If you are not familiar with riding trains, subways and/or buses where you live, it may be a little difficult or confusing to figure out time tables when you travel Japan, where trains and buses are the main forms of transportation. Here, you will find some easy steps on how to figure out which train you can catch.
Below is an example of a time table for the bullet train in Japan. This is for the West-bound trains, so you will be looking at this if you are in Tokyo for example, trying to reach destinations such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, or Hakata. The top half and bottom half are 2 separate tables.
Yes, the numbers are tiny.
On the very left is the list of stations:
The train will depart at the very top, in this case, Tokyo. Let's say you are departing Tokyo Station, and want to arrive in Shin-Osaka. If you look towards the right of TOKYO, you will see numbers such as 600, 616, 626... These are the departing times from Tokyo. Keep in mind they are listed in military time (1500 would be 3:00pm).
Let's say you are interested in getting on the 6:26 train. Above the 626, you will see "H" and the number 501. "H" stands for HIKARI, which is the name of this bullet train. 501 is the train number. You can see what the other alphabets stand for, at the very bottom of the time table. If you look downwards from 6:26, you will see the times of which the train will depart at the other stations. Right after Tokyo would be Shinagawa (6:34 departure), then Shin-Yokohama (6:46 departure), and so on. If you see a check mark, that means that this train will not stop at that station. Other logo marks are explained at the bottom of the timetable.
Keep going down, and you will see that the list of times will end at 9:30 at Shin-Osaka. This will be the last stop for this specific train. If your destination is beyond Shin-Osaka, this train will not work for you, or you would need to transfer onto another bullet train.
Now let's say you wanted to arrive at Okayama at around 2:00pm (14:00). Find OKAYAMA on the list of stations on the left, and move towards the right. Try to find a time close to 1400. The closest I can find is 1415. If you look upwards from the 1415, you can find the departing time from Tokyo which is 1050 (Nozomi #107).
Once you figure it out, it's pretty simple.
If you are planning to use a Japan Rail Pass, keep in mind that the pass is not valid for NOZOMI and MIZUHO bullet trains, so avoid any trains with an "N" or "M" at the top.
If you want to figure out how to get from one station to another which may require transfers, you can also depend on this website: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/
Enter your departing and arriving stations, and your ideal departure or arrival time, and it will give you detailed instructions on how to get there.