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Japan's large metropolitan areas around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are served by highly efficient public transportation systems. Consequently, many residents do not own a car or even possess a driver's license. Outside the big cities, however, public transportation varies, typically in direct correlation to an urban areas proximity to the large metropolitan areas. More urban areas, such as Yokosuka, have public transportation systems that serve the majority of the commuting public well. More rural areas, such as Sasebo, have public transportation that tends to be inconvenient or infrequent, and most people rely on cars to get around. Yokosuka public transportation includes trains (light rail) and bus service. Sasebo’s is limited to bus service, with train service being limited to intercity.
Cars drive on the left side of the road and have the driver's seat and steering wheel on their right side. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. U.S. Forces Japan is authorized to issue military, civilian and dependent (family) personnel Driver’s Licenses under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). To be issued a SOFA license, you must have a valid state license. If your state license will expire during your overseas tour, check with your state licensing authority on renewal requirements. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited.
The typical speed limits are 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h on side streets, and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere; however, drivers tend to go a little over the posted speed limits. Fines and other penalties for speeding are based on how much a driver exceeds the speed limit. While most roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of expressways and some scenic driving routes, most Americans will find that when traveling on the Japanese equivalent of US Interstate highways, tolls are common. Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow or even impassable to larger vehicles or two vehicles at once. Traffic congestion is a frequent problem in and around urban centers.
Drivers generally tend to be well mannered and considerate, however some common dangers on Japanese roads include drivers speeding through intersections, even well after the traffic light has turned red, people stopping their vehicles at the edge of the road in a way in which they block traffic, and careless cyclists, especially those who ride on the wrong side of the road, although enforcement for cyclists has been increased.
Driving in Japan is a very serious responsibility and a privilege our Armed Forces community members are granted under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The Government of Japan views the operator of a motor vehicle as a professional and prosecutes unsafe or negligent driving behaviors, especially those that result in death or serious injury, very severely. Japanese laws treat anyone with .01 alcohol in their blood as DUI.
Japan has an efficient public transportation network, especially within metropolitan areas and between the large cities. Japanese public transportation is characterized by its punctuality, its superb service, and the large crowds of people using it.
The railway system in Japan has a high reputation for punctuality and safety.
Japan's four major islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku are covered by an extensive and reliable network of railways. Trains are a very convenient way for residents and visitors alike to travel around Japan. Note that Japan Rail Passes are only available “overseas” (i.e. not sold in Japan). About 70 percent of Japan's railway network is owned and operated by the Japan Railways (JR) east and west, while the remaining 30 percent belongs to dozens of other private railway companies, especially in and around metropolitan areas.
The railway system in Japan has a high reputation for punctuality and safety. The train fare varies naturally depending on the distance you travel as well as the type of train you wish to catch: Limited Express, Express, etc. and the type of reserved seat: Green Car (first class), Sleeper, etc. for each of which an extra charge is required. Tickets for short distances are available from ticket machines that are installed at each train station, whereas tickets for long distances and reservations are dealt with at ticket offices at major stations.
To use the train, purchase a ticket at a vending machine or ticket counter. Your ticket is punched by hand at the wicket or inserted in a punching machine. Please keep the ticket since it must be returned at your destination. If there is no fare chart in English, buy the cheapest ticket indicated on the vending machine and pay the difference due at the fare adjustment office at your destination station before you go through the exit wicket.
Most stations display station names in both Japanese and alphabet lettering on platform signboards. The name of the station is in large letters in the center of the sign; names of adjacent stations appear below or to either side. Most, if not all, trains stop operating around midnight.
Japan’s leading railway company, Japan Railways (JR) has an elaborate and well-established system of trains throughout the country.
The Shinkansen (bullet train) is the world famous super express train. It is operated from Tokyo to major cities at intervals of approximately 10 minutes less. The local JR train station in Yokosuka City is JR Yokosuka.
In addition to the JR Group, many other smaller railway companies operate train services on heavily travelled, mainly urban and suburban routes. These lines very often link the center of a city and the residential areas at its outskirts. These rail lines are usually only convenient for commuters, but on occasions may offer speedier, more economical and more convenient routes than JR from nearby urban centers to popular spots such as Nikko, Hakone and so forth. The local railway in Yokosuka is KEIKYU Line (Keihin Kyuko Line).
Subway lines are available in all major cities, and provide prompt, efficient transportation. In Tokyo, JR rates start from roughly 140 Japanese yen, subway fares at 170 Japanese yen for Tokyo Metro and Toei lines, and both increase with the entrance/exit gates.
PASMO/SUICA are prepaid rechargeable making it a convenient way to travel on virtually all trains, subways, and buses in the Greater Tokyo region. It eliminates the need to buy train tickets and figure out train fares. In addition, these cards can be used as electronic money when making purchases at certain convenient stores, kiosks, restaurants, and vending machines.
SUICA is the rechargeable prepaid IC card of JR East, valid on virtually all trains, subways and buses in the Greater Tokyo, Sendai and Niigata regions. In addition, Suica can be used on JR trains in the Osaka, Okayama and Hiroshima, Nagoya, Shizuoka and Sapporo regions.
PASMO is the rechargeable IC card of Tokyo’s private railway and subway companies. It is valid on virtually all trains, including JR, subways and buses in the Greater Tokyo, Sendai and Niigata regions.
Bus service is available in all cities, but can sometimes be a bit difficult for non-Japanese speaking visitors to use, but can be a good means to commute once you master the local bus service’s routes.
In Tokyo, Osaka and some other large cities, buses serve as a secondary means of public transportation, complementing the train and subway networks. This is also the case for much of Yokosuka. In cities with less dense train networks like Kyoto and Sasebo, buses are the main means of public transportation. Buses also serve smaller towns, the countryside and national parks. Major cities are, furthermore, linked by highway and long distance buses.
How to use a bus in Japan:
Using buses in Japan can be intimidating to foreigners because there are usually few English displays or announcements, and there are different systems of ticketing depending on the company. Below is a description of the most common system, followed by notes about exceptions:
Some busses with short routes/in big cities may have a fixed fare. These busses are boarded at the front. (Look for 入口 – entrance)
Long Distance Buses
JR operates long-distance buses between Tokyo and other major cities (JR Bus Network). Though travel takes longer, sometimes due to heavy traffic, fares are cheaper than Shinkansen train fares. Other bus companies provide bus travel between major cities as well. Benefits of Night Buses include riding comfort and economical travel.
Buses – On-Base
There are two buses that operate on main base (one that runs clockwise, one runs counter-clockwise) from 0630 – 1930 daily and stops at 23 different locations on base. It takes each bus 40 minutes to travel in a complete circle. The CW and CCW buses are free and are a very convenient way to get around base.
Ikego Housing Area
There is also a home-to-work bus that takes passengers from Ikego Housing Area to the main base in the morning Monday – Friday. That same bus departs main base in late afternoon and returns in Ikego. Space is limited although passengers are very rarely turned away, and the Military/civil service workforce has priority. Please see the attached file for more information on the Ikego Work Bus.
Hario Housing Area – similar to Ikego – check https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrj/installations/cfa_sasebo/ffr/housing_and_lodging/Family_Housing_Page.html
To the average cost conscious traveler in Japan's large cities, taxis are an expensive and unnecessary alternative to the efficient public transportation. However, taxis are often the only way of getting around once trains and buses stop operating around midnight, resulting in a sudden increase in their demand, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, when long lines and waiting times at taxi stands at train stations are not uncommon. Not surprisingly, taxi fares increase during the late night.
In smaller cities, the countryside and in Kyoto, public transportation tends to be less convenient, thus taking a taxi from the nearest train station to your destination can be a good alternative. If you travel in groups of three or more people, taxis can also be an economical option on shorter distances. The cities of Yokosuka and Sasebo both have good taxi services.
All Japanese taxis can be hailed on the street, from virtually anywhere you like, at most times and in most areas. However some areas, like Ginza in Tokyo, do not allow taxis to stop anywhere but taxi stands, requiring passengers to line up at a taxi stand. Taxi stands are also the rule at railway and subway stations and major hotels in Tokyo, and can be especially crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, especially after the trains have stopped running, meaning quite a long wait. You should take the taxi waiting at the very front of the line.
Taxis can also be booked for a period of time and called by telephoning the cab company.
***Note – that not all off-base taxis have access to base in Yokosuka and Sasebo. Recommend determining if a taxi has base access if your destination is on-base.
Base taxi service is provided by a Navy Exchange contractor. To arrange for an on base taxi to pick you up, you can call 243-4444 or 046-825-4444. You can also hale a taxi just like in the U.S. if you spot one that is not being used. Taxi fares start at 570 Yen (roughly $5) for the first 2km, and then increase 100 Yen for every additional ½ km.
Like in the U.S., tipping an on base taxi driver is accepted (expected) whereas tipping a taxi driver off base is not necessary/discouraged. On base taxis accept Yen and USD.
Off-base taxis with base access are limited to drop-offs and operating from a taxi stand near the main gate.
Taxis operating on-base in Sasebo are commercially owned and operated with the price set by the local company. You can either hale a taxi on the road or call 0956-22-4136.