The following article is a guide to buying tickets for JR West local trains, Kyoto subway lines, and shinkansen “bullet trains” for long distance journeys. For local trains and subway lines, we recommend using automatic ticket machines, as this is easy to do and will save you a lot of time. For long distance shinkansen tickets, we recommend buying your tickets at a ticket office.
Buying tickets for JR West local trains
Automatic ticket machines can be found close by all the JR ticket gates at Kyoto Station. They are very easy to use.
First check your how much your fare is. There are fare charts above the ticket machines that show major locations in English. The station that you are currently at is highlighted in red.
There is usually also a fare table alongside the ticket machines that has popular destinations listed alphabetically in English.
When using the ticket machine, first locate the English button. After pressing this button instructions will appear in English.
Among the options choose “Purchase Ticket”
Then choose your fare.
Insert the correct amount of money into the machine. If you are paying with bills rather than coins check the label above the bill slot. Some machines take a variety of denominations but others take only 1000 yen bills.
Now take your ticket and remember to collect any change.
You can now proceed through the ticket gates which are automatic. Put your ticket into the slot, walk through the gate and don’t forget to collect your ticket on the other side.
When you arrive at your final destination you will pass through the gates in the same way, but the automatic machine will keep your ticket. If you have not paid the correct fare, an alarm will sound and you then have two options. Pay the extra fare at a manned ticket gate, or use a fare adjustment machine. Fare adjustment machines are located nearby ticket gate exits in all stations on JR, subway and private rail lines.
Buying ICOCA cards
Ticket machines that have the ICOCA sign can also be used to buy ICOCA cards, which are rechargeable smart cards that can be used for JR lines, subways, some private rail lines and also for shopping. You can use the same machines to recharge your cards.
Buying tickets for Kyoto subway lines
To purchase tickets for Kyoto subway lines you should use the automatic ticket machines which can be found near to all ticket gates.
The procedure is much the same as for buying JR tickets. First you need to check your fare on the overhead fare chart. Subway fare charts give the names of all stations in English, and your current station is highlighted in red. Depending on your destination, fares for adults range between 210 yen to 350 yen, and for children they range between 110 yen to 180 yen.
This is a close up view of a typical ticket machine’s keyboard. Note the English guidance button on the bottom left.
All ticket machines have this English guidance button. However, the machines are so easy to use that you probably won’t need to use it. For a single adult ticket all you have to do is pay some money into the machine and then press the fare button.
First pay some money into the machine. You can pay with coins or bills, but check which denominations of bills the machine can take, as this varies with different machines.
After inserting your money, buttons will light up with fare options. Simply press the button that corresponds with your fare.
If you are buying a ticket for a child you should press the child ticket button before choosing your fare. This is located on the bottom right of the machine’s keyboard.
If you have put enough money into the machine, you can also buy more than one ticket at a time. Find the buttons which are labelled “NUMBER OF TICKETS” on the bottom right of the machine’s keyboard.
After pressing the fare button, you can collect your ticket and any change from the bottom of the machine.
If at any point you make a mistake in this process you can always press the red “CANCEL” button and then start again.
You can then proceed through the automatic ticket gates. Put your ticket into the slot, walk through and collect your ticket on the other side.
Buying tickets for the Tokaido Shinkansen
When you buy shinkansen tickets for long distance journeys, you will need to offer the following information:
- The number of travelers.
- The departure station and destination.
- The date and time of travel.
- One-way or return.
- Preferences: Ordinary or Green Car, Reserved or Non-reserved, Smoking or Non-smoking.
Because so much information is required, we recommend buying shinkansen tickets at a ticket office rather than a ticket machine. You can find ticket offices beside all the shinkansen ticket gates.
Preferences: Ordinary or Green Car? Reserved or Non-reserved?
When buying your tickets you will need to decide on your seat preferences. There are two classes of carriage on shinkansen trains: Ordinary and Green Cars. The seats on Ordinary Cars are comfortable enough, but the seats on Green Cars are larger and offer a little more comfort, quiet and leg-room. Naturally, tickets for the Green Cars are more expensive and must be reserved in advance. Also, when purchasing a Japan Rail Pass, you must choose between an Ordinary Pass or a Green Pass.
For ordinary tickets both non-reserved (自由席 – jiyu seki) and reserved seats (指定席 – shitei seki) are available in different carriages. The reserved seats will cost you a little extra. However, during busy periods (particularly national holidays) the non-reserved carriages do fill up, so it may be worth making a reservation to avoid the risk of standing throughout the journey.
When you purchase your tickets you will receive three cards. One is your basic fare ticket (乗車券 – joshaken). You can use this ticket to pass through regular JR ticket gates. Another is your super express ticket (特急券 – tokkyuken). You will need both your basic fare ticket and super express ticket to pass through the shinkansen gates. And the third card may look like a ticket, but it is actually just a receipt. You can see a pictorial English guide to these tickets on the JR Central website. Be sure to keep all your tickets safely so you can show them to the conductor on the train.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.