Ticket tips for trains and subways in Tokyo

I love taking trains and subways in Tokyo but I initially had trouble with tickets. Buying them, finding discounts and discovering what happens when a train is delayed have been part of my experiences.

Tokyo Metro Subway Ticket

Notice that the date says 2014 and not the Japanese calendar year? The ticket has both Kanji and Romaji to help with reading it. You may need reading glasses though; this ticket is about the size of my thumb with text to match!

Buying Tickets – help!

The first train ticket I bought was on a stopover in Tokyo. It took me ages to figure out the machine and I wasn’t sure if I had bought the right ticket. I was worried that I would get a fine for buying the wrong ticket once I arrived at my destination. I found out though, that having the wrong ticket was no problem.

If you aren’t sure which ticket to buy because you can’t figure out the map above the machines, get the ticket with the lowest fare. If you bought the wrong ticket, the gate will stay shut at your destination. Turn around and find a small machine where you can top up your fare. Gate staff can help. Take care when you turn around when it’s busy! You will run into a lineup of people and will have to get out of the way quickly.

English is on signs at many stations but some places have maps only in Kanji (Chinese characters). Even when I can read the Kanji and know where I’m going, I still have had trouble figuring out how much to pay. If you are staying in Tokyo for a while, a refillable pass can help.

ceiling of renovated Marunouchi Exit, Tokyo Station

looking up at the spectacular light and detailing in the renovated Marunouchi Exit, Tokyo Station

I got on the wrong train! I bought the wrong ticket!

The great thing I learned about traveling in Japan is that if you make a mistake with your ticket, there is no penalty.

If you get off at the wrong stop or take the wrong train, get off at the next station and backtrack. As long as you don’t exit through a gate, you probably won’t have to pay again.

Sometimes it is confusing about how to change platforms, especially on the Asakusa Line (subway). When this happened to me, I talked to the gate agent and received a new ticket without having to pay again. I don’t think I was the only one because the agent had a pile of extra tickets in front of him.

On our most recent trip back to Japan, I was in a rush and bought a subway ticket instead of a JR train ticket. This was easily fixed by talking to the gate staff in the subway station. I got my money back and could then buy the correct ticket.

old style cardboard train ticket

You won’t see this kind of ticket on Tokyo’s trains or subways! This super cool cardboard specimen was used to ride a tiny train in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture.

Discount Tickets

Japan Rail (JR) and many other private lines run reliable trains in Tokyo. There are various passes and discount tickets offered by the lines. These are useful if you don’t have a rail pass.

All the links are right here! Possibilities include the Tokyo Tour Ticket by JR East, discount deals with Seibu Railway, guides and offers with Tobu Railway as well as Odakyu Railway, Keio Railway, Tokyu Corporation, and Keikyu Corporation. The sites have ideas and information including Japanese phrases, tour suggestions, manners and more!

Tokyo Metro and Toei operate the two subway systems. Some trains run above and below ground. Both companies offer their own discount tickets, day passes and tips on how to save money.

Toei also operates the Nippori-toneri Liner, which is a train that runs without a human operating it. Sit in the first row and see what happens! Make sure to check out the wheels, too.

Tokyo Tower

Is there a discount ticket to get me to the Tokyo Tower?

Sorry Tickets (Proof of Delay)

If a train or subway is significantly delayed, join the long line and get a “sorry ticket” from the train staff. This is a free ticket to use that day, usually within a few hours. Hitoshi told me that Tokyo workers show the ticket to their employer to excuse showing up late for work. For travellers, this is a little token of apology. I have only received one of these tickets but it was my day off.

What have you discovered about tickets for trains and subways in Tokyo?

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4 thoughts on “Ticket tips for trains and subways in Tokyo

  1. Pingback: Five inexpensive Tokyo activities | perelincolors

  2. >If you get off at the wrong stop or take the wrong train, get off at the next station and backtrack. As long as you don’t exit through a gate, you probably won’t have to pay again.

    If you don’t exit the station, it’s certain that you won’t have to pay any extra.

    >This is a free ticket to use that day, usually within a few hours…show the ticket to their employer to excuse showing up late for work.

    There’s no time limit. It’s not really a “ticket”. A 「遅延証明書」 is a “late train pass”. As your husband said, if a train is delayed and causes workers to be late for work, it’s proof for employees to show their boss that their commuter train was delayed (it tells the date and how many minutes late the train was)…and their tardiness won’t be counted.

    Nowadays, JR East (the main train line in the Tokyo area) has smart-phone version of these late-train-passes so people don’t have to stand in the long line to get a paper pass.
    The online ones are at:
    http://traininfo.jreast.co.jp/delay_certificate/

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