) that comes from the word 急ぐ (いそぐ, isogu).

特急 – とっきゅう – tokkyuu

特急 means ‘Limited Express’. It is a type of train that only stops a number of limited train stations, even less than 急行 trains.

Recap: By order of more train station stops it goes as 各駅, 準急行, 急行, 特急.

特 (とく, toku) means specially which is also used in the word 特別 (とくべつ, tokubetsu). You may find this in sale campaigns displayed as 特別価格 (とくべつかかく, tokubetsu kakaku) meaning ‘Special Price’.

指定席 – していせき – shiteiseki

指定席 means ‘Assigned Seats’ or ‘Reserved Seats’. This term is used for trains that have longer routes, and you would need to pre-book the seats, or you would have the option to do so.

TIP: If you are buying an express train ticket from Narita airport to local stations inside Tokyo, you will most likely need to buy a 指定席 ticket rather than a 自由席 ticket.

Breaking down the meaning, 指定 (してい, shitei) comes from the word ‘assign’ or ‘designate’.

指 (ゆび, yubi) more specifically means ‘finger’ and 定 comes from the word 定める (さだめる, sadameru) which means ‘to define’.

席 (せき, seki) on the other hand, means ‘seat’.

To better remember this term, think of it as the ‘seat that you point at and assign to yourself’.

自由席 – じゆうせき – jiyuuseki

自由席 means ‘unreserved seat’ or ‘open seats’. Often times, most local trains that only go short distances will take are 自由席. These don’t require seat reservation.

自由 (じゆう, jiyuu) means ’free’ or ‘freedom’. And, as mentioned earlier means ‘seat’.

グリーン車 – ぐりーんしゃ – guriinsha

グリーン車 means ‘premium train carts’ with upper class style seatings. The carts themselves are separate from 普通車 (ふつうしゃ, futsuusha) or carts with economy with seats which are also often available for trains that go on long distance routes.

グリーン (ぐりーん, guriin) literally comes from the word ‘green’. 車 (しゃ, sha) on the other hand comes from the word 車 (くるま, kuruma) which means ‘car’ or ‘vehicle’.

優先席 – ゆうせんせき – yuusenseki

優先席 is the Japanese word for ‘priority seat’. These are the seats often located on the edges of a train car with fewer seats for more a comfortable seating experience and easier access doors.

As you can imagine this is for the elderly, pregnant women, or injured passengers.

TIP: As much as possible, if you are none of the above, try to seat on priority seating only if the train does not have many passengers. Also, make sure your phone is on silent mode when around these priority seats.

優先 (ゆうせん, yuusen) means ‘priority’ in Japanese. And, as used in other types of seats we introduced earlier, 席 means ‘seat’.

終点 – しゅうてん – shuuten

終点 is the ‘last stop’ in the train route.

TIP: If you know your stop is the 終点, don’t worry about missing to get off, the train conductors often check the train carts for passengers who have fallen asleep on their ride home before putting the train to park. They will most likely give you a tap on the shoulder to let you know it is the last stop.

終 comes from the word 終わり (おわり, owari) which means ‘the end’. On the other hand, 点 (てん, ten) means ‘point’. Combining the two kanji can literally mean the ‘end point’.

片道 – かたみち – katamichi

片道 means ‘one way’. 片 (かた, kata) literally means ‘piece’. 道 (みち, michi) means ‘road’ or ‘path’.

往復 – おうふく – oufuku

往復 means ‘round trip’. 往 (おう, ou) means ’to go’ or ‘to move forward’. On the other hand, 復 (ふく, fuku) means ‘to start anew’ or ‘over again’.

TIP: You can check train tickets beforehand even for local train schedules, prices, and different routes on websites like Yahoo!Japan’s ヤフー路線 (やふー ろせん, yahoo rosen).

切符 – きっぷ – kippu

切符 means ‘ticket’ or ‘train pass’.

This term used to be called 切り符 (きりふ, kirifu) from the word 切符手形 (きりふてがた, kirifutegata) which has also shortened to 切手 (きって, kitte). Often used to refer to coupons or tickets that you exchange with goods such as sugar, rice, and wheat in the Edo era.

切符 is often used to for transportation tickets such as the train and bus, but can also used in museums and entrance tickets.

You can also use the term チケット (ちけっと, chiketto) to literally mean the English derived word ‘ticket’.

パスモ – ぱすも – pasumo

パスモ is a commonly used reloadable train pass that you can keep for yourself, and reload when needed.

Another brand or type of reloadable cards is スイカ (すいか, suika). There used to be different lines that you can use either one, but nowadays, you can use them almost in any train line.

TIP: Make sure to purchase your own card when first visiting Japan to save time and hassle when purchasing your train tickets. These can also be used in convenience stores and taxi rides, and other establishments. When visiting Japan, it’s best you purchase one as a convenient method of going around the city, but also as a souvenir by creating a unique card with your own name on it.

乗り換え – のりかえ – norikae

乗り換え also sometimes written as 乗換 means ‘to transfer’ or to ‘cross over’.

乗り (のり, nori) means ‘to ride’ or ‘to get on’. 換え (かえ, kae) comes from 換える (かえる, kaeru) which means ‘exchange’ or ‘switch over’.

Now, take a look at some phrases you should take note of when using trains.

How do I get to ~?


~wa douyatte ikimasuka?


How do I get to Omotesandou?
おもてさんどう えき まで どうやっていきますか?
Omotesandou eki made douyatte ikimasuka?


You can take the Ginza line, Chiyoda line, or the Hanzomon line to get there.
ぎんざせん か、ちよだせん か、はんぞうもんせん を のって いけるよ
Ginzasen ka, Chiyodasen ka, Hanzoumonsen wo notte ikeru yo.

What line do I transfer to to get ~?



~made donosen ni norikaereba iidesuka


What line do I transfer to to get Shinjuku?
しんじゅくまで、どのせん に のりかえれば いいですか。
Shinjuku made donosen ni norikaereba iidesuka?


You can get to Shinjuku by transferring to the Yamanote line.
しんじゅくまでは、やまのてせん に のりかえれば いけます。
Shinjuku made wa Yamanote sen ni norikaereba ikemasu.

Where is the closest train station from here?



koko kara ichiban chikai eki wa doko desuka


Can you tell me the closest train station from here?
ここから いちばん ちかいえき を おしえて くれますか。
koko kara ichiban chikai eki wo oshiete kuremasuka?


From here, the closes would be Shinagawa station.
ここからだと、しながわえき が いちばん ちかい です。
kokokara dato, shinagawa eki ga ichiban chikai desu

How do I get to the train station?


ここから、えきまで どうやって いきますか。

koko kara, eki made douyatte ikimasuka?


How do I get to Tokyo station from here?
koko kara Tokyo eki made douyatte ikimasuka.


From here, you can go straight and turn right on the first corner, and you will get to Tokyo station.
ここから まっすぐいって さいしょの かど を みぎ に まがる と とうきょう えき に つきます。
koko kara massu itte saisho no kado wo migi ni magaru to Tokyou eki ni tsukimasu.

What Exit should I go to to go to ~?


〜にいくのに、どの でぐち に でれば いいですか。

~ni ikunoni dono deguchi ni dereba iidesuka?


What Exit should I take to get to Mitsukoshi?
みつこし に いくの に、どの でぐち に でれば いいですか。
Mitsukoshi ni ikunoni dono deguchi ni dereba iidesuka?


Kaito: You can exit to Exit A6 to get Mitsukoshi.
でぐち A6 に でれば、みつこし に いけます。
deguchi A6 ni dereba Mitsukoshi ni ikemasu.

Which station do I get off to go to ~?


〜にいくには、どの えき に おりれば いいですか。

~ni ikuni wa dono eki ni orireba iidesuka?


Which station do I get off to go to Disney Land?
でぃずにーらんど に いく に は、どの えき に おりれば いいですか。
dizuni-rando ni iku ni wa dono eki ni orireba iidesuka?


You can get off at Maihama station to get to Disney Land.
まいはま えき に おりると でぃずにーらんど に いけます。
Maihama eki ni oriru to dizuni- rando ni ikemasu.

Is this the train going to ~?


これは、〜にいく でんしゃ ですか。


Is this the train going to Ikebukuro?
これは、いけぶくろ に いく でんしゃ ですか。
kore wa Ikebukuro ni iku densha desuka?


Yes, this train will take you to Ikebukuro.
はい、この でんしゃ で いけぶくろ に いけます。
hai kono densha de Ikebukuro ni ikemasu.

No matter how much you prepare, you can never be too prepared for the maze that is the Japanese metro, but learn these terms for using Japanese trains, and you will be more confident in venturing out to the great finds!

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