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travel in Japan as an English speaker 4

How to travel in Japan as an English speaker

September 10, 2017 //  by  Mae-Gene //   14 Comments

Why, hello there! This post might contain affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you!) if you purchase from them. 

I always get asked about how hard it is to travel in Japan as an English speaker.

Without fail, I constantly hear “but how do you get around?” or “I’d love to go to travel to Japan, but I don’t know any Japanese!”

While most Japanese people speak Japanese in their everyday lives, many learn English as a second language or understand a bit of English. As flights from Australia to Japan have reduced in price over the last couple of years, I’ve had a couple of friends visit who don’t know any Japanese. And while learning some key phrases can enhance your experience, you can get away knowing zero Japanese!

Personally, I don’t speak much Japanese, and I only picked up my current language skills during my recent 2-month trip. Before this, the most I could say was “Arigatou Gozaimasu” which means “thank you very much.” My ability to get around Japan solo with my limited Japanese skills is a testament to how accessible Japan is English speaking travelers.

To help those who are planning on visiting, I’ve put together a couple of travel tips for English speakers, after all, having visited  so many times with minimal language skills, I’ve picked up a couple of things!

1. Staff at the train station, your hotel or tourist information centers will speak some English 

If you need to ask for directions or are not sure where you’re heading, the staff at train stations, hotels or tourist information centers are your best bet. These are the people who are likely to be multilingual or practice their English language skills on a daily basis. I’ve even visited a hotel where I wasn’t a guest to ask for directions on where the bus stop was. The staff there was more than happy to help me (and honestly, who could say no to helping a lost person??)

Out of politeness, I always asked if they spoke English first. This is a personal preference, most of the time you can be sure if they deal with visitors on a daily basis they will know some English. Make sure to speak slowly and don’t be afraid to write things down. How many of us have studied a second language in school, only to have our written or reading skills to be stronger than our listening or spoken skills? Another thing to remember is that sometimes, the way you pronounce words or names can be different. Writing things down can help you communicate what you’re looking for.

How to travel in Japan as an English speaker

Floating torii gate on Miyajima Island, Japan

2. Before you ask for directions at the train station, check the signs first

Many of the major train stations in Japan have an illuminated board, displaying a map of the train station and surrounds, with a list of nearby destinations. You will find most if not all nearby locations on this list – I’ve found museums, bus terminals, shopping centers, parks and hotels listed on this map. The lists are very comprehensive and chances are the place you’re headed to is on here! If there’s no one around to ask for help, or if you haven’t had much luck with the station staff, this map is a life saver!

travel japan english

3. Not all bus drivers speak English 

Most of the bus drivers I came across in Japan didn’t know much English. In some of the super  touristy areas, you might strike it lucky, but most of the time, local bus drivers don’t speak much English. There is a silver lining to this – most of the major bus routes (that is the local buses that you take to tourist destinations) have English announcements. For major tourist destinations, there will be an announcement on where to disembark. Listen for these announcements, or ask your fellow passengers for help and advice.

travel in Japan as an English speaker

View of Tokyo (Check out my budget traveler’s guide to Tokyo !)

4. Download Google Translate + buy a SIM card or rent a wireless router

If you are worried about being able to read signs or menus, I would highly recommend that you download the Google Translate app. This will allow you to take photos of signs and translate them to English or your native language. You do need the internet for this to work, so you can either connect to free wifi (widely available in major cities) or buy a SIM card.

For me, this was a major lifesaver. When shopping it helped me read ingredient lists (there’s nothing more awkward than accidentally buying your vegetarian aunt packaged food with shrimp paste in it). Google Translate also came in use in some of the restaurants in Hokkaido where they didn’t have English menus.

5. Most (if not all) touch-screen machines have an English option

If you’re buying train tickets or buying food at a restaurant from a touch screen, there will be an option to translate the menu in English. I am yet to find touch screen menu that didn’t have an English option!

When you’re buying train tickets, you don’t even need to speak to a person – the English menus on these machines are easy enough to navigate. This is similar to restaurants and is a great way to try new food. When you order form these machines in restaurants, you pay with cash (they very rarely accept credit card) and you will receive your change and a little ticket. Just hand your ticket to the waiter or waitress when you enter and you’re all set!

travel in Japan as an English speaker

6. Learn a couple of basic phrases

While we’re not all multi-lingual masters (and I am particularly bad with learning languages), it does help to know a couple of phrases. The further you travel from major cities, the less likely you will be to find English speakers. Don’t let this deter you, however, you have to travel pretty far out and far from tourist spots to have this happen!

Some useful phrases are:

Thank you = Arigatou Gozaimasu

I don’t understand = Wakarimasen

Excuse me, do you speak English? = Sumimasen, Ee-go wakarimasu ka?

Toilet = Toire

If you want to learn more phrases before you head to Japan, I’ve put together a guide to all the phrases you need to know before you visit Japan !

I’ve also created a survival phrase guide that you can download and print to take with you. While this guide doesn’t have all the phrases (you might need a dictionary if you want that!) what it does have is the most useful ones that you will need when in Japan.

Click the image below to download:

You definitely shouldn’t be afraid of trying these phrases out. Most people are just excited to hear others make such an effort to learn their language! I am yet to have anyone laugh at my extremely poor language skills. The effort to speak some Japanese is appreciated, even if you have to revert to English for everything else!

travel in Japan as an English speaker

Japan is an incredibly fun country to visit, and you definitely shouldn’t be put off by the language barrier. It is incredibly easy to get around, even if you know zero Japanese (take it from someone who has done it – multiple times!)

If you know who to ask for help (like the friendly station staff, hotel receptionists or tourist information staff), you will have no problems. Also, make sure to remember to download Google Translate and you’ll be prepared for any situation!

Are you planning a trip to Japan? What’s been your biggest challenge when planning your trip?

Or have you already been to Japan? Did you have any language problems?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

travel japan english

About Mae-Gene Yew

travel japan english

I'm obsessed with eating copious amounts of sushi and hiking in New Zealand. But on most days you can find me in my home city of Melbourne dreaming of my next adventure, working my lil' corner of the internet (this blog!) or gettin' ready to strap on my hiking boots. Read more...

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Reader Interactions

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 3:19 am

Love this! It’s so true, it’s not as hard as people think it will be. Although the further away from major cities you travel the less likely English is spoken or understood so it’s good to be able to read a little Japanese at least. I went for 2 weeks a few years back: had zero language troubles and the absolute BEST time! Thanks for sharing your advice 🙂

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 8:15 am

Alyse, I’m so glad to hear you had an amazing time in Japan! It’s daunting at first, especially if you’ve never heard spoken Japanese before, but can definitely be done! And that’s a really good point about English not being very common the further out you go. I found that I only had problems when I was very far away from major cities (basically areas that weren’t served by JR trains). This may be more of a recent phenomenon though!

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 5:40 am

Looks amazing! Thanks for sharing.

September 10, 2017 at 8:16 am

Thank you for commenting Yana!

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 6:01 am

I hadn’t even thought of touch screens in restaurants. Great to know too that stations have such useful information. A trip to Japan is definitely on my bucket list, and thanks for sharing this really helpful info for first timers like me.

September 10, 2017 at 8:17 am

Bernadette, I hope you get a chance to visit Japan! It’s such a fun country to visit and is super easy to get around if you don’t speak Japanese. I’m glad you found the info useful!

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 8:32 am

A wireless router is always a good idea especially when you need Google Maps. I just returned from Tokyo and I agree that learning a few phrases really is useful! This article is great cuz we can definitely use this in other countries too!

September 11, 2017 at 12:37 am

Hi Amanda, I’m so glad you found this useful! You make such a good point – navigating countries that don’t speak your language involves really similar advice. I hope you had an amazing time in Tokyo!

travel japan english

September 10, 2017 at 11:45 am

Japan seems like a lovely country. Not knowing the local language never stopped me from travelling to certain countries. You have some great tips in this article for those who have their doubts.

September 11, 2017 at 12:39 am

Hi Eniko, I would highly recommend a trip to Japan if you ever get a chance. I’ve loved every trip I’ve had there. I’m glad you enjoyed my tips, I try not to stop the language barrier from deciding on where to travel to next!

travel japan english

September 11, 2017 at 3:07 am

My friend’s Uncle married a Japanese lady and settled in Japan. The children speak fluent Japanese even with the dad 😀 while language is not an exact barrier, it is always a good practice to be aware of what is prevalent in the land. Great post you got there lady 😉

September 15, 2017 at 7:18 am

That’s amazing to hear that your friend’s cousins are fluent in Japanese! I definitely wish I had taken my language classes when I was in school more seriously. Thank you for reading, I’m glad you liked it!

travel japan english

November 1, 2019 at 11:00 pm

Thanks for the very useful tips and hints, I am going in early Jan 2020 for two weeks, principally from Tokyo to Nagasaki with some multi day stops on the way. Just doing the Japan Rail Pass exercise as to best Aus provider etc, do you hold a position on this aspect of travelling in Japan

Thanks again for a great resource

November 2, 2019 at 1:13 am

It sounds like you’ve got a great trip planned! I’m a bit confused as to your question – are you asking whether this is a good way to travel Japan, or are you after suggestions on the best place to purchase the JR pass in Australia?

If the former, yes – I highly recommend traveling via JR pass! It can sometimes be cheaper to purchase your tickets separately (not using the JR pass) but this is highly dependent upon your itinerary. It sounds like you’ll be doing quite a number of stops so without knowing your exact itinerary, it sounds like it would be a worthy investment.

As for the best place to purchase from Australia, unfortunately, it’s been a number of years since I’ve purchased a JR pass from here (the last time I was in Japan for so long, I wasn’t able to use one!) My tips would be: make sure you’re purchasing from a valid JR pass reseller, and when you get your pass double-check that all details on the pass are correct (e.g. your name on the pass should exactly match that on your passport).

I hope this helps and hope you have a wonderful time! Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

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Find the right fully guided tour for you in Japan. There are 281 trips to choose from, that range from 5 days in length, up to 28 days. The month with the most departures is October, making it the most popular time to visit Japan.

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Japan Express: Osaka to Tokyo Tour

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We had a wonderful trip and LOVED the other travelers in our group! (We are just amazed and relieved that we managed to avoid the big typhoon that came through just two days after we left...). Our leader Fuji was great. We had difficulty understanding his accent--especially at first--but we grew to really appreciate his quirky sense of humor and amazing navigation skills! Aside from the language difficulty, our only critique of him was that he readily admitted he did not know very much about some of the temples and shrines that we visited, so we did not gain as deep of an understanding as we might have with a different guide. There were times when the itinerary felt a bit rushed, but we are so glad to have had so many amazing adventures along the way, and in hindsight I wouldn't have skipped anything. We were also in Hiroshima on the anniversary of the bombing, which made the visit a bit more crowded, but also more meaningful. I will highly recommend this trip to all of my friends!

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Epic Japan: Speed Trains & Street Food Tour

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The itinerary needed to be more detailed, there was a lot up in the air as to what was happening each day. There wasn’t the greatest communication between the guide and the group, as to where we were meeting and such. The places we stayed were a great mix of different style of hostel and were close to most areas in the city with a few exceptions.

Discover Japan Tour

Discover Japan

The tour guide, Kumiko, was fantastic — patient, friendly, informative and always helpful. Accommodation was OK to good. The overall schedule was well paced.

Splendid Japan with Nagoya (private 3 star hotel rooms) Tour

Splendid Japan with Nagoya (private 3 star hotel rooms)

Amazing tour. Kayoko was awesome and we got to see so much of Japan. Only wish there was a change on the 10 person minimum for the optional tours. We had a smaller group so getting 10 people for things sometimes was tough.

9 Days Splendid Japan Deluxe with Nagoya(4 star hotels) Tour

9 Days Splendid Japan Deluxe with Nagoya(4 star hotels)

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The tour guide was very good he spoke Spanish English and Japanese , the tour was run very smoothly , the one disappointing thing was that I didn’t sample sashimi , the Hotel’s were very good , my room person ie was a bit embarrassing at times, I-was always trying to calm him down , he was very rude to the nice Japanese people , over all saw lots of south Japan Roger Evans

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  • 5% deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Central Japan End Kyoto Tour

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Positive: great tour guides, perfect sites to see, good food, nice hotels Cons: not enough time to see certain sites. Was hard to have English and Spanish mix together

All Inclusive Japan Classics- 9 days Tour

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I toured with my sons, aged 18 and 21. The whole tour was perfectly paced. Comfortable accommodations in great locations including a couple nights in traditional rooms. Outstanding food every meal. Visited temples, shrines and castles everyone needs to see. Even touristy-experiences (rickshaw ride, silk dyeing, dressing in kimono in Iyashi No Sato, which we were reluctant to remove!) were entertaining. We were not prepared for the incredible awe of the Itchiku Kubota museum. We took advantage of onsens whenever we could. We watched the sun rise on Mt Fuji and visited Kiyomizu Temple in perfect light, before the crowds arrived. I took private time to visit the Hoshun-in bonsai garden at Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto and had the entire garden to myself for an hour. Our guide Eriko was extremely well-versed, adaptable and gracious. We learned so much about the Sengoku and Edo periods, as well as the Meiji restoration and even 20th/21st century Japan. For a first introduction to this fascinating and ancient part of the world this tour far exceeded my expectations. Supera found all the right touches and class without any wasted effort. I couldn’t recommend this tour higher - extremely well done from start to finish.

8D Splendid Japan with Nagoya(private 3 star hotel rooms) Tour

8D Splendid Japan with Nagoya(private 3 star hotel rooms)

The staff at Stunning Tours was very helpful. The hotels and the included food were great. Our tour guide was very helpful in pointing out the local delicacies and unique items to purchase in each of the regions. maybe it will lower your cholesterol level if you eat some of the sushi (high in omega-3 because of fish). Their delicacies or pastries are really good, not too sweet. Japan is very clean, This kind of trait is very good to bring back home for cleanliness.

Premium Highlights of Japan Tour

Premium Highlights of Japan

What people love about fully guided tours in japan.

The guide was the best
My expectations for the tour was exceeded. I had a really good time and I am really thankful to our CEO Ms. Ayako Ueda.
Japan was so fun! A looooooot of free time so do you researches about what to do and visit in every city. Would have love more ''organised'' activities (like a dinner every night with the group,...). Compared to other G Adventures tour I did in the past, I felt that this group was less stick together since there was only a few group activities.

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The Real Japan

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UPDATED! Japan Without Japanese: How To Travel In Japan When You Don’t Speak Japanese


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Seat reservations on shinkansen

Most shinkansen have both reserved and non-reserved seats in separate cars. Bilingual signs indicate whether a shinkansen car has reserved or non-reserved seating. Seat reservations can be made from one month before the date of travel until just before departure time.

They can be made at ticket counters at all major JR stations (any shinkansen can be reserved from any JR ticket office).

Some ticket vending machines with bilingual menus (Japanese/English) allow travellers to make seat reservations on shinkansen trains. However, Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use vending machines to make seat reservations.

How to travel in Japan Rob Dyer The Real Japan

Asking a policeman for assistance

Aside from their law-enforcement role , police in Japan also serve a community role. In cities especially, if you need directions then you can pop into a Koban (police box) and ask for directions , which they will gladly offer using probably using a map.

How to travel in Japan The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Pop your head around the door and try saying: " Sumimasen, michi o oshiete kudasai? " (" Excuse me, please can you tell me the way? ")

The police officer probably won't speak English, but they will be used to Japanese people regularly asking for directions, and they will quickly pull out a local area street map, often pasted onto a large board for ease of reference.

Pre-plan Key Travel Connections

Pre-planning key connections and booking accommodation in advance will make life a lot easier. It allows you to focus more on the experience, in the moment, instead of worrying about not knowing when your connecting train leaves.

Major train stations in Japan can be very, very, very large .

No, you think you know what a big train station looks like, but in Japan they can be massive. They sprawl underground, sometimes on multiple levels, making navigating your way around them even more challenging.

Some have grown and grown over the years, constantly being extended and added to. This can mean that they become labyrinths - even to the locals.

The best tip I can give you is to do what I do when your sense of direction fails you: use any exit to get above ground as soon as possible so you can get your bearings on local landmarks. You can then either continue to your destination exit over ground or try going back into the underworld and use your general sense of navigation to get you there.

Public information sign The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Signs on JR Railways have station names in English

Asking locals for help

One general tip that applies particularly in the countryside is never be afraid to ask people you see on the street for help . Younger people are often good to ask as they are more likely to have a smattering of English (you'd be surprised how far you can get with them only knowing “ Yes ”, “ No ” and “ OK ”!).

Fellow Japanese travellers sympathetic to your plight will frequently come to your aid as well.

Need help planning your Japan trip? Visit my Japan Travel Store

The Japanese may generally be reserved but they can also be extremely helpful if you do ask for help or assistance. Particularly off the beaten track. Just remember to keep your tone and gestures modest. Loud voices and excessive gesticulating can alarm and put off some people.

It is possible to book activities and tours where you are guided by a local. Often by someone who does this sort of thing as a way to share their passion for local food and drink, history, culture, etc. Travel booking sites such as GetYourGuide and Viator both have a good selection of such guided tours.

Find your ideal Japan accommodation

Booking at least key accommodation in advance is advisable (unless your whole approach is to travel and see what you can find along the way.)

The large accommodation booking websites like Booking.com , Hotels.com , etc. can be great not least because of their size (and therefore the quantity of accommodation they cover), and because of their size they can often secure very favourable rates. Booking.com in particular has added a lot of more niche accommodation in Japan in recent years .

It’s also a good idea to look at some of the more specialist accommodation providers. 

This includes some that operate only in Japan, like:

  • Jalan.net - for finding hotels and ryokan
  • Japanese Guesthouses - a curated selection of ryokan
  • HomeAway Asia for searching, exploring and booking vacation rentals in Japan

With these kinds of solutions you’re more likely to find the local, smaller and more traditional accommodation that you really should consider building into your trip. That would include staying in a ryokan (a traditional inn)  - the ultimate way to experience 'The Real Japan'.

FREE RESOURCE: My 9 Japanese Accommodation Hacks Checklist is well worth downloading. It’s free to subscribers (and can be found in the Resource Library if you’re already subscribed).

Using a Japanese phrasebook or app

If you want to make the effort to engage with the locals in their native tongue, take a trusty pocket language guide and/or phone app .

There are plenty of Japanese phrasebooks out there. The one you choose will largely depend on what you look for in a guide. Me? I still use my old Berlitz phrasebook and dictionary because it is small, well-organised and doesn't require charging or Wi-Fi.

RELATED: How To Choose The Best Japan Travel Guide Book

Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Mar 28, 2024 • 11 min read

travel japan english

Find your way in Japan with our ultimate guide to rail travel © Chay_Tee / Shutterstock

You will fall passionately in love with trains in Japan .

Japanese people didn’t invent rail travel, but they arguably perfected it. Whether you’re on the newest shinkansen (bullet train) zooming across the country at 320km/h (199mph) or an elderly regional railcar, you can count on your train being scrupulously clean, safely operated, highly reliable, famously punctual and generally a joy to ride.

You can see almost the entire country by train, and with a wide variety of rail passes — including the iconic Japan Rail Pass — you can travel across Japan for less than US$50 per day, including the shinkansen.

Signs are in English even at the smallest stations, translation apps and devices are widely used for complicated questions, and staff are genuinely happy to help travelers.

Japan has an enormous number of train lines and kinds of train, but don’t be put off by the sheer volume: it’s surprisingly easy to navigate , even on your first trip, with your phone’s maps app and a sense of adventure.

A woman stands at a bank of electronic ticket machines. Above her head is a color-coded map showing train lines

There are different services on the Japanese train network

Trains run almost everywhere in Japan. The main backbone of the network, and the fastest, is the shinkansen. These bullet trains run from Hokkaidō  in the far north all the way to Tokyo Station , where you have to change for the shinkansen going to Nagoya , Kyoto , Osaka , Hiroshima and on to Kyushu. For travelers visiting Japan’s main sights , this will be the kind of train you take the most.

The next fastest are Limited Expess trains — “limited” as in “limited stops” — that run between cities and to rural areas on pre-shinkansen conventional lines (the non-high-speed ones). Many run through beautiful parts of Japan, so don’t count them out.

Local trains are the slowest and may even be as small as one single car. “Rapid” trains are fairly rare, and are essentially local trains that skip a few of the smaller stops.

Urban rail, commuter trains and subway lines are widespread in cities. These usually work very similarly to what you might be used to in your home country, although do watch out for limited-stop semi-expresses. The big picture transit maps can look a little intimidating, but most major cities now have a system of colors and station codes in place to help you navigate, and your phone's maps app is great for a quick idea of how to get from A to B.

Confident visitors outside major cities will love Joyful Trains, which are special tourist trains operated largely on weekends and holidays in rural areas. These might be renovated steam trains, or specially themed — JR East’s Koshino Shu’Kura is all about sake, including tastings, while the  JR Kyushu A Train is jazz-themed.

Japan’s train stations are destinations by themselves, with larger and newer stations offering a huge range of restaurants for every appetite and budget, and shops ranging from high-quality handmade artisanal local goods to Japanese malls to 100-yen stores. Convenience stores and pharmacies are also often on hand.

Do look out for special local snacks in the omiyage souvenir shops (these are intended for Japanese travelers to take back to friends and colleagues as presents) and for ekiben,  local specialty boxed bentō  lunches.

A single-track train line heading towards the iconic shape of Mount Fuji

Travel short distances with a prepaid travel card

Coming from overseas, traveling short distances on Japanese railways often feels very inexpensive, while traveling longer distances without a rail pass can feel more costly. Let’s start with shorter distances.

Taking subways and urban rail is simple if you get an IC card – one of the many prepaid stored-value contactless cards – that works in a similar way to Oyster in London or Clipper in San Francisco: just tap on and tap off. Most rail operators across Japan will sell you their version, which are almost all interchangeable when it comes to loading and spending them — you can use an ICOCA card from the Osaka region in Tokyo , or a Pasmo from Tokyo in Sapporo . You can also use iPhones to get a virtual Suica card (JR East's version of a prepaid card) via the Wallet app and load it with money using Apple Pay. If you're using an international Visa card, be aware that JR East has had issues processing those payments in the past, so you may need to use a different credit card.

A hand holds up a Japan Rail Pass in front of the rounded nose of a bullet train at a station

Travel long distances with the JR Pass

Over longer distances, the Japan Rail Pass (¥50,000 or about US$335 for seven days – less than US$50 a day!) is generally a good deal if you are planning anything more than simply Tokyo–Kyoto–Hiroshima–Tokyo, and the flexibility it gives you to take an earlier or later train is an added bonus.

You can either buy the ticket online or from an overseas travel agent. Note that you don’t actually buy the pass itself from overseas — you buy a voucher called an Exchange Order, which you then  exchange at a major station (including all international airports) for the pass itself. 

If you don’t have a pass, tickets cost the same no matter what time of day you travel, where you book, or how busy it will be — it’s not like airline tickets where that can change wildly. Most overseas travelers still use paper tickets for everything outside urban travel.

Long-distance travel fares are based on two elements:

  • Ticket price, essentially the distance you travel
  • Whether you want to reserve a seat or not, and in which class, if that’s available: Limited Express and Shinkansen trains will offer non-reserved seat tickets, a reserved seat in standard class, a reserved seat in the Green Car business class, or in some regions a reserved seat in Gran Class (first class).

Tickets can be bought at stations or at JR Travel Service Centers

Use Google Maps or the  Japan Transit Planner from Jorudan to find fares, or for JR trains visit your local JR station (look for the “green window” ticket booking office or a JR Travel Service Center), where you can also reserve a seat. At major airports and in Tokyo, you can expect some basic train-related English to be spoken by "green window" ticket agents. JR Travel Service Center staff tend to be more multilingual. Elsewhere, if you speak no Japanese you may well get lucky with someone who speaks English, and you can always lean on your phone's translation apps. Write down (on a printout or even just on your phone's notes app) the dates, times, destinations and details of the train you want, for example: "12 April, Tokyo–Osaka, 12:00, window seat, Mt Fuji side please."

Unless you’re visiting during a major Japanese holiday or want to take a specific Joyful Train, there’s little need to book before arriving in Japan. You can in some cases book online, but it’s pretty complicated and I wouldn’t recommend it to first-time visitors. If you’re confused and want English-speaking advice, head to  one of the stations that specializes in Japan Rail Passes . Only a few trains outside the JR network allow prebooking.

Three different trains cross bridges near each other in a city

There are many rail passes to choose from

Japan has a wide variety of rail passes available to overseas visitors, from the JR Pass valid across the JR network (with a few exceptions like the very fastest trains west of Tokyo) to regional and commuter passes.

The most useful is the  Japan Rail Pass in its six variants: 7/14/21 days and standard car or Green Car business-class versions. This is probably what you should get your first time in Japan if traveling outside Tokyo.

Adventurous travelers and long-term visitors, or anyone wanting to go deep in a particular region, could also consider:

  • The  various regional passes from JR East , including the very useful  Hokuriku Arch Pass for traveling the slower way between Tokyo and Osaka via Kyoto and Kanazawa
  • The many  JR West Passes , including the  All Area Pass for most of western Honshu
  • The  four JR Kyushu passes
  • The  three JR Hokkaido passes  
  • The  JR Shikoku ALL SHIKOKU pass

You’ll usually need to be visiting with the “temporary visitor” stamp in your passport, and there may be a small discount (a couple of thousand yen or US$5–10) for buying it online or outside Japan. Otherwise, check out the details online or visit a large station, including those at airports: the bigger, the better, and the more likely to have English-speaking assistance.

Train etiquette means not disturbing fellow travelers

Japanese urban trains can be famously crowded during rush-hour, but by and large even Tokyo is no worse than any major global city.

Even if crowded, the etiquette on a Japanese train is to be as quiet as possible and disturb others as little as possible: headphones on quiet, very little chatting, backpack on your front, give up your seat to anyone who needs it more than you.

There is something of a stereotype of loutish tourists yapping away to their traveling companions on long-distance trains. Try not to contribute to it. Separate your trash according to the recycling bins, and always leave the seat as clean and tidy as you found it.

Eating and drinking is fine (even encouraged!) on longer distance trains. General rule: if the seats are subway-style along the sides of the car facing inwards then don’t, but feel free if the seats are airline-style facing forwards. If in doubt, follow the lead of the nearest senior Japanese person.

A beautifully presented box of food with each element separated into its own square

On-board facilities vary depending on the service

With the exception of the Joyful Train tourist excursion services, Japanese trains don’t have buffet cars any more, although you can see what they used to look like at several of Japan’s excellent railway museums. A shrinking number of trains still have a trolley service offering snacks, sometimes bentō  and a variety of drinks.

Good news, though: any station smaller than the tiniest rural halt will have a convenience store inside or nearby, which will offer bentō , hot meals, snacks, drinks and essentials. Many larger stations have restaurant complexes, while some smaller ones will have delightful smaller options like a soba or ramen shop.

Long-distance trains will usually have toilet facilities, with newer ones (including all shinkansen and some Limited Expresses) having excellent facilities for disabled passengers, people with reduced mobility and often ostomy facilities too.

Shinkansen and newer Limited Expresses offer two-pin US-style 110V charging ports, while wi-fi is also increasingly available and easy to use.

Most Japanese trains are not set up for luggage bigger than a small carry-on — and “small” here does not include a US-sized rollaboard or anything like a bicycle. On some trains you have to pre-reserve anything bigger. Take advantage of the nationwide luggage shipping services like Yamato  – known as Kuroneko Yamato for its black (kuro) cat (neko) logo – that ships larger bags for US$10–20.

These are the best seats for great views

Always take a window seat, whether you’re gazing out on Japan’s sprawling megalopolises from an urban train, watching the country fly by at 320km/h (199mph) from a shinkansen, or enjoying picturesque views from a slow rural train.

On the shinkansen, if you want the best mountain views — including the iconic Mt Fuji between Tokyo and Shizuoka — select a window E seat in standard class and a D seat in the Green Car.

Limited Expresses are wonderful for countryside views, with the  Hida from Nagoya to Toyama through the Japanese Alps and the Inaho from Niigata to Akita just two great examples.

Ask for help when navigating busy city networks

Urban trains, commuter rail and subways may have a set of complicated and confusing names with different stopping patterns, especially during rush hour, but this is no worse than figuring out what a “Watford Semi-Fast” is on London’s Tube or how skip-stop works on the subway in New York. As a visitor, just ask station staff or, in a pinch, a fellow passenger — and be prepared to get on the wrong train with a confident smile and a sense of affable adventure.

The majority of trains are wheelchair accessible

A significant majority of intercity, urban rail and subway stations in most major cities (80–90% in Tokyo  according to official numbers ) are accessible for wheelchair users, with elevators, stair-climber lifts, and ramps widespread. 

Older stations, such as the main Tokyo Station, may be complex and accessible only from certain entrances. Tactile strips to assist blind people or those with reduced visual acuity are almost everywhere. 

Accessible Japan is an excellent resource for information, while the very detailed  For Safe and Convenient Accessibility website offers route and station search as well as  contact details for further assistance. Station staff are keen to help wherever they can.

Many trains offer wheelchair positions, level boarding, with ramps available if you need them. Urban rail and subways have priority seating, and Japan developed the  Help Mark badge system for people with invisible disabilities to easily signal their needs. The badge is  free from a number of locations in Tokyo , under US$10 from Amazon Japan (consider having it delivered to your first night hotel), or you can DIY your own before leaving home.

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15 Essential Travel Hacks When Visiting Japan

A sk anybody what's on their travel bucket list, and their response is sure to include "Japan." Thanks to a combination of rich heritage, lush landscapes, and labyrinth cities packed with skyscrapers, temples, and tourist traps alike, the country has soared in popularity, with American Express claiming that the number of bookings has increased by 1,300% since 2019 (via Bloomberg ).

Part of what makes Japan so alluring is that its culture and customs are so distinct and unique to those of other countries. That's also what makes it an overwhelming travel destination, especially for first-time visitors. If you start your journey in a major city like Tokyo, Yokohama, or Osaka, you're instantly immersed in a world of neon lights, bustling crowds, loud noises, a million different smells, and sensory overload.

With so much to see, do, and eat, a trip to Japan really isn't the kind of vacation you can make up as you go along. The last thing you need is to run into an easily avoided stumbling block like a lack of internet or 30 minutes spent figuring out the route to your next destination — which is why you'll want to arrive armed with as much knowledge as possible.

Read more: 28 Bucket List Destinations That Everyone Needs To Experience At Least Once

Get Quick Meals At 7-Eleven

It's tough to walk for longer than 20 seconds without stumbling upon a convenience store in Japan. Also known as conbini, these stores are usually open 24 hours a day and are packed full of affordable tasty treats that will keep you going without the time (and money) it takes to eat at an actual restaurant.

For as cheap as 200 yen ($1.34), you can enjoy the likes of onigiri rice balls, chicken karaage, sandos, oden, and bento boxes. We also recommend picking up taiyaki for a quick sugar boost. Shaped like fish and made of pancake or waffle batter, they're usually filled with red bean paste, custard, and chocolate and make for an endlessly addictive snack.

The most common store is 7-Eleven, which has over 20,000 locations throughout Japan and is miles above its U.S. counterpart in the culinary department. There are also over 15,000 FamilyMarts scattered across the country, but they typically don't offer as much variety.

Get Pocket Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is surprisingly scarce in Japan, which can put you in some tough spots if you get lost mid-metro commute. Fortunately, pocket Wi-Fi exists -- and it is a lifesaver. For as cheap as $5 a day, you can rent a portable device that will allow you to access the internet on the go, even on the train. The majority will allow you to connect multiple devices at the same time and come in a variety of different speeds and GB, with some even offering unlimited data throughout your stay.  

If you rent in advance through a website like Ninja WiFi or Japan Wireless , you can pick up the device (also known by the much cuter name of a Wi-Fi Egg) at a designated counter once you've got through customs at airports including Haneda and Narita in Tokyo, Chubu Centrair, Kansai International, Fukuoka, and more. Once you're done, you can just pop it into the returns box at the airport on the way back. Easy.

Buy A JR Pass

Sadly, the JR (Japan Rail) Pass isn't as cheap as it once was. It surged in price by 70% in July 2023 as the yen continued to decline in value against other currencies around the world. However, if your itinerary includes extensive train travel, it's still worth the purchase.

The Japan Rail Pass will allow you to ride the rail to your heart's desire -- including the country's infamous, lightning-speed Shinkansen bullet trains (for a supplementary fee) and the Narita Express. It's more expensive to purchase once in Japan, so we recommend buying yours in advance on the JRailPass website where it costs $340.65 for seven days, $544.45 for 14 days, and $680.35 for 21 days.

If your visit is limited to just one or two cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka or Tokyo and Kyoto, then it probably isn't necessary. For example, a trip between Tokyo and Osaka typically costs $120 each way, which is considerably cheaper than forking out a few hundred dollars for a JR Pass.

Download Train Schedules And Maps

Japan has incredible public transportation. It also happens to be extremely overwhelming if it's your first (or second, or third) time in the country. Tokyo's metro can be especially confusing, with nine different train lines and 180 different stations to navigate. Its roads are even more complex with the majority not even having names, baffling even the city's own taxi drivers.

With that in mind, future-proofing for any situation where you may end up lost in an unknown place is always a good idea. Download or screenshot train schedules ahead of time through the JRailPass website, which offers both interactive and PDF versions of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto's transportation systems. You can also download an offline version of the local area on Google Maps. This will also help if you face the aforementioned pesky issue of scarce public Wi-Fi, or if your portable Wi-Fi runs out of juice midday.

Use Citymapper

If you're visiting Tokyo, Citymapper is a must. Just like it does for multiple other cities across the globe, the award-winning app analyzes public transportation, congestion, and distance to figure out all the different ways you can reach your destination, and precisely how many minutes each option will take.

Whether it's walking, cycling, taxis, metro, or a combination of everything, all you need to do is select your chosen route and follow Citymapper's step-by-step instructions. When we say step-by-step, we mean it. The app's so smart that it will even tell you which exits and entrances to use at each station to make your journey as stress-free as possible. If you miss your stop or don't quite make your train, the app will also take that into account to restrategize your trip ASAP. You'll need to be online to request a new route, but if you check your journey ahead of time, you can save it to your homepage for offline use.

Visit Between January And March

There is no one "best" time to visit Japan, but there is a most convenient time. January to March tends to attract less crowds and will also usually bring the cheapest flights of the year. While it'll almost certainly be cold, you'll skip typhoon season and be in with a chance of seeing Japan in the snow.

If you do choose to visit at this time, just be sure to check the dates of the Lunar New Year (AKA Chinese New Year). This tends to be a public holiday across the region and will see cities across Japan packed with tourists. As it's such a popular time to travel, this will also be the exception to the "January to March is cheaper" rule with hotels and airlines driving up their prices over the holiday. The same is true of the end of March, which marks the beginning of cherry blossom season.

Make Advanced Reservations

There's a lot to enjoy in Japan. The problem is that everybody else wants to enjoy these things, too. Tourist attractions often book up months in advance, and a lot of them don't sell tickets at the gate, which doesn't leave much space for spontaneity for the average tourist visiting Japan .

If you plan on visiting the likes of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo - The Making of Harry Potter, Tokyo Disney Resort, Ghibli Park, Shibuya Sky observation deck, Teamlab Planets, or the Studio Ghibli Museum, it's best to sort your tickets sooner rather than later. The Ghibli Museum is especially challenging, with tickets for the next month going on sale at 10 a.m. on the 10th of the month prior.

The same is true of the hotels at Tokyo Disney Resort . With one of the most impressive Disney hotel lineups in the world (including the MiraCosta, a hotel that is actually inside Tokyo DisneySea), rooms are in extremely high demand. These go on sale from 11 a.m. four months before the dates you hope to stay and are bookable through the Tokyo Disney Resort Online Reservations & Tickets website.

Download The Japan Connected-Free Wi-Fi App

If you don't want the responsibility of carrying around and charging pocket Wi-Fi, download the Japan Connected -free Wi-Fi app. Whether you need to double-check directions or just have a quick midday TikTok break, this handy tool will search over 170,000 internet hotspots to find the closest location to you. The majority of these will likely be at a 7-Eleven, where you'll almost always be able to go online.

As if that feature isn't useful enough, the app eliminates the need to fill in the registration forms that typically serve as a barrier before you can access public Wi-Fi. Fill out your name and email once and the app will complete each form on your behalf. While you used to need to be online to find the Internet (which kind of defeats the app's entire purpose), you can now download the offline map to ensure you can always find a connection. Just remember to be careful with what data you enter or share while using any public Wi-Fi network .

Japan has been a "cash is king" country for years, meaning paying with notes and coins is the default over ApplePay and credit cards. This attitude has slipped in recent years, but cash still has a strong grip on the country's residents with only 36% of people preferring cashless payments.

While you should be able to use your card in most major outlets and tourist locations -- such as department stores, malls, theme parks, supermarkets, and even taxis -- a lot of restaurants, cafes, and bars still prefer to be paid in cash. This number will be much higher outside of major cities, and many local restaurants, markets, or temples won't have the facilities to accept card payments even if they want to. Exchanging at least a chunk of your spending money into Japanese yen ahead of time will save you in sticky situations (plus it helps you control your spending, which is always a bonus).

Choose Taxis Over Ubers

Although Uber exists in Japan, it's not as widespread or commonplace as in countries like the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. Journeys tend to be more expensive than those taken with local cabs, making the latter the service of choice for locals and tourists alike.

The upside to Uber is, of course, the fact that it's so familiar for many tourists. It's easy to order your taxi and pay via card, and the entire process is in English. However, your cheapest option is to hail taxis on the street, as you won't need to pay a base fare for the pick-up service. It'll say on the front of a car in Japanese if it's occupied. It's also color-coded so tourists can understand. Red means it's taken. Green means it's available. If you do want to pre-book, most locals prefer to use the Go app for journeys anywhere within Japan's 47 prefectures. This works similarly to Uber, except it allows you to pay with both cash and card and will give you a flat rate for journeys to and from the airport.

Purchase A Suica Card

The question isn't so much what a Suica card can do ; what can't it do? This prepaid, contactless card can be repeatedly loaded up with more cash to pay for public transport, including the metro, trains, buses, and taxis. Beyond transportation, Suica is also accepted in many shops, restaurants, cafes, and even vending machines. Just look out for the Suica symbol to know if they do -- and if you can't spot it, it's at least worth asking.

You can purchase your card before arriving in Japan and return it at the end of your trip to recover your 500 yen ($12) deposit. Due to a manufacturing shortage, the sale of new Suica cards is temporarily on hold as of June 2023, but if you're on a temporary visa, you can still purchase a Welcome Suica card. This doesn't require a deposit, doesn't need to be returned, and is valid for 28 days. These can only be purchased inside Japan at locations such as Narita and Haneda airports and will come with a reference paper which you'll need to keep on your person at all times.

Utilize Storage Lockers

For security reasons, storage lockers are a rarity at train stations around the world. Japan is an exception. You'd be hard-pressed to find a major station without coin lockers (which, despite the name, can actually be used with a Suica card, too), and in Tokyo, most stations come equipped with storage facilities.

Baggage storage is one of those things you don't realize you'll need until you desperately need it. These lockers are useful if you only have a few hours before heading to your hotel or next destination and want to stow away your belongings so you can freely explore. They also happen to be extremely cheap, typically costing between $1 and $5. There's usually no problem finding a vacant locker, but if you are struggling, you can download the  SPACER app , which will allow you to find and reserve a locker at major stations such as Shinjuku, Osaka, and Shibuya in advance. This is currently only available in Japanese, but there are plans for an English version in the near future.

Avoid National Holidays

Lunar New Year isn't the only holiday worth skipping if you want to avoid the crowds. National holidays bring in huge crowds anywhere, but especially Japan, where workers get little annual leave and want to take advantage of the break. If you do decide to brave big attractions like Shibuya Crossing, Senso-ji Temple, or Tokyo Skytree, you'll likely find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow tourists.

For a quieter vacation, April 29 to May 6 -- or, Golden Week -- is one of Japan's busiest holiday periods. This tends to be the most hectic season for the likes of Tokyo Disney Resort and Universal Studios Japan, where you can expect to wait in long lines for everything, from the park entrance to the restrooms. While Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, it is for many other countries, meaning the festive season can also bring an influx of tourists to both of these locations. Late September (Silver Week), New Year, and the Obon Week in August are typically also very busy.

Claim Your Tax Refund

From clothes to gadgets, Japan is one of the most unique places for retail therapy in the world. If you're a tourist, you can also shop with the peace of mind that you'll get at least some of your money back. Any non-resident visiting Japan for less than six months can enjoy tax-free shopping, meaning you can reclaim 10% of the value of your purchase.

There are a few catches. First, you'll need to check that the store is in fact a "tax-free shop" by checking for a logo stating as such at the entrance. They're extremely common and can be found in the likes of Namba City, Echika Ikebukuro, and Seibu Shibuya. You'll also need to have spent more than 5,000 yen ($33) in the same store on the same day. Some stores will let you pay tax-free from the offset if you present your passport, while others will require you to present your receipt at a tax exemption counter on the same day to get your money back.

Download A Good Translation App

If you know Japanese, you're good to go. For those of us who aren't bilingual, Japan can be tough to navigate at times. While most signs in major cities will have translations, less than 30% of people living in Japan speak English, which means it's inevitable you'll hit the language barrier at some point during your stay.

A good translation app is a must, especially one that's able to translate pictures. Google Translate is always a go-to, but one of the best choices is iTranslate Translator . Not only can it tackle text, but you can also use it to scan and translate menus, signs, labels ... you name it. Best of all, it can work offline if you download the Japanese pack ahead of time. It's free to download but will cost you $5.99 a month to unlock its full potential. Considering how useful it is, it's better to spend $5.99 than find yourself stranded in a restaurant blind-ordering a dish because you can't read the menu.

Read the original article on Explore .

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Arashiyama is located in the northwestern area of Kyoto and one of the popular tourist destinations in Japan. A lot of visitors for its world renowned bamboo grove and beautiful scenery that changes with each season. Especially during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons are best.

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Kawaguchi Lake has the longest shoreline among the lakes located around Mt. Fuji. "Diamond Fuji" which Mt.Fuji is reflected upside down on the surface of Lake Kawaguchi, is too beautiful, and is famous as a superb view shooting spot of Mt. Fuji.

Tateyama Kurobe

Tateyama Kurobe |Chubu

One of the world's leading mountain sightseeing routes which connects Toyama and Nagano through North Alps. It is very famous for the great snow wall, where you go through by bus.The snow wall is created by removing piled snow on the road around Murodo.

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Japan launches e-Visas for Indian tourists. Here's how you can apply | DETAILS

The much-awaited Japan e-Visa programme was launched in India on April 1 and is valid for up to 90 days. The move aims to streamline the process of obtaining a visa to enable short-term travel from several countries to Japan.

Aveek Banerjee

The programme began in India on April 1. Under this e-Visa programme, Indian tourists no longer need to carry a physical passport to enter Japan. The programme is also available for travellers from Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The much-awaited Japan e-Visa programme can be availed through the Japan Visa Application centres operated by VFS Global. Under this revised system, tourists planning to visit Japan have to submit their applications to the Visa Application Centres, after which they will be able to receive electronic visas, thus removing the need to carry physical passport stickers.

How to apply Japan e-Visa?

Internet access is a must to file for an e-Visa for entering Japan. A digital 'visa issuance notice' must be presented to the authorities upon arrival at the airport, and any other format than that, including photos and screenshots, will not be considered valid for entry. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to avail an e-Visa for Japan.

  • To initiate the process of applying for an e-Visa, individuals must first access the official website of the Japan Visa Application Centre, managed by VFS Global, through https://visa.vfsglobal.com/ind/en/jpn/ .
  • From there on, individuals can choose the "Temporary Visitor Visa" option and review all requirements carefully. Tourists must download the application form and fill it out accurately before printing it. Correct documents must be provided by the individuals.
  • Individuals can then schedule an appointment to submit their application at the Visa Application Centre. Once they have booked their appointment, they will receive an appointment confirmation email along with their letter of appointment.
  • After the visa application form is submitted at the centre, the tourists will have to pay their application fee. After that, the tourists will have to wait for an email notification informing them of when the e-Visa is ready for collection. Approved applicants will receive an e-Visa instead of a physical visa. Individuals can also track their visa application status online using the reference number from the invoice or receipt issued by the centre.
  • While checking in at the airport, individuals will be required to display a "visa issuance notice" from their mobile devices, provided by the travel agency in either printed or PDF forms. The notice can be displayed by scanning a two-dimensional barcode with their devices and entering the required information. A countdown timer shown at the top right indicates that the notice is valid.

During the application process, the tourists planning to visit Japan may be requested to appear in person at the Japanese overseas establishment with jurisdiction over the place of the applicant's residence for an interview. By adhering to the stipulated criteria, Indian tourists can experience a seamless travel experience to Japan on a tourist e-Visa, valid for 90 days.

ALSO READ |  Australia tightens student visa rules months after Canada invokes similar rules I Impact on Indian students

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The Best Photos of the British Royal Family on Easter 2024

King Charles and Queen Camilla were joined by a small group of Windsors at church today.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

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While it's unclear whether or not the modern day Windsors participate in an Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the estate, royals of centuries past have enjoyed the tradition; In 1833, 14-year-old Princess Victoria (the future Queen Victoria), wrote in a letter , "Mama did some pretty painted & ornamented eggs, & we looked for them." Years later, she and her husband Prince Albert continued this tradition for their children; in a journal entry in 1869, Queen Victoria wrote , "After breakfast, the children, as usual on this day looked for Easter eggs."

This year's Easter gathering will look different from previous years , as Prince William and Kate Middleton won't be in attendance with their children following the news of Kate's cancer diagnosis , and due to King Charles's cancer diagnosis, it was a much smaller group.

Here, see all the best photos of King Charles, Queen Camilla, and the rest of the royal family in Windsor on Easter 2024:

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

King Charles and Queen Camilla appeared to be in good spirits as they arrived at the Easter Mattins Service.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter service

Queen Camilla opted for a green dress and matching hat.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh and Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh smiled as they arrived at church.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

The Duchess looked lovely in purple.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

James, Earl of Wessex was the only member of the younger generation of royals in attendance. (He's 16, and the youngest of the late Queen Elizabeth's grandchildren .)

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, hasn't attended the Easter Mattins Service since 1991 , before her divorce from Prince Andrew, but was there today.

britain royals easter

Prince Andrew joined his family at church.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

Princess Anne waved to the gathered onlookers.

britain royals easter

Anne was joined by her husband, Sir Timothy Laurence. Unlike other years, the royals mainly arrived by car this year.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

Queen Camilla and King Charles smile as they depart from the service.

the royal family attend the 2024 easter mattins service

The Queen received a festive bouquet on the way out.

britain royals easter

The King even greeted well-wishers.

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Emily Burack (she/her) is the Senior News Editor for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma , a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram .

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Easy Japanese news in translation: Clearing snow from the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

April 5, 2024 (Mainichi Japan)

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Work is underway to clear snow from a road along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. The route runs through the Tateyama mountain range in the Northern Alps straddling Toyama and Nagano prefectures. When seen from the sky, the road forms letter "Ss" through the pure white snow. The passage flanked by walls of snow as high as 15 to 20 meters will open to traffic on April 15. Walking events will be held along the road.

Japanese original

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The easy Japanese news is taken from the Mainichi Shogakusei Shimbun, a newspaper for children. This is perfect material for anyone studying Japanese who has learned hiragana and katakana. We encourage beginners to read the article in English followed by Japanese, or vice versa, to test their comprehension.

A fresh set will be published every Monday to Friday at 4 p.m., Japan time. Click/tap here for past installments.

Intermediate learners who do not need English assistance can directly access the Mainichi Shogakusei Shimbun site here . Furigana (hiragana) is added to all kanji in the text.

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This photo taken on April 5, 2024, shows people who were rescued after being stranded in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan. (Kyodo)

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M7.7 quake in Taiwan kills 9, injures more than 1,000


An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 struck off the east coast of Taiwan on Wednesday, killing at least nine people and injuring more than 1,000 in the island's strongest temblor in 25 years, while small tsunami reached nearby islands in Japan's southwest.

The biggest quake to hit since one that struck central Taiwan in 1999 triggered landslides in Hualien County and caused loss of contact with over 140 people, local authorities and reports said.

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Nearly 1,000 people were also believed to have been stranded in Taroko park, a major tourist spot featuring a gorge in a mountainous area, according to local reports.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen set up an emergency response office with military personnel dispatched to quake-hit areas for relief operations.

President-elect Lai Ching-te, the current vice president who will be inaugurated as Tsai's successor on May 20, visited Hualien and said saving lives is the top priority, according to the presidential office.

High-speed railway services on the island were partially suspended and major expressways in its east were closed due to debris, but the safety of all its nuclear plants was confirmed.

In Japan, its meteorological agency said small tsunami of up to 30 centimeters reached the islands of Yonaguni, Ishigaki and Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture. A tsunami alert for the southern prefecture was later lifted.

Taiwan's authorities said the epicenter of the 7:58 a.m. quake was located at a depth of 15.5 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean, 25 km south-southeast of Hualien County Hall. Its intensity was measured at upper 6 in Hualien on Taiwan's 7-tier scale, according to local reports.

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The quake registered 4 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Yonaguni, said the Japan Meteorological Agency. Its epicenter was at a depth of 23 km, some 250 km west-southwest of Ishigaki Island.

Taiwan's meteorological authority put the magnitude of the quake at 7.2, while Japan's said it registered 7.7.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will "swiftly offer support" to Taiwan if requested. In a post to X, formerly Twitter, the premier called Taiwan "a neighbor across the sea" and expressed his sympathy for victims of the quake.

In Hualien, the quake caused a five-story building to tilt precariously with its first floor collapsing, while a nine-story building was also left leaning. Schools and offices suspended activities.

Chang Hung-chuan, 62, who lives near the leaning nine-story building, told Kyodo News that he could feel the latest temblor was different from those he experienced before because it lasted longer.

"When it happened I felt numb because usually in Hualien we have plenty of earthquakes, but this was different. We were shaken up and down and from side to side. I knew something was wrong," he said.

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Rescue workers were trying to get a trapped woman out of the tilted nine-story building while aftershocks continued, but she was later confirmed dead. Areas near the building were cordoned off.

The owner of a Hualien cafe told Kyodo News via telephone that jolts lasted about two minutes and they were so powerful that he could not keep standing. "I was scared but felt relieved because nobody in the neighborhood was injured," he said.

The quake was felt across Taiwan and a series of aftershocks continued to rock the island, with schools evacuating children to open sports fields for safety. In the capital Taipei, debris has fallen off some buildings and monuments, including the archway at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, local media reports said.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chipmaker, temporarily evacuated its employees from some of its plants in northwestern Hsinchu following the quake and decided to halt construction of its new production facilities on the island for safety checks.

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In Okinawa, flights were temporarily suspended at Naha airport following the issuance of the tsunami warning, with passengers urged to move to higher floors of the terminal building. The airport is located on the coast of Okinawa Island.

Across the Taiwan Strait, jolts were also felt in Fujian, Guangdong, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, temporarily disrupting railway services in mainland China, according to Chinese media reports.

The Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council said Beijing is willing to provide disaster relief assistance and extends its "sincere sympathy to the Taiwan compatriots" affected by the quake, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

But Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council turned down the offer, according to the island's media.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 following a civil war.  

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