Overwhelmed with all the different colours and symbols for the trains on Google Maps in Japan? What do they mean? And to add another layer of confusion, when should you use an IC Card or JR Pass in Japan?

To help simplify what seems complicated, I’ve created two infographics below that explain the meanings behind the many Japan train symbols in Google Maps and when to use each pass or card. Be sure to save them for later reference, and read my extended definitions plus how to save money down the page!

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Japan Trains Explained: Coloured Logo & Symbol Meanings in Google Maps

For the sake of the example, I took a screenshot from Japan Google Maps of some common symbols you’d see in Tokyo. Keep in mind, each city has its own logo for their Metro/Subway, but JR (Japan Rail) is always the same.

Japan Train Symbol Meanings Explained: When to Use IC Card or JR Pass? | The Invisible Tourist
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Definitions of train symbols & colours in Japan Google Maps

Now let’s see what each of the symbols mean on Google Maps for Japan:

Local JR Train

JR local train symbol in Japan

  • Coloured square, white inside with ‘J’ + the letter of the train line, eg “JY” is for JR Yamanote Line, “JC” for JR Chuo Line and so on.
  • ✅ Can use JR Pass & IC Card

 

Tokyo Metro

Tokyo Metro Japan train symbols

  • Coloured circle, white inside with the letter of the train line, eg “M” for Marunouchi Line, “C” for Chiyoda Line and so on.
  • ✅ Can use IC Card
  • ✅ Can use Tokyo Subway Pass

 

Intercity JR Line

JR intercity Line logos

  • Coloured JR logo for train or other form of JR transport (such as the JR Ferry to Miyajima). These travel around the suburbs & outside the city.
  • While Japan Rail covers the entire country, the company is divided into six regions: JR East (green), JR Central (orange), JR West (blue), JR Shikoku (light blue), JR Kyushu (red) and JR Hokkaido (light green). The JR Pass can be used on all JR trains.
  • ✅ Can use JR Pass & IC Card
  • ✅ Can use JR Pass on the JR ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. Remember there is more than one ferry to get there!

TIP: Read my guide to visiting Miyajima from Hiroshima by ferry to see which of the three options is best for saving you time or money.

 

Privately Operated Line

Privately operated line on Japan Google Maps

  • Black train logo. These are also sometimes represented in a coloured circle with 2 letters standing fir the name of the private line (unlike just 1 for the Metro lines).
  • These include companies such as Tobu, Odakyu, Keihan, Seibu, etc. Basically, anything else that is not JR.
  • ✅ Can use IC Card

 

High Speed Bullet Train

Shinkansen bullet train logo for Google Maps in Japan

  • Shinkansen logo, operated by JR.
  • ✅ Can use JR Pass*
  • ✅ Can use paper tickets

NOTE: *If using a JR Pass, Nozomi bullet trains need an additional fare.

Japan Rail Pass and IC Card

ICOCA vs JR Pass

If you’re not familiar with the transport card options in Japan, in a nutshell they are:

  • IC Card: Also known as ICOCA, a rechargeable card to tap on to enter train stations. Each region in Japan has their own version (Suica is the most popular as is it’s issued in the Kanto Region), ICOCA (issued in the Kansai Region), Manaca and more. Pasmo is very similar and can be used throughout the country too. IC Cards can be used to purchase drinks from vending machines and items from some convenience stores.
    • NOTE: The IC Card does not offer discounted travel. Each journey will charge the regular fare.
  • IC Card for iPhone Apple Wallet: Load an IC Card into your digital wallet and use your phone instead of a physical card.
    • NOTE: Digital IC cards don’t work for Android users with phones issued outside of Japan. Physical cards are needed, such as the Welcome Suica (expires after 28 days) or individual paper tickets.
  • JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass): Needs to be purchased outside of Japan for a number of consecutive days (7, 14 or 21 days). Since the 77% price increase in October 2023, the JR Pass no longer pays off financially in most cases. But if you prefer convenience, you can purchase your JR Pass in advance here as they are cheaper to buy outside of Japan.
  • Individual paper tickets: The old fashioned way! Purchase from the dedicated ticket machine for the train company you wish to use. Don’t forget to keep your ticket in a safe place until it is captured when you leave the station!
  • Tokyo Subway Pass: Offers unlimited travel on the Tokyo Metro over 24, 48 or 72 hours. You can buy in advance and redeem from a Metro ticket machine in Tokyo. These have saved me a lot of money when travelling all around Tokyo over several days!

TIP: For Tokyo, the Tokyo Subway Pass offers better value than a JR Pass. The Metro is well connected in a spiderweb-like pattern over the city and you’ll likely use it more often. Whereas, the JR Pass can really only be used on the JR Yamanote Line, which travels in a giant loop around the city.

TIP: Kyoto Subway offers a 1-Day Subway and Bus Pass for unlimited travel for 800 yen. Not valid on private lines such as Kintestu.

TIP: Osaka Metro offers a similar 1-Day Metro and Bus Pass for 820 yen. Not valid on private lines such as Kintestu.

When to use JR Pass or IC Card?

Save my handy infographic below as a reminder when you’re navigating around Japan using Google Maps:

Japan Train Symbol Meanings Explained: When to Use IC Card or JR Pass? | The Invisible Tourist
Definitions of Tokyo Japan Google Maps symbols and logos

The easiest way to remember when to use an IC Card or JR Pass is:

  • The JR Pass works only on JR lines. Use the japan-guide.com JR Pass Calculator to see if a JR Pass will financially pay off for your trip.
  • IC Cards work on most public transport including JR operated, except the shinkansen. You will need to purchase paper tickets for the shinkansen in person at a JR ticket office, at a JR ticket machine or online in advance. However, you can’t choose your seats when booking online (the system will allocate the next available).

Concluding this explanation to symbols on Google Maps for Japan

That’s a wrap for everything you need to know about the train symbols and their meaning when using Google Maps in Japan. Now you know the difference between Japan Rail and private lines, the differences between a JR Pass or IC card, when to use each and more!

Did this guide to decoding Japan Google Maps save you a headache? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

While you’re here, did you know The Invisible Tourist is a popular travel blog for Japan to help you better “blend in?” I’ve been visiting Japan for the past decade from Australia, and have shared dozens of my personal itineraries, travel guides for places to visit in Japan, ideas for exploring Japan off the beaten track, Japanese for tourists cheat sheet, what you’re forgetting to pack for Japan, do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette and much more to help ease overtourism issues. 

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Until next time,
The Invisible Tourist


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