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Internet Train Route Planners

By Andrew Shuttleworth

In Japan, trains are unavoidable - for most of us living in cities they are a daily necessity. Whether you are travelling the same route every day, trying to decide whether a desired residential location is convenient for getting to the office, or continuously finding your way to different places in Japan's rail and underground maze, don't worry ... there are tools in English out there to help you!

A number of companies have developed commercial tools which use the latest published timetable data and the power of computers to work out the quickest, cheapest or easiest route. Luckily for internet users these companies find it in their interest to provide free web versions of these tools. They make their money from those who buy the installable version of the product and advertising from the site. The best of the companies also link to a wealth of information on the station you are travelling to such as maps of the area, nearby restaurants, hotels and weather information. You can even book travel tickets and hotels direct from the results page, but these services are only available for the Japanese versions.

For the English speaking user the options are a bit more limited but there are two good sites you can access--one from your desktop PC and one from your web enabled mobile phone-- that will give you the key information you need. The data is not always as up-to-date as on the Japanese language sites but it is still accurate enough to work out the best route and rough travelling times to your destination.

The best tool in English to use from your desktop PC is http://www.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/. The first page offers you two boxes to input the stations you want to travel from and to. Press Search and the following screen will confirm that your stations have been found, give you a choice if more than two stations match the name you entered or give you a warning if your station cannot be found--check your spelling if this is the case. You can select your desired departure or arrival time and date. Make sure this is correct as timetables are different on weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays or holidays. You can select the number of results you want but I suggest keeping this at 5--it can't do any harm. On this screen you will also find that there are options to choose a reserved, unreserved or "green" seat and whether you want to use a plane, shinkansen or express train. Unless you know you really want any of these options I would suggest starting without them. Note this is not the default so you should deselect them. You can always go back and chose the more expensive options if the basic ones don't suit you. Press the Search button once again and your request will be processed and you'll be presented with up to five different options. The table at the top summarizes them and you can select your desired route based on best price, travel time or number of changes. The charts below show the routes in detail with the departure and arrival times of each train. To the right there are icons which link to timetables for your the trains and routes. If you can't find a timetable for a station you frequently use you can look up the times here and print it out to carry with you.

Even more useful than the above site is one you can access with your mobile phone--you won't always have chance to look up the best routes on your PC before you travel. The site's URL is http://www.i-ekispa.com/cgi-bin/expwww/en/exp.cgi. This page is designed for i-mode phones but you can also view it on a PC. The site is similar to but simpler than the Hyperdia one and you will have no trouble using it. This site only gives the best route and average travel times. It doesn't not give the times of the trains.

If you are feeling adventurous there are a number of additional sites available in Japanese only. Once you get used to the basic interface and inputting station names, the sites are relatively easy to use. Mobile phone users should check the phone's web site directory or Yahoo's mobile web site directory at http://mobile.yahoo.co.jp. The advantages of the Japanese sites are that the timetables are always up-to-date, there are additional tools and functions, and you can link to a wealth of additional resources such as station information or local maps. There is even one site which tells you which carriage you should be in to arrive closest to the exit you need at your destination station--great when you are running late.

In addition to the internet based versions, you can buy off-the-shelf versions of these products with subscriptions to the latest timetable data and there are similar tools for PDAs. Personally I rely on the mobile phone version. The only major disadvantage of it is that it is unusable when you are out of range including most of Tokyo's underground stations.

In conclusion, there is no shortage of tools out there in both English and Japanese to make travelling by rail in Japan much easier, less stressful and more efficient.

---
Andrew Shuttleworth, TPC President 2000-2001 and current Programs Officer is a keen i- mode and Pocket PC PDA user and saves lots of travel time using online route planners.
He can be contacted through his web site at
http://www.andrewshuttleworth.com.

This article is a modified version of one written for http://www.jp.from-hanna.com



© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

June , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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