While most people know the basic words for train stations such as the speeds (普通) and how to talk about the different types of trains (新幹線, for example), this is not the only thing that learners should spend time mastering. Even after you have the basics down, you may still have trouble finding your train, especially in the bigger stations. For orienting yourself within the mazes of major stations, there are a few terms that are worthwhile to learn.
Upon entering the station itself, the most important thing is knowing where you can buy a ticket. In Japanese, this machine is usually called a (自動)券売機. Once you have your ticket in hand, you will then enter the main part of the station through the ticket gates, known as 改札口. In some stations, such as the Keihan stations in Osaka, the ticket machine and the gates can be quite far apart, so be careful.
Some stations, such as Shin-Osaka station in Kansai can be confusing when you arrive. The building seems to contain countless platforms, some of which are not located where you’d expect them to be. If you need to ask for directions in Japanese. the word for platforms is 乗り場, however, you will usually see the platforms written according to their numbers (～番線). Therefore, if you asked for track 2, you would ask for 2番線.
At many stations, you will often notice that the track number is combined with the words 発車 (departure). This is a useful word that tells you which platform the train you need is about to depart from. For example, you will often see electric signs that say something like 2番線からの発車は followed by a list of the trains that are about to depart from platform 2.
Of course, some train lines have a name instead of a number. So instead of a numeral, the line may be named with the attachment 線 such as the term 環状線 being used for the loop lines that are found in cities like Osaka and Tokyo.
A similar word that is often associated with train stations that I always found strange is ‘ホーム’. While the word is clearly loaned from English, its usage in Japanese is very odd. ホーム in stations refers to the platform where people wait for their train. Therefore, 発車ホーム is the platform that a train is departing from.
A useful phrase to help you remember this vocabulary point is 発車ホームはどちらですか (Which is the departure platform?).
Finally, the last thing you need to learn for the larger stations is where your train is going to. In many stations, trains which ultimately head in different directions may very well initially depart from the same platform. An extreme example is the train to the airport in Kansai that leaves from the same platform as another train that goes miles away from the airport!
To distinguish between the two, you will often see 行き (ゆき) attached to the destination. This suffix acts similar to ‘bound for’ in English and tells you that the station listed is the final destination of the train. You may also see 方面 being used for a similar purpose. This will help save you time when you are racing to the airport.
As you improve your Japanese, it’s always worth looking for uncommon phrases and words that you find in common places such as train stations and bus stops. Simply taking some time to memorize these common words can save you a lot of time as you race through the station — and they can help you learn some useful kanji at the same time.