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First time to Japan

Thank you all for your previous responses to my questions posted below. Now I have some follow up questions.

  1. Wally recommended Black Cat luggage transfer within Japan. Can anyone recommend a luggage transfer service from the US to Tokyo? None of the responders had experience with Luggage Free.

  2. Do the Tokyo subways work like London, where you swipe your card at the entrance and exit, or like New York City where you only pay a flat fee on the way in?

I'm planning my first trip to Tokyo, Japan and have tons of questions. You have all been helpful with my previous questions, and I'm asking for some more helpful advice.

  1. I understand that signs in train stations are in Japanese and English. What about subway stations? Are they also in both languages?

  2. I have read something about a subway IC card. Is that a stored value card for transit like a London Oyster card?

  3. I will probably take a Japan Rail train from Narita Airport to Tokyo, spend several days in Tokyo, then take another Japan Rail train to the port at Yokohama to catch a cruise. On Japan Rail trains, I understand that all luggage must go in overhead racks. How large are those racks? I have one suitcase that measures about 31 inches long, by 21 inches wide, by 13 inches deep. Will that fit into the overhead luggage racks?

  4. In Yokohama, I'll take a cab from the train station to the cruise ship. Will Port Yokohama allow the cab to drive right up to the cruise ship, or will I have to leave the cab at the port entrance and walk or take another port vehicle to the ship?

  5. There is a service called Luggage Free that I could use to transport my large suitcase from my home to my Tokyo Hotel. Have any of you used that service? If so, what did you think of it?

Thank you all so much for your help. Someday when I am a more experienced traveler, I hope I can help others as you have helped me.

Posted by
122 posts

The Japanese are experts at luggage transfers. I have not used the service you mention, but knowing how well they do these things, I would not hesitate. The common term for luggage transport is "takkyubin" and you can have your bag transported within Japan, from hotel to hotel. One of the largest companies is Yamato Transport, aka 'black cat' - you will see the black and yellow cat signs in the airport, hotels, and convenience stores. if you are concerned about getting your bag from Tokyo to Yokohama via train, look into takkyubin from your hotel - inquire at the desk at least one day in advance. I always use this service whenever possible.

There are at least 2 different stored value cards for the subways. The best known and the one I recommend is Suica, aka the 'watermelon' card. Works just like the London Oyster card.

For Tokyo subways, most have English signs, but some don't. The JR Yamanote Circle line has English signs, and the major stations have English, but some of the private subways that criss cross Tokyo will have stations with no or very little English. Have a subway map in hand, or on your phone, and you will figure it out. Or ask someone - the Japanese are very friendly. With the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, there will undoubtedly be more English signage in train stations.

Where is your Tokyo hotel? It could influence your choice of which train to take from Narita. if you are traveling to Shibuya or Shinjuku, for instance, I would take the JR Narita Express. But if your hotel is in the northeast quadrant of Tokyo near Ueno, the Skyliner might be more convenient.

Posted by
11677 posts

I can help with 1 and 2.

Yes, there are signs in English in the subway stations as well as in the train stations. The “exit” signs are in yellow, which makes them easy to spot among all the others. The subway stops are numbered, which is helpful as you do not have to memorize the name in Japanese. And the subway trains we rode had announcements in both English and Japanese.

The IC card is a pre-loaded payment card just like an Oyster. There is a 500 yen deposit included in the initial price. They come in denominations of 2000, 3000 yen, etc. We bought ours from a machine in the Tokyo Shinagawa train station and needed cash to buy them; the machine would not take our American VISA cards. ATMs that will take US debit cards can be found in 7-11 stores which are everywhere, as well as in the airport.

You can get the deposit and remaining yen on the IC card refunded in the Tokyo region (for a SUICA card) before you leave.

We did not find the Tokyo subways horribly crowded as long as we did not try to travel during morning or evening commute hours.

Posted by
8569 posts

1) Most stations have signs in English.

2)The Suica card is a stored card but it can also be used in some stores (convenience stores, some restaurants).

3) Which method of travel you use from Narita depends on where your hotel is located.

4) Can't help.

5) Never used it but shipping luggage is very big in Japan.

Posted by
5634 posts

We shipped our luggage, a wonderful service! Our hotels arranged it. Forms were in rooms. Price depends on measured size of each bag. Hardly saw any luggage at all on trains. You have 2 mi to get on, another two minutes to get off, easier without luggage. Luggage is shipped a day ahead.

Posted by
4126 posts

We visited Japan in 2015 and had several days prior to our cruise that included 4 main island Japanese ports, Shanghai, Okinawa and Taiwan, ending in Hong Kong. Wonderful trip, we loved Japan and it people. It was the cleanest country we have ever visited.'

We took the great Narita Express train from Narita airport to Tokyo Station and walked the short distance to our hotel.
We took tours in Tokyo and a three day tour to Nara and Kyoto.
It is all laid out in my review of our trip and cruise.
Japan and a little bit of China
http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=518503&et_cid=2531924&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards

As you can read, we along with others on the cruise, booked transport to the cruise ship at Tokyo Bay.

Posted by
11153 posts

Tokyo works like London - you tap in and tap out on subways and local trains such as the JR Yamanote line, which runs in a loop around central areas of Tokyo.

As for luggage, there are services at Narita that will ship your luggage to your hotel. But any service that takes your luggage from the US to Tokyo is likely to cost a lot. If that interests you, I'd look at DHL or FedEx. Is there any reason you wouldn't just take your luggage with you, and use the luggage forwarding services at Narita?

Here is a video about arrival at Narita, including details about luggage forwarding, the Narita Express (run by JR) and other trains into Tokyo: https://youtu.be/xGOxrTPlm0c.

If you want a video with all the nitty-gritty of how to use transit in Tokyo, look at this: https://youtu.be/s-NyccWXlt4

And if you want to read ALL the details about my recent trip to Japan, here's my report: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/japan-2019-tokyo-hakone-national-park-kyoto-osaka-nagasaki