How to Take a Japanese Traintitle

By Kei. Hamilton

Japan simply couldn't function without its amazing electrical rail networks, which are continuously upgraded with new technology and rolling stock due to the wear and tear of transporting tens of millions of people every day. A trainspotter's utopia from one end to the other, the country is also home to an entire cult devoted to the evolution of Japanese rail. There are magazines, museums and multiple gatherings of the likeminded devoted to the nostalgic longings evoked by trains of the past, and the wonder stimulated by the cutting edge technologies continuously introduced in high-speed rail.
Without a doubt, Japan’s electric rail system is a truly great achievement of Japanese civilization, and is deserving of its reputation as the world's safest, most reliable and punctual. Indeed, in the rare instances of accidents, injuries or deaths due to human or systemic error, one can be forgiven for wondering why more don’t occur, given the shear scale of the system itself and the number of people using it every day.

All Aboard

A busy Tokyo railway station can be a chaotic and confusing place, and even the signs you are able to read are often confounding in some way or another. If you don’t already have a pass, you will have to locate the Kippu Uriba (Ticket Sales) area and buy a ticket at a vending machine, which usually has an English button and fairly clear operating instructions. Japan is high tech. Above, a large map of the system marked with fares to the various stations will tell you the price of the ticket you need to buy. Insert money, push the button of the price you want, receive ticket. At the wicket, insert the ticket into the slot and pick it up as you pass through the gate, as you’ll need it to get out of the destination station.
If you have an IC card (Suica Card or PASMO card) or other pass you can sail right through the automated ticket wicket by simply touching the card to the spot like everybody else. If you don't have enough credit on your IC card the wicket will slam the gates and throw a noisy fit, so you will have to go charge it at the Kippu Uriba.

Ticket Options

Commuter Passes

Monthly commuter passes (teiki-ken) for working people (tsukin teiki-ken) and students (tsugaku teiki-ken) will, for a fixed price, permit unlimited travel between the station nearest home and the one nearest the office or school. Most Japanese companies provide employees with a tsukin teiki-ken as part of the employment package, which can add up to an enormous personal savings over time, especially if most or all of one’s daily needs can be had at shops nearby stations between home and workplace.

Coupon Tickets

Discount coupon tickets (kaisu-ken) provide savings up to 10% from the original ticket price for trains as well as buses and are a logical choice for people who visits the same destination regularly. These typically come in a pack of 11 tickets for the price of 10.

One-day Ticket

A one-day ticket (ichinichi josha-ken) allows passengers unlimited rides on the specific day, making it a great option for a day of sightseeing in Tokyo.

Round-trip Ticket

A round-trip ticket (ofuku-kippu) from one specific station to another is also available, sometimes at a discounted price.

Unlimited Three-day Pass

The JR Kanto Area Pass (East Japan Railway Company), at ¥8,000, provides enormous value for anyone planning to move around for sight-seeing over a period of three consecutive days. It allows unlimited travel throughout Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region, home to numerous popular destinations), and is available to all non-Japanese passport holders, unlike the Japan Rail Pass, which is not available to expatriates residing in Japan.

Useful Links:

Japan-Guide on Railways
JR-EAST, East Japan Railway Company
Tokyo Metro Co., Ltd.

Train Timetables

Timetables are prevalent outside and inside of stations, and there are a variety of useful websites and smartphone apps, especially in Japanese, for determining the best way to get from A to B, and the cost. 

TrainRouteFinder by Jorudan Co., Ltd.
Hyperdia by Hitachi Systems, Ltd.
Yahoo Japan Loco (Japanese only)