A commuter pass, or teiki ken 定期券, is a special ticket that can be purchased on a smart card like SUICA or PASMO. The fare from one station to another (including changes between overground and the metro lines) can be paid for in one payment. Commuter passes can be renewed either monthly, quarterly or every six months.
Anyone can use a commuter pass. Young children are given passes to get to school just as their parents travel to and from work. All you need is a smart card (like SUICA or PASMO) to get started, which can be purchased for 500 yen (as a deposit) in stations across Japan.
When travelling through multiple cities, a monthly commuter pass saves money overall compared to purchasing a daily or weekly return ticket.
Here’s an example journey: Kumagaya city in Saitama to Ueno city in Tokyo. A daily return fare costs ¥2280. Over a week, that would add up to ¥11,400. Over four weeks, that would cost over ¥45,000.
A commuter pass between those two cities costs ¥27,000 for one month.
Included in your commuter pass fee is the fare to and from all stops between your starting point and destination. There may be undiscovered restaurants, parks or malls that have been hiding in plain sight, waiting to be explored. Why not take a weekend to try a few stops along your route. You may find a new regular hangout spot, or place to introduce to others.
You can later have additions to the pass. Simply look for the green car ticket machine to upgrade your journey. Details on the green car system can found on JR East’s website (Japanese). A word of advice for this option. Not all machines offer English assistance. You may need to remember the Kanji for the train line you are taking and the station you are travelling to. There are convenient options on the machine to pay for the green car fare with cash or existing money on your smart card.
Another benefit to using a commuter pass is access to the bullet train. If you live near a bullet train station, and your destination is also a bullet train station, provided that your journey requires travelling two stops or more, you can use the bullet train for a discounted price. Granted, your smart card will need to be pre-loaded with money for said fare. Just tap your card onto the bullet train ticket scanners, and it should let you pass.
There are two ways to purchase a commuter pass, from a ticket machine or the counter.
The Ticket Counter
If you choose to use the ticket counter, here are a few phrases that might speed up the process.
Teiki-ken wo onegaishimasu.
Commuter pass please.
(It’s best to keep things concise and to the point)
To specify where your journey will start and end:
[insert starting point] kara [insert destination] made
[insert starting point] から [insert destination] まで
From ……………….. to ………………..
To specify when you’d like it to begin:
From next week.
To specify how long you’d like your commuter pass to last:
For one month.
For three months.
For six months.
If you are self-employed, or your employer covers your travel expenses, you can also ask for a receipt using this phrase:
Ryoshusho wo onegaishimasu
If your Japanese level lacks confidence, it is absolutely acceptable to couple together a few of the above phrases to purchase your commuter pass. Most railway employees are quite understanding and patient with your effort. You may be asked to fill out a small slip detailing your name, date of birth and address. Usually the assistant at the ticket counter will help you, making exceptions to write in English if necessary.
The Ticket Machine
Buying your first commuter pass will always take a few extra steps more than renewing it each month. The first screen you’ll come across is this one.
In the far upper corner there’s a small button reading ENGLISH. Press it for English guidance.
Of the four boxes in front of you, select the pink one on the top right. In Japanese it will have the teiki- ken kanji, 定期券, in English it will say “commuter pass”.
Next, you’ll be asked if you’d like to purchase a new card, renew an existing card, or reissue a card. For first time commuters, select “purchasing a new card”.
The next screen is relatively simple. Which mode of transport would you like your commuter pass for? Options include conventional railway and metro, the green car (available to over ground rail only) and the bullet train. Naturally the bottom two options are more expensive. Select the first button (with the picture of the green train carriage) to proceed with a railway commuter pass.
Now you’ll be asked to specify where your journey will begin. There’s often a selection of nearby stations to choose from, so it’s advisable to remember the kanji for your specific station. If you don’t see it in the selection, use the long button labeled その他, 【sono hoka】,to manually type in your starting point station. The next screen will ask for your destination with the same steps for locating them as above.
After reviewing your journey, there are options to choose how long you’d like your pass to last. Currently, the only available options are one, three and six months. The above kanji for the phrases should prove useful when deciphering which option is right for you.
The next step involves deciding when you want your pass to be active from. This is particularly useful for planning holidays or returning to work after a short break. There are around twelve different days to choose from, including the day of purchase.
The final few steps involve a terms and conditions agreement, with which you’d press the 同意する, “I agree” button, and then entering your own details before payment. If you already have a smart card *IC card), you should insert it at the 2nd step (choose from a new card, renew an existing card, or reissue a card). The final product will be a printed smart card with your name, valid route and its expiry date.
Renewing your commuter pass will take far less time, with fewer screens to read through.
With your daily route to and from work/school covered, the savings alone allow for unlimited travelling potential. The ease of payment covering a minimum of a month’s travel is also invaluable when budgeting your paycheck. Why not see how far your commuter pass will take you.