Everyday Kanji

At the Train Station

These essential kanji will help you make your way around the station and onto the right train.

Show me someone who hasn’t boarded the wrong train at least once and I’ll show you a liar… or someone who doesn’t catch trains, which means they probably don’t live in Japan. It’s happened to all of us railway users at some point in our lives – even in our home environments or places where we can speak the language.

Given that trains are pretty much integral to getting around in Japan, recognising signs around stations or on trains can really help your journeys.

When I first came to Japan, I learned two very important things about meeting people at train stations:

1) Learn the signs for exits
2) Never try to meet anyone at Shinjuku station without a phone

If you choose to do #2, then may the Station Spirit help you because it could be a very long time before you recover your friends or they recover you.

For learning the exits, however, it’s pretty simple. For starters, you just need to look for that reassuring square kanji…

入り口 (いりぐち) ー Entrance

出口 (でぐち) ー Exit

北口 (きたぐち) ー North Exit

東口 (ひがしぐち) ー East Exit

南口 (みなみぐち) ー South Exit

西口 (にしぐち) ー West Exit

The exits are often written in English, so if want to look like a real railway pro, you need to learn the types of train services, such as rapid or local.

Don’t be that person hovering in the train doorway, one foot on board, one on the platform, anxiously scrutinising the electronic display, waiting for the Japanese to be replaced by the English that tells you, that YES, this train is the local train you need, and NO, it will not rush you to somewhere several kilometres beyond your destination.

急行 (きゅうこう) ー Express Train

準特急 (じゅんとっきゅう) ー Semi-special Express

特急 (とっきゅう) ー Special Express

快速 (かいそく) ー Rapid

普通列車 (ふつうれっしゃ) ー Local Train

You won’t be getting anywhere without a ticket, so look for these to guide you:

窓口 (まどぐち) ー Service Window

切符 (きっぷ) ー Ticket

改札口 (かいさつぐち) ー Ticket Gate

If you’re using a Suica or Passmo, then look for the machines marked チャージ (chāgi/charge) to top up your balance. And if the cost to your destination is more than the ticket you bought or the balance on your card, you’ll need to head to…

精算 (せいさん) ー Fare Adjustment

For some train services, such as the Narita Express (airport service) or Shinkansen (bullet train) services, you will have the choice of reserved or non-reserved seating. Knowing the kanji will help you board the train at the right place and save you an awkward trip stumbling through the aisles after the train has set off.

指定席 (していせき) ー Reserved Seat

自由席 (じゆうせき) ー Non-reserved Seat

Finally, keep an eye out for priority seats and women only cars. Although the pictures that usually accompany the signs are self-explanatory, being extra knowledgeable can’t hurt.

女性専用車 (じょせいせんようしゃ) ー Women-only Car

優先席 (ゆうせんせき) ー Priority Seat

Plus knowing the kanji for woman/women (女) is a good way to ensure that you visit the correct toilet…

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