• Life & Culture

Moving around: Transportation in Japan

Busy train cart

Public Transport in Japan


Japan has one of the most advanced train infrastructures in the world. Trains operate on a timetable measured in seconds rather than minutes, which is quote unique to transport in Japan. 

Being on time is a fundamental part of the train network in Japan. About 70% of Japan’s trains are operated by one of the JR companies, of which there are seven regional companies. The remaining 30%, located mainly in metropolitan areas, are operated by private railway companies.

Travel to and from work by train is the most common situation for Interac ALTs. If you are travelling on the same route to work each day, it is likely you will be encouraged to purchase a monthly train pass, which is reimbursed by Interac. In situations where your journey is different some days of the week and buying a monthly pass is not economical, the actual cost of the train ticket will be reimbursed by Interac.



Buses in Japan usually operate locally or on short-distance services. They primarily complement train and subway networks by feeding into and out of train stations. In a lot of areas, Japanese buses have ticketing integrated with the train system. Likewise, if you need to use a bus to get to work, the cost will be reimbursed in the same manner as the train pass above.


Getting Around Japan With Your own Transport


For many of Interac’s rurally placed ALTs, it is a requirement to have a driver license. When a car becomes a requirement for you to travel to and from assignments, you have the option to lease a car for a fee every month. You are also paid an allowance in addition to your monthly salary to offset this cost.


If you have a foreign license, you can drive with an International Driving Permit or official translation (depending on your country) for the first year, but you must get a Japanese driver’s license after this time. To transfer to a Japanese license, you need to submit the required documents to your prefecture’s license office in person. An eye test, written test in English, and driving test are required for license transfer. However, people from certain countries are exempt from the driving test. 

It is critical that you do not obtain an international driver permit until instructed to do so by Interac. The timing to obtain this is important as it affects the expiry date and validity period for your time in Japan.



Bicycles are ideal for getting around Japan and are very popular, especially if you live more than 10 or 15 minutes from the train station. Most stations have an area for bicycle parking available for a small fee per day. Bicycles are also quite cheap to buy. A “shopping bike” can be picked up for under 10,000 yen. 


Car Sharing In Japan

Are you familiar with Zipcar in your home country? Car sharing (US) or car clubs (UK) is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. 

Car sharing is becoming popular among Japanese who need a car from time-to-time, but have no requirement for a car of their own. They are attractive to people who make only occasional use of a vehicle, as well as others who would like occasional access to a vehicle of a different type than they use day-to-day.


One popular service, for those whole hold a Japanese driver license, is Times Car Plus. For as little as 260 Yen per 15 minutes, you can have access to a network of late model cars strategically located and accessible with an IC card throughout Japan. Times Car are famous for managing permit and coin parking lots throughout Japan, and Times Car Plus is an extension of this business. 

Although Times Car Plus do not offer any direct service or support in English, their website works well with the translator on Chrome. Car sharing is not a suitable form of transport for getting to and from work.


About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.