After riding the trains in Japan, I really felt they deserved their own post. They are incredible in so many ways, and make me completely envious and upset that we can’t have a system like this in the US. How are they so wonderful? Let me count the ways:
1. The trains, whether old or new are always beautiful and spotless and well maintained. I have no idea how they keep them is such incredible order, but it makes for pleasant journeys everywhere one goes.
2. Everything is crazy punctual. Nothing is ever late or early, but exactly as described in the schedules. This kind of super reliability makes taking the trains a pleasure and removes a lot of stress. I was reading somewhere a statistic that Japan Rail trains are on average no more than 35 seconds late. You read that correctly, across the entire system! And this takes into account suicides and other unforeseen events that could really retard a schedule. Amazing.
3. Stations and platforms are well organized and easy to navigate, even though one does not speak Japanese. You always know where your platform is, where your car is, and where and when to board.
4. Although I have complained about not being able to book tickets online, going to the JR office at any station is very easy and efficient. Getting reservations and tickets is a snap, and again, no Japanese necessary, you can just point at a calendar or pull up a schedule beforehand to show them. (And the Hyperdia app on the iphone, a must if you are visiting Japan, makes all this a total breeze.)
5. The stations, like the trains, are spotless and have many shops and restaurants to purchase items for your trip. My favorite are the bento box lunch stands on every platform, where you can buy a beautiful and tasty lunch that is wrapped like a gorgeous xmas present.
6. Bullet trains are so fast and amazing.
7. And although I have been taking about the national (regional really) system, it bears saying here that the local train systems and subways are likewise amazingly simple to use, from buying tickets to finding your train.
8 From all of the above, you would assume (as I did) that the system must be some incredibly subsidized government bureaucracy, right? But no! Japan Rail is a private and profitable system! And the ticket prices are not that high, we pay much more on Amtrak for much worse service. WTF is up with that??