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The Japanese Train And Ticket System - How To Get Around In Japan

The Japanese Train And Ticket System - How To Get Around In Japan

Translated by Lester Somera

Written by MATCHA

2015.12.11 Bookmark

Trains are essential for getting around in Japan. This article explains Japan's ticket and smart-card system and shows you how to use them.

The Japanese train system is made up of the Japan Railways Group, also known as JR Group, and private railways operating all over the country. There are many different varieties of trains such as ones running on the same roads as cars (Roumen densha), local trains connecting areas over a short distance (Zairaisen), and the famous bullet trains traveling between cities over great distances (Shinkansen).

Many Japanese people use trains to get around. By using them yourself, you can effectively increase the number of places you can visit. This article will introduce the most fundamental ways to use local trains.

Ticket Purchasing

While special tickets are necessary for boarding bullet trains and limited express trains, this article will focus more about local trains which can be boarded with just a regular ticket (Joushaken).


There are two ways to use trains.You can buy a ticket with cash or use a previously purchased IC card, known internationally as a smart card or chip card, to pass through the gate. Because the two systems are taxed differently, using an IC card incurs lower cost than buying a ticket.


Whenever you buy a ticket from a ticket machine, a fare chart will likely be located nearby. You can check how much it will cost to get to your destination on this chart. Insert your money and press the appropriate fare button. Don't forget to get your change!

If you plan to use an IC card, you will have to set one up beforehand. Please refer to Get Around With Ease: How To Buy Your Own Suica, if you want to know more about it.

Several benefits are available to holders of an ID card. There is no need to wait in line at the ticket machine and when you transfer train lines the fare will be automatically deducted from your card balance. You can also use it on buses and the subway so it is extremely convenient.

What You Should Know About Japanese Trains (How to Take Trains)

In comparison to local trains, limited express trains make fewer stops along the way and arrive at their destinations faster. To use one, you will need to purchase a limited express ticket. They are not to be confused with the different variations of the local trains which include express, commuter express, and rapid train. Any variation of a local train you can ride with a normal ticket.

What You Should Know About Japanese Trains (How to Take Trains)

Provided that seats are available, you can buy a limited express ticket at the station ticket counter or the ticket machine on the day itself. Limited express tickets are only valid on designated trains so be sure to purchase the correct ticket.

Passing Through the Ticket Gate


If you are using a ticket or IC card, pass through the ticket get and proceed to the appropriate train platforms. Depending on the station, some ticket gates accept both IC cards and paper tickets while some accept only one or the other.


If you’re using an IC card, firmly press it to the IC card symbol on the turnstile to pass through. With a ticket, insert it in the ticket slot and go through, then retrieve it from the slot on the other side of the turnstile. You will need the ticket again for the turnstile at your destination, so be sure to hold on to it. If you happen to lose it, you can tell the station staff at the ticket gate which station you are coming from and they will charge you the sufficient amount for the distance and let you pass.

To pass through the turnstile at your destination, touch your card on the symbol or insert your paper ticket just like before, but be aware that tickets will be retained by the turnstile upon exiting.

The Japanese Train And Ticket System - How To Get Around In Japan

If the balance on your IC card or ticket is insufficient, the turnstile will emit an error sound and deny you passage. There are Ticket machines inside the station where you can insert your ticket or IC Card to charge the sufficient amount to pass through the gate. If this Machine denies your card or ticket, there must be another issue. With IC Cards it often happens if the card wasn't recognized when entering the ticket gate at your start point. Station attendants can attend to you if this happens so follow their instructions. Be prepared to tell them the Station your started from. Ticket gates breaking down or incorrect ticket purchases may throw your schedule off, so we recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time.

Get Around with Ease

As you can see it is rather simple to use Japanese Trains once you understand the basics. If you should have any trouble the friendly station staff will always be happy to help you. Have fun traveling!

Next article:What You Should Know About Japanese Trains (Etiquette)

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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