Introduction and Disclaimers
OK, let's get some facts straight before I get sued over this. When I
was in Japan, I was sixteen, didn't have a whole lot of money, wanted to get
around the city, and didn't want to pay full fares to ride the expensive Japanese trains. Most of my friends
were in the same situation. After spending a hundred dollars in a month
of riding trains, we decided to take a different approach to train-riding.
These plots may not necessarily be illegal, but they are all very immoral and
will get you in trouble with the train company if you are caught. Enough
This is probably the easiest and most obvious scam of all. Child
tickets cost half as much as regular tickets and work exactly the same as
regular tickets do, except that they will make a little "child light" light up
on the turnstile when you get on and get off. At large stations, there
are so many people going through the turnstiles that the conductors won't even
The Conveniently Lost Ticket
The lost ticket works best when traveling over a longer distance: I'll
illustrate it by using a trip from Osaka to Kansai Airport, which usually
costs around ¥1400. Start by buying a ticket from Osaka to a nearby
station (like Temma or Fukushima). This will cost you ¥200 or so, or
even less if you've bought a child ticket. Get on the train and ride it
to Kansai Airport. At Kansai, tell the man at the turnstile that you
lost your ticket, and that you came from a nearby station (like Rinku Town).
He will ask you for another ¥200, and let you through the gate. Bingo!
You've just saved a thousand yen.
An even cheaper way to do this is to buy a platform ticket when you get on. This is a special, dirt-cheap ticket intended for people who just want to see their friends off at the train: it'll get you through the gate, and that's all it'll do. Since you're losing your ticket, though, it doesn't matter.
Word for the wise: Some creative people keep all their "lost" tickets
and turn them into a collection.
One of my friends kept them
in his wallet, and, by an extreme act of fate, lost his wallet in a train
station. The station master found it, saw all the tickets inside, and
went ballistic. Don't let this happen to you, unless you want to see a
crazy station master.
The Ever-Useful Commuter Pass
A commuter pass, in case you don't know, is a card that lets you travel an
unlimited number of times over a given corridor, usually between your home and
your workplace or school. You buy it for a given period of time, usually
1, 3, or 6 months, and pay an exorbitant amount of money for it. It is
called a teikiken in Japanese, although it is sometimes shortened to
First of all, if you have a real commuter pass, you can use it to travel
beyond its own range at cut rates. This is perfectly legal and there are
many people who don't know about it. On some older railways, like the
Nose Railway north of Osaka, you can exit a station with a commuter pass even
if you haven't entered with it, which means that you can use a
conveniently-lost ticket to get on the train and then get off with your pass.
This doesn't work at most newer stations, though.
If you have anything resembling a commuter pass--a bus pass, for
instance--just run past the conductor in a big-city station, flash it in his
face, shout "TEIKI!" and escape before he realizes what has happened.
If you don't have anything resembling a commuter pass, then you can walk up
to the conductor, tell him that you lost your pass, and he'll usually let you
through out of sheer pity, knowing that you'll have to cough up a few hundred
bucks to get a new one.
You can also just jump the gates. This only works in very busy
stations and in unmanned stations, where nobody can see you. Otherwise,
you will probably be arrested.
Limited Express Strategies
Limited express trains are not as easy to scam because the conductors check
passengers' tickets en route. The only success I ever had with scamming
a limited express was on the Haruka, the high-speed train from Osaka to
Basically, the trick to it is to act as though you don't understand the
conductor. Speaking in English will not work, because the conductors
that don't speak English will have English-language documents that tell you
how much you need to pay. I used high-school Spanish on one occasion and
affected Finnish on another. This works best if you're with one or more
friends, because you can take the part of aggravated tourists and drive the
conductor up the wall. Arguing amongst yourselves and occasionally
screaming at the conductor in a strange language will get rid of him quickly,
and allow you to enjoy the rest of your ride in relative peace.
The Shinkansen: Impossible?
When I wanted to go to Tokyo, I thought long and hard about the weaknesses
of the Shinkansen, and the result of my thinking was: There really aren't that
many. Shinkansen trains run from different platforms than regular
trains, which means that you have to buy expensive Shinkansen tickets just to
get on. The gates for the Shinkansen are very long, which means you
can't jump them. Even if you could, you would be screwed when you got on
the train, because the conductors check tickets.
One Japanese friend of mine was traveling on the Shinkansen for a
relatively short distance, but he fell asleep en route and woke up in Tokyo,
two hours away. This story leads me to believe that if you sleep on the
Shinkansen, your tickets will not be checked, and you can thus have a chance,
however slim, of pulling the lost-ticket maneuver. I have also heard,
however, that some conductors will wake people up to check their tickets,
which makes the whole proposition sound much riskier. In the end, it is
probably best to avoid the Shinkansen altogether and stick to slower trains.
In response to driptray
's scam below, I prefer the lost ticket scam, which doesn't require the purchase of a block of tickets in advance. However, I can appreciate the way in which it appears to be perfectly lily white
to station personnel. That said, if you ever get caught on a train without a ticket, tell them you got on two stations ago, and you're getting off at the next stop. Just remember: NEVER pay retail