How to Buy Train Tickets in Japan

A step-by-step method

By Haruka Saijo    - 3 min read

It is no exaggeration to say that your main transportation will be trains, especially in Tokyo, where most of the streets are narrow and small, and traffic jams are daily occurrences. Not having any clue how to ride a train in Japan could make your vacation a tough and rough experience. That is why I am going to show you how to buy train tickets in Tokyo, which is obviously the most essential part of starting your journey.

Unless you already have special metro passes and tickets with you (which I assume most of you would not), you will have to go through the whole buying-a-ticket process in any of the stations in Tokyo. Usually, all stations have several ticket vending machines close to the ticket gates. Above the vending machines, you will see fare tables in map or chart form, and most of the time they would have them in English as well. Find your destination and note the fare next to it.

Here are some cautions, however, before buying tickets. Do not get confused by mixing up the charts between different train companies – each train company has a different fare table, and in most cases they only write down the stations their trains use (sometimes there are charts that have stations for multiple train companies).

This time I was using the Tokyo Metro, so I used this Tokyo Metro ticket vending machine (usually they are blue). The first screen that appears in front of you will be in Japanese, but don’t worry, you’ll see a button on the upper right hand side for English. So change the device into your preferred language, and if you are heading to a Tokyo Metro station, just select the correct fare you saw on the map or table and you’re set.

However, if you were going to transfer to another line, things will be just a little bit more complicated. You’ll have to select the ‘Transfer Ticket’ button on the left side of the screen, and then select the line you’ll be transferring to, which in this case, was the Tokyu Line. After choosing your line, the screen will show the ticket fares. Select the one you need, and all you have to do is pay. Have a look at the bar on the top of the screen, and you will know what you can use to pay for the tickets (the circles indicate coins, and the rectangles indicate bills).

I know the instruction seemed long, but if you actually try it, you’ll notice how smooth and fast the tickets come out. It is extremely easy, and it won’t take so long for you to get used to this method. So now that you know how to buy a ticket, choose a destination, get ready for the journey, use the ticket machine with a practiced hand, and you are ready to go!

Note: The display may vary between ticket vending machines.

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Haruka Saijo

Haruka Saijo @haruka.saijo

A Japanese university student that used to live in Canada, not so Japanese, loves traveling, enjoys experiencing anything new and exciting, and has passion for music.

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Justin Velgus 5 years ago
If you still can't figure it out, just buy the cheapest ticket (usually 170yen). Then put your ticket in the fare adjustment machine at the end station. If you go through the gates at your destination and the gates close, that means you will need to pay more.
James Forest 5 years ago
Wow, this is good to know!
Serene Tan 5 years ago
Thanks for the guide. :)
Nicole Bauer 6 years ago
This is a great guide, thanks for sharing! I'd just like to add that the single ticket purchase can easily be avoided by getting one of the prepaid travel cards. There's a helpful blog entry here:
http://blog.japantourist.jp/japan-travel/a-guide-to-prepaid-travel-cards/