Japanese Train Vocabulary: Learn The Basics Not to Get Lost!
Most of Japan’s trains have basic English translations for key areas, and virtually all station and railway line names are romanized (a few are even translated into Korean and Chinese!).
However, the moment you step into a train station, you’ll realize that much of everything you’ll see and hear is in Japanese.
So, to a tourist that speaks little or no Japanese (Nihongo), this may seem a little daunting.
There’s no doubt, you'll come across at least one Japanese person willing to help you out of any confusing situation, but wouldn’t it be great to understand the basics?
With the help of this article, let’s take a look at some useful Japanese terms for traveling by train and how they are used.
Japanese Pronunciation/Japanese Written Word/Meaning
Kakuekiteisha/各駅停車/Train that stops at all stations (local)
Kyuko/急行/Train that stops at selected stations only (express)
Kaisoku/快速/Train that stops at selected stations only (rapid) *Kyuko and Kaisoku have the same definition but the terms used depend on the train line.
Kakekomi/かけこみ/Rush or last-minute
Gochui/ご注意/“Please note…” or “Please pay attention to…”
Goannai/ご案内/Information or guide
Typical Usage of Vocabulary
Now that we know some basic vocabulary, let’s see how it is used in everyday life!
• when a train is approaching, stations usually display ｢電車がまいります。 (Densha ga mairimasu.) ｣ or ｢電車がきます。 (Densha ga kimasu.)｣.
• when a train is about to arrive, voice announcements are usually stated in this manner: 「まもなく、一番線に東京・品川方面行きがまいります。 危ないですから、黄色い線までお下がりください。 (Mamonaku, ichiban sen ni, Tokyo Shinagawa homen yuki ga mairimasu.
Abunai desu kara kiroi sen made osagari kudasai.) 」.
The first sentence means that in a moment, a Tokyo-bound train will arrive at platform (line) one.
The second sentence tells passengers to wait behind the yellow line as it is dangerous to stand near the edge.
Note that the 線 (sen) in the first and second sentences are different – the first one refers to a platform while the second refers to a certain yellow line on the platform.
• an announcement similar to the previous may be stated in this manner: ｢白線の内側にさがってお待ちください。 (Hakusen no uchigawa ni sagatte omachi kudasai.) ｣.
This one tells passengers to wait behind the white line.
• the moment you enter the train (or sometimes, while the train is running), a voice announcement will say ｢ご乗車ありがとうございます。 (Gojosha arigato gozaimasu.) ｣.
This means “thank you for riding” and is a way for the train operators to say welcome and thank you for using their services.
• train drivers will sometimes announce ｢発車します。 (Hassha shimasu.) ｣ to signal that the train is about to depart.
• information about the next station is given with a ｢次は、＿＿＿ (Tsugi wa, ＿＿＿) ｣ or 「まもなく、＿＿＿(Mamonaku, ＿＿＿) 」 followed by the next station’s name.
「まもなく (Mamonaku) 」 is usually announced when the train is seconds away from the ｢ホーム (Homu) ｣.
• announcements for last stops usually include ｢終点です。 (shuten desu.) ｣.
This is important because many operators designate a terminus that is not the absolute end of the line.
• when the train is about to stop, an announcement will advise which side of the train will open: ｢出口は、左/右 側です。 (Deguchi wa, hidari/migi gawa desu.) ｣.
Alternatively, some trains have digital displays on doors to indicate the opening side.
• closing doors are signalled by ｢ドアが閉まります。 (Doa ga shimarimasu.) ｣ and opening doors are signalled by ｢ドアが開きます。 （Doa ga hirakimasu.） ｣.
Safety prompts like ｢閉まるドアにご注意ください。 (Shimaru doa ni gochui kudasai.) ｣ ask passengers to pay attention to closing doors.
• stickers on train doors usually have a 「かけこみ乗車はキケンです。 (kakekomi josha wa KIKEN desu.) 」 to tell passengers not to rush as it is dangerous.
Notice that 危険 (kiken) is written in katakana (キケン) for emphasis.
• when stopping at a station where more than one line operates, announcements include transfer information: ｢＿＿＿線はお乗換えです。 (＿＿＿sen wa onorikae desu.) ｣.
This means that a passenger may transfer to the indicated line.
Transfer information may likewise be announced after a ｢乗り換えのご案内です。 (Norikae no goannai desu.) ｣.
• train types are both announced and digitally displayed.
Local trains (trains stopping at all stations of a line) are designated as 普通 (futsu) or 各駅停車 (kakuekiteisha) while rapid trains as 快速 (kaisoku) or 急行 (kyuko).
• 切符 (kippu) are sold at a 切符売り場 (kippu uriba).
Markers for these machines are usually written with just hiragana.
When purchasing tickets, do not forget your お釣り(otsuri)!
This collection of terms and usage probably isn’t enough to cover all that you’ll ever need, but it’s a good place to start.
Happy 'training' on your Japan travel adventures!