Commuter pass in Japan – cheap train rides in Tokyo

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Train fare in Japan can be quite expensive. If you stay for a short period you can get the Japan Rail Pass, but for students staying long enough to require a visa this is not available. Instead you can get a commuter pass (定期券, teikiken), which gets you between two train stations in Japan for a lot less money than single tickets.

Here is how and why you should get a train commuter pass in Japan.

Benefits of a commuter pass

Buying a commuter pass in Japan will get you a discounted price for a fixed journey; typically between your home and work, or home and school. You pay to travel between two stations, and can also get on and off at any station on the line between those two stations.

The pass can be purchased for 1, 3 or 6 months and the longer period you commit to- the bigger the discount. The commuter pass will be “added” to a IC-card (like Suica and Pasmo), which makes it very convenient.

Since the commuter pass is also a Suica/Pasmo card, you can charge the card with extra money. When you travel outside your specified route, the extra fare will be deducted from the card. The cheapest route will be calculated when you exit, so you will be able to use the benefits of the commuter pass card even when traveling to a different station. You don’t need to buy separate tickets, just touch the IC card on the reader by the ticket gates.

As a Japanese language school student you may be eligible for an even cheaper pass, as some schools allow you to get an extra student discount. To claim this discount (may only apply to specific lines), you need to be able to show a proof of your student status, like a student ID with your correct address on it, and a document issued from your language school. In order to receive the discount, you will need to get your commuter pass at the counter rather than the ticket machine though. Not all language schools provide transportation discounts, so we advise asking the school staff about it before you try to get your commuter pass.

How to get a commuter pass

To purchase a commuter pass, go to a ticket machine or ticket counter inside a train station.

At a ticket machine

Not all ticket machines can deal with commuter passes. The ticket machine needs to be one that has a sign reading “commuter pass” (定期券), otherwise the machine won’t issue a commuter pass. Almost all ticket machines have English language as an option, so don’t worry if you’re not fluent in Japanese.

To buy a commuter pass in Japan, the steps differ a bit depending if you buy it at a Pasmo (Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway) or Suica (JR station) ticket machine. We will explain how to buy it at a JR station (Suica) and the video below features how to purchase the pass at a Tokyo Metro station machine (Pasmo).

Steps for buying it at a JR station (Suica) ticket machine:

  1. Press the “Pass” button.
  2. Select ” New pass”. (Also renewal is available, for when you need to extend your commuter pass.)
  3. Choose the “Commuter pass” option.
  4. Select your starting point and arrival station. Choose from the station names on the screen, or press “other” to enter your station. After entering the starting letters of the station name, some options should be shown on the screen.
  5. Choose your preferred route. There might be different options for routes, so select the one that is best (and maybe cheapest) for you.
  6. Touch the “Purchase new Suica”, or “Continue using present Suica” if you already have an IC card.
  7. Unless you already have a personal user IC card you need to register the card. Enter your name, gender, date of birth, and telephone number. This will make it possible to get it back or reissue it if lost or stolen.
  8. Select the duration of your commuter pass. You can select to pay for 1, 3 or 6 months.
  9. Next you will decide your starting (and ending) date. You can have your pass activated right away or choose a date up to two weeks in the future.
  10. Confirm the details of your commuter pass and pay the total amount shown on the screen.
  11. Your pass will be issued and you’re good to go!

At a ticket counter

When buying a commuter pass at a ticket counter you will have to fill in a form with the same information as at the ticket machine. Your name, gender and phone number. The staff are very helpful and will be able to assist you when buying your pass.

To get a student discount you need to purchase your commuter pass at a ticket counter. You also need to present your student card, address and school document.

The student commuter pass in Japan usually covers the route between the station closest to your address and the station closest to the school. The station closest to the school is determined for each school, and can’t normally be changed.

How to use it 

When entering the train station, use your commuter pass like a general IC card (Suica/Pasmo) and tap your card at the reader on the ticket gate. Do the same when leaving the station.

If you have traveled outside the route covered by your commuter pass an additional fee will be deducted. If there is not enough balance on your card you will have to charge it at a fare adjustment machine. Otherwise just pass through the gate as usual.

So if you are staying for a while in Japan, taking the train to and from school or work, it could definitely be a good idea to get a commuter pass. It might save you a lot of money!

Riding the train in Japan? Have a look at our do’s and don’ts tips for a smoother journey.

If you like to read more about Japanese culture, make sure to follow our blog where we cover everything you need to know about Japan!

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