Local Trains in Japan
The Japanese local train system is well extensive and will take you almost anywhere you want to go.
For those trying to save money on transport, taking local trains instead of express trains can be quite interesting.
Also, you will have plenty of time to ponder your life during the ride.
image courtesy of theurbanhippie.wordpress.com
Where, What, How?
First time taking the train in Japan? No sweat.
In major cities or touristic areas, there are plenty of English (and Korean and Chinese) signs everywhere. If not, just try and look for colours. When you find the right colour it's just a matter of finding out on which side of the platform you should be (going one way or the other). This is indicated at the signboards above the platform, but if you are looking for a smaller station it might not be listed. Then, walk along the platform till you find a signboard that lists all the stations the train will stop at. Or, ask the train staff. A good spot to catch train staff is at the end or the beginning of platforms, where they will come out of the arriving trains.
Buying Your Ticket
If you don't have a rail pass, buy a ticket at one of the ticket machines close to the train entrance. There's a big map above the ticket machines (also in English if you're lucky), with all possible destinations with numbers next to them. These correspond to the fare for the respective destinations. Select this fare on the screen and throw some cash into the machine. Out comes a tiny ticket that you can insert in the ticket gate and comes out so you can insert it again at your destination.
When you transfer trains of the same company during your trip, you don't need to show your ticket.
There are numerous applications for iPhones and Androids that will help you navigate the Japanese train (and metro) system. Just fill in your departure and arrival station, the time you want to leave or arrive and the software does the rest!
image courtesy of nihonniryuugaku.blogspot.com