Types of trains in Japan

There are many types of trains in Japan, some fast, some slower than others.

Knowing the types of trains will get you to your destination faster. Let’s explore it together in our blog today!

While travelling to Japan, I mainly used the JR Yamanote line so I did not notice the different trains in Tokyo. Of course, coming here as a student, I got pretty confused with all the trains as I have to travel to/from Tokyo for school and work.


Train operators
I am used to public transport in Melbourne, where the whole train system is owned by one operator.

However in Japan, regarding to trains only, there are;

  • JR lines,
  • Keio lines,
  • Odakyu lines,
  • Keisei lines,
  • Tokyo metro,
  • Hankyuu lines (Kansai region),
  • Keihan line
  • Kintetsu line
  • Meitetsu line
  • Tokyu lines,


Keio line, Semi-express train 

Keio train Semi-express


In small stations, platforms for lines operated by different companies are located quite close to each other so that it would be convenient for commuters.

But main stations such as Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya or Yokohama, you will have to prepare extra time when you have to connect to different trains.

The most dramatic experience I had is running around Tokyo station, trying to transfer from JR Yamanote line to JR Keiyo line on my way to Tokyo Disneyland.

Although I already knew Tokyo station is large and confusing, I still got lost while making a transfer to an uncommon line.

Harajuku station is confusing too as the JR station and Metro stations are not connected to each other. Therefore, take note of which lines you will use, especially if you use the train station as a meeting point. Instead of ‘Harajuku’, it’s better to say ‘JR Harajuku’  to distinguish it with the Metro Harajuku (usually called Meijijinguumae station). This will definitely make it clearer and easier for other people to find you.

Shibuya subway station entrance


Shinjuku is the largest station in the world and also one of the most sophisticated in my opinion. Shibuya is no better. If you need to change trains, be sure to make some time in your schedule to change platforms.

Fortunately, if you have a passmo/ suica (they are very similar), you can go through all ticket gates no matter which train companies you are using.


Train types

The train types are called differently from line to line. There is the slowest one which stops at every station, faster ones that make fewer stops and the fastest one that make very few stops to no stops at all until the final station.

Summed up for you below;


Normal train

Hida local train


Hida local train

In Japan, these trains are called ‘Local train‘ in English, which are either called 各停 (各駅停車・かくえきていしゃ [kaku eki tei sha])or 普通 (ふつう[fu tsu]) in Japanese.

The first time I used other trains beside JR Yamanote line, I was a little confused by what’local’ means. Fortunately, I somehow figured the meaning by its Japanese term, which literally means ‘the train that stops at all stations’. The JR Yamanote line only has normal trains that stop at every station in the loop.

Express train

Rapid Kansai airport~Osaka, Namba


This is when things got real troublesome!
Nothing would be confusing if there were only 急行 (きゅうこう) the express train and 特急 (とっきゅう), which means limited express/Special express.

But, well, this is Japan so I shouldn’t expect things to be simple~
There are also

  • 快速 (かいそく) rapid express、
  • 通勤特急 (つうきんとっきゅう) commuter express,
  • plus 準急 (じゅんきゅう)semi express.

Okay, I understand express, limited, and commuter express. But… what are rapid or semi express?? Which one should I take?!!

As I was scared of getting on the wrong train, I went with only local trains during the first week. However after a month here I finally found the answer!

There is no need to understand what rapid or semi mean in this context, all you need is knowing which stations do those train stop at! You can either listen to the announcement inside the train, read the electronic/ paper display boards or use your phone! Google is the best tool as it shows all stations that a certain train will stop.

As a simple rule,

  • 急行-express trains skip every one stop while 
  • 特急-limited express and 快速-rapid express skip every two or more stops.
  • 通勤特急-commuter express are used in rush hours, which will stop at the stations that are close to school/ offices/ workplaces. Anyone can board on the commuter express trains even when you are not going to school or work.

How about 準急-semi express? To be honest, I still have no idea (lol)

Hida special express train


However, I asked my Japanese colleagues and summed up the below for you, from slowest to fastest train

Local train ->Semi Express ->Express -> Limited express, special express

Shinkansen is the same but each train types are called differently. We will cover the story of the types of shinkansen next time.

Stay tuned!

I hope this is helpful to you!





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