If you’re commuting to school or work for the better part of each month, the cheaper and more convenient option for travel is to invest in a commuter pass. These passes are also known as ‘IC cards’, standing for ‘integrated chip’, and work in a touch-and-go fashion by being tapped against card readers at the ticket gates of train stations or at the doors of buses.
These commuter passes can be purchased and renewed for set periods of time. Generally, you can purchase or renew in units of one, three or six months. They also come in two main types: one for commuting to work, and the other to school. If you’re purchasing the latter, you will receive a student discount, but you need to present your student card upon purchase.
Purchasing the cards is simple, and can be done at ticket counters and ticket machines at railway stations. If purchasing at a ticket counter, you will need to fill in a form detailing your route of travel and basic personal information (name, age, gender, residential address and phone number) and hand it to the attendant. Your name, age, gender and sometimes phone number will be printed on the card for identification and contact purposes if your card is lost.
Although your IC card will be valid only for the route you specify upon purchase, it is possible to use the card outside this route for both trains and buses. To do this, you can go to a ticket machine on any train line and use cash or credit card to “charge” your IC card with a set amount. This way you can continue to use your card off your set route without the hassle of purchasing separate tickets.
Another additional convenient feature is automatic fare adjustment upon alighting the train. The way this works is that if you enter the ticket gates at a station on your set route and decide to ride further or in a different direction, you can pay the difference (the portion of the journey outside your set route) at the other end. Inside the ticket gates, you will find automatic fare adjustment machines, into which you can insert your IC card and use cash or credit card to top up the difference.
But the convenience of IC cards isn’t limited just to transport. You can also charge you card with additional funds in order to make purchases at vending machines and in an increasing number of restaurants and retailers. Furthermore, many credit cards have started to include an additional function as an IC commuter pass, meaning that your shopping and commuting can all be done on the single card. They can also be set to automatically top up when the balance starts to get low.
In conclusion, if you’re staying in Japan for over a month, an IC card commuter pass is not only the most economic option but will also make your everyday life run a lot smoother. Purchasing and use in all regions is simple and it’s easy to say that this is a staple item for anyone working or studying in Japan.