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I will be in Japan next week for a business trip to Toyota City. I will be there for three weeks, and while I'm actually in Toyota City I'll have no need for transportation other than my feet. I've already booked a flight to Tokyo and my original plan was to travel by rail to Toyota City. My question concerns how I will accomplish this latter task. Although I do plan on traveling some on the weekends (this is my first time in Japan), and I appreciate any additional insight on single-day trips I might take on the weekend, that's not my primary concern. I will be using company funds to pay for my trip from Tokyo to Toyota City (and back, 21 days later), but will be using private funds for any weekend trips. I'm interested in taking the bullet train at least once, but I'm not otherwise committed to using the train if taking a bus makes more sense. I'm able to pay more for additional convenience, but within reason, of course. So, my question has the following parts:

  1. What is the best way of traveling from Tokyo to Toyota City? My research so far suggests taking a Hikari train from Tokyo to Nagoya (¥10580, ~2 hours), taking the Chuo Line to Kozoji (¥??, ? minutes), and then taking the Aichi Loop Line to Toyota (¥??, ? minutes). This seems a bit complicated, and given my inability to speak Japanese, somewhat dangerous. The other option I've considered is a bus trip to Toyota City, which seems possibly safer in terms of me messing up (but I'm not sure), probably cheaper (~¥12000), but almost definitely slower (~4 hours). As I will be arriving in Tokyo at 16:35 after a very long flight, I'm keen on reducing the total travel time.
  2. How do I actually book it? Is there an on-line site I should go to to buy ahead of time? For example, I see there's such a thing as the "Puratto Kodama Economy Plan" which makes the trip from Tokyo to Nagoya only ¥8100 if I book ahead of time, which of course brings some risk unless I leave sufficient cushion for my plane not arriving exactly on time — I'm not sure about how reliable this will be, especially considering that I'm flying from CHO (Charlottesville) to Dulles (Washington, DC), and then from Dulles to Narita (Tokyo), with my primary concern being the trip from CHO to Dulles. If there's not an on-line site, where do I go to when I get to Tokyo to buy the tickets?

Any additional suggestions are also welcome.

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    If you're arriving at 16:35, you might think about staying overnight in Tokyo. 1: Kodama trains take 3 hrs from Narita to Nagoya. 2. I'd guess at least 2 hrs to get into Tokyo from Narita. 3. Check carefully train/subway schedules in Nagoya--by the time you arrive, it'll be late if you go straight from Narita. – mkennedy Oct 26 '14 at 19:53
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    I've never been to nagoya but wild suggestion, would it be cheaper/easier to take some sort of shuttle FLIGHT from narita to nagoya airport? (Chubu right?) Because, I bet, there is some sort of convenient bus shuttle from Chubu to toyota city? (It's just gotta be possible for Toyota people to easily get to the airport??) – Fattie Oct 27 '14 at 9:01
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    It's not too difficult to find hotel rooms for 10,000-15,000 yen in Tokyo. The train stations in Narita, Tokyo, and Nagoya will certainly have signage in English, and it will be easy to figure out where to buy tickets. (I recommend just doing it when you arrive.) They should also have someone at an information booth who can answer questions in English. – Frank Thorne Oct 27 '14 at 11:39
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    Also: Getting from Nagoya to Toyota will be cheap, but getting from Narita to Tokyo will be an extra 4,000 yen or so. You don't have to buy separate tickets. At Narita Airport, you can buy a through ticket to your final destination. – Frank Thorne Oct 27 '14 at 11:41
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    I would just buy the ticket when you get there. I was in Japan for the first time this July, and had no problems working their rail system. The ticket sellers tend to speak English, and the signs are in English too. You may want to think about spending your first night in Tokyo though. You will be really tired after your flights, so maybe not a great idea to try and work the train system. – emmalgale Oct 27 '14 at 15:07
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First off, don't worry. Japanese train stations have extensive signposting in English and trains run like clockwork.

If it's not too late, I'd suggest changing your flights to Nagoya (Chubu/NGO) instead if at all possible. There's a direct bus from Chubu to Toyota (1:18, ¥1750), so this would shave a good three hours off your travel time and save your/your company the bullet train fare as well (>$200).

If it is too late, I'd second the suggestion above to spend the night in Tokyo before continuing, at/near a sensible connection point like Tokyo station or Shinagawa. You can reach both on the Narita Express, and hop aboard the Shinkansen the next day.

Outside a couple of absolute peak periods like New Year and Obon (and not a concern for you in early Nov), advance bookings are not necessary for Shinkansen bullet trains. Between Tokyo and Nagoya, they run every 10 min or so and more or less always have space. More to the point, it's also expensive and difficult to book Shinkansen tickets from overseas.

Fortunately, buying tickets once in Japan is straightforward. The easiest thing is to go to the JR station in Narita Airport (English spoken) and buy a combination ticket: Narita Express to Tokyo, then Shinkansen to Nagoya. If you're staying overnight in Tokyo, ask for an unreserved ticket so you can board any train the next morning; or if you're going straight through, they can reserve a seat for you for a small surcharge.

Unless you're really pinching pennies, I'd recommend taking the fastest Nozomi express. The Puratto Kodama can only be used on the slow all-stops Kodama trains, which run only a few times per hour.

Once at Nagoya, Google Maps recommends the following approach:

  1. Take the subway Sakuradori Line to Gokiso, 15 minutes
  2. Switch to subway Tsurumai Line direct to Toyotashi (Toyota City) station, ~35 minutes

And for your weekend trips, just get a personal manaca smart card, which is valid for essentially all travel in and around the Nagoya area.

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    For my second trip, I flew into Nagoya, and it was much, much better for me. I underestimated how being just a little tired (and I was probably more than a little tired) can add to the confusion in a country where English is often insufficient for getting around. – Ben Hocking Aug 16 '15 at 18:03

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