I am surprised people don’t recognize the power of a commuter pass in Japan.


Most people will think a commuter pass as simply that, a pass that gets you from point A to point B. I think of it as a tool that makes me go cheaper (or for free) to many different places. If you are employed, guess what? somebody else is paying for all of that too.


In this article, I am going to distill how do I think about the commuter pass and how I try to design the best routes that essentially provide me with a little bit more travel freedom within the city.


*honest disclosure
This might only apply to Tokyo. (And maaaaaybe Osaka). So all my examples will be of stations in Tokyo or around it.


All you need is a good 30 minutes to sit down and plan things. (Plus the time to read this article, and buying the Teiki).

The concept of a commuter pass in Japan (定期券; Teikiken, or Teiki for short)


2 main concepts that you need to get:

A) This pass allows you to travel from point A to point B (possibly across point C & D..etc) as many times as you like, for a 1-time fee that covers 1 month, 3 months, or 6 months. (I remember there used to be a 1-year pass before, but not at the moment)


*For more details on how to purchase a commuter pass, you can look up this article from Tokyu’s official website, or this article from gogonihon. articles Or 

B) A 1-month commuter pass is -usually- priced at a round trip count of 15-21 days in the month (depending on station and company). And it gets cheaper when you buy 3 months or 6 months pass.

To give an example (Tokyo)

Let’s say you live in Ikebukuro (池袋) and your work is at Meguro (目黒). A normal ticket would cost ¥200 (IC card will cost ¥198)

Comparison of Teiki pricesPaper TicketIC Ticket1 month3 months6 months
Price¥200¥198¥5,930¥16,900¥28,460
Approximate number of trips112984142
Round Trips (based on paper ticket)0.50.5144271
Table 1. Sample of calculating how many trips does a Teiki give you between Ikebukuro (池袋) & Meguro (目黒). Numbers are rounded

If you only go between your home and work during the 22 work days per month, by buying a commuter-pass, you’ll only pay for around 15 days, and you save up the rest.


Another example

If you live in Kanda (神田) and work at Gaienmae (外苑前), this is how the table will look like:

Comparison of Teiki pricesPaper TicketIC Ticket1 month3 months6 months
Price¥200¥199¥7,460¥21,270¥40,290
Approximate number of trips1137106201
Round Trips (based on paper ticket)0.50.51853100
Table 2. Sample of calculating how many trips does a Teiki give you between Kanda (神田) & Gaienmae (外苑前). Numbers are rounded

Again, if you only go between your home and work during the 22 work days per month, by buying a commuter-pass, you’ll only pay for around 18 days, and you save up the rest.

But this is only the first aspect of it. More details later.


The sum of this article is that commuter pass boils down to:
A) Preference (the questions below)
B) Math (above table; will elaborate in a bit)


Let’s take them one point at a time.

A) Preference

When thinking about purchasing a commuter pass, there are a few questions to consider:

  1. What routes can you use to get from your point A to point B?
  2. Of those routes, which ones will get you to as many major stations as possible?
  3. Of those routes, which will you most-likely use to get to further destinations in your private time?
  4. For each route, how many times a month would you most likely go out of that route?
  5. What other major stations are available 2-3 stations away from your point A and point B?
  6. For each route, how many times a month would you most likely use one of those major stations nearby point A or point B?

I’ll give a few case studies after this.

B) Math

You need two tools:

  1. Train fare calculation app (anything goes).
  2. Commuter pass calculator  This is the commuter pass calculator I usually use. (I tried to look for an English-friendly one, and -amusingly- couldn’t find any! This is a business chance).
  3. Combine both of the above, and you can make the most of your commuter pass!

Here is how it works (I assume you’ll use an IC card). I’ll use an example to illustrate how it works:

First

core calculation

  • Use the train fare calculator app to calculate the ticket fare between your core points A & B (home and work).
    Let’s say it costs ¥198
  • Multiply that by 2 to calculate the fare for a round trip.
    So ¥198 x 2 = ¥396
  • Multiply that by the number of days you are going to use that route per month. (Simply put, workdays per month; most people have 22 working days, some have less).
    I work 21 days, so ¥396 x 21 = ¥8,316
  • Now multiply that by 6 months, so  ¥8,316 x 6 = ¥49,896

TOTAL OF ¥49,896

This is how much you are paying now over a 6 months period if you are not using a commuter pass.
Out of the above, three numbers are important

  1. ¥49,896
  2. 252 trips (2 trips/day x 21 days/month x 6 months)
  3. ¥198/trip 

Second

calculate the commuter pass for the price I’ll just assume the Kanda (神田) – Gaienmae (外苑前) example above Using the commuter-pass calculator:

  • 6 months¥40,290
  • Divide that by 252 trips = ¥159.88 We’ll round it ¥160
  • Another way to look at it is ¥40,290/¥198203.48 trips


What does this mean?

It means that if you buy a Teiki, you’ll be paying ¥160/trip instead of ¥198/trip. (¥38 difference/trip)

Or, although you have to do 252 trips in 6 months, you’ll only pay for 203 trips of those.

So you get 49 trips discounted.  49 trips / 2 = 25 round trips (or 25 days).

That is a one full month discount!

What is the catch? 

This is based on if you ONLY go between those two points for exactly 21 days a month, 6 months.

Up till here, this is general information. The fun starts here.

Third

Look back at your preferences. Kanda (神田) is a major station but Gaienmae (外苑前) is not. Since your workplace is very near to Shibuya (渋谷), you’ll probably prefer to meet friends in the Shibuya (渋谷) area.

But think of this, let’s say you are an average social person who goes out 1-2 times a week.

Ticket between Gaienmae (外苑前) and Shibuya (渋谷) is ¥170.

Considering every time that happens you have a round trip, you end up paying ¥340 per round trip.

If you go to Shibuya (渋谷) once a week, 4 times a month, for 6 months. That would be ¥340 x 4 x 6 = ¥8,160

So:

Gaienmae (外苑前) to Shibuya (渋谷) = ¥8,160

Let’s say you use Shibuya (渋谷) as a hub to go somewhere else also twice a month. For simplicity, let’s say it is Meguro (目黒).

So now you’ll pay from Gaienmae (外苑前) to Shibuya (渋谷) (¥170) Then pay from Shibuya (渋谷) to Meguro (目黒) (¥160)

One trip is ¥170 + ¥160 = ¥330.
A round trip is ¥660. ¥660 x 2 x 6 = ¥7,920

So

Gaienmae (外苑前) to Meguro (目黒) = ¥7,920

So your Teiki is ¥40,290 between Kanda (神田) and Gaienmae (外苑前). (see table 2 above)

But you’ll also pay ¥8,160+¥7,920 = ¥16,080

In a 6 months period, you are paying ¥40,290 (Teiki) + ¥16,380 (trips to Shibuya (渋谷) & Meguro (目黒)

So a total of ¥56,670

Do you really want to pay that amount?

Morpheus always shock us with the truth

IF you buy your Teiki all the way to Shibuya (渋谷) instead of Gaienmae (外苑前), the Teiki will cost you ¥42,120

That’s only an extra ¥1,830 (instead of ¥8,160), and you have unlimited trips to Shibuya (渋谷) instead of 2 trips a week. (guilt-free commuting)

The screenshots below are of the Teiki price from the calculator website.

Teiki between Kanda (神田) & Gaienmae (外苑前)

See the difference of adding just 2 more stations.

Teiki between Kanda (神田) & Shibuya (渋谷)


With this, your trips to Meguro (目黒) will become cheaper.


Since you only have to pay from Shibuya (渋谷) to Meguro (目黒). you’ll shove away ¥4,080 from the original ¥7,920.

Meaning, that you’ll only pay an extra ¥3,840 above your Teiki.

Meaning, the total payment for you is

Teiki from Kanda (神田) to Shibuya (渋谷) = ¥42,120
(All you can ride)

Shibuya to Meguro twice a month for 6 months = ¥3,840

TOTAL = ¥45,960 (instead of ¥56,670)

Congrats! You saved ¥12,600

This is not considering that you might actually go more than once a month. In that case, the discount will become larger and larger.

*Hint: in this example, if you go to Meguro a lot, you can consider extending your Teiki to there too. Use the same calculation concept demonstrated above.


The idea is to count the trip.

How many trips will you go “outside the Teiki range”, and what happens if you pay a little bit up front for a few more stations? 
This part is all about trial and error

Fourth

You can also calculate other routes in our example, we only used one line (Ginza line (銀座線) ). But what if you transit between two lines? Things become much more interesting.


One thing that I recommend doing is looking at the map of the train line, and see what stations are there that might be major stations or brings you closer to a major station. This is Ginza line (銀座線) map. Of course, if you use that line in your daily life, you’d also know what stations matter.

By applying the principals above, you’ll get similar results.

Let’s recap

STEP I

Make your calculation for a period (6 months) for commuting between point A & B. See how much does it cost per trip and in total.

STEP II

Use calculator app to see how much is the cost for a Teiki, divide that by the number of trips, and see how much difference are you paying for each trip (e.x. ¥160 instead of ¥198)

STEP III

Open a train map, and take a look at your commuting habits. Where do you usually go outside of your usual commute, how many times a week? a month? for the whole 6 months?

calculate how much will you pay per trip vs. paying Teiki and having unlimited trips.

STEP IV

Don’t forget to add major stations whenever possible. If you can add an extra ¥1,000~¥3,000 that will make you use a major station, it will free you up to use other routes as well.

EXAMPLE

I’ll give a more concrete example of this in the following case studies

Shinamurko (新丸子) to Azabujuuban (麻布十番)
(real-life example)

At one point, I was living in Shinmaruko (新丸子) and going to work daily in Azabujuban (麻布十番).


Shinmaruko (新丸子) is on 2 lines:

The Toyoko line (東横線) and the Meguro line (目黒線). Azabujuban (麻布十番) is on the Namboku line (南北線), which is an extension from the Meguro line (目黒線). (It passes through Meguro station (目黒) ).


If you look at the train lines image below, you can find Shinmaruko (新丸子) around the middle, where the tow lines, blue and red are side by side.


You can see that the blue line goes all the way to Meguro (目黒), and the red line goes all the way to Shibuya (渋谷).

Tokyu Train Lines

At first, I bought my Teiki for a very straightforward route; Shinmaruko (新丸子) to Azabujuban (麻布十番).

Straightforward Teiki route from Shinmmaruko (新丸子) to Azabujuban (麻布十番)


But, I love Jiyugaoka (自由が丘), and I feel guilty every time I want to drop by there because I am spending and extra ¥260 every time. (At the time this was a big deal).

Every time I look at Jiyugaoka (自由が丘) with a tear in my eye

Then, that map got me thinking. I realized I don’t ever go to Okusawa (奥沢) and a light bulb went on!

Realizing that Okusawa (奥沢) is a station I don’t need, and can by-pass

I made a route from
[A] Shinmaruko (新丸子) to 
[B] Jiyugaoka (自由が丘) to 
[C] Ookayama (大岡山) to 
[D] Azabujuban (麻布十番) through Meguro (目黒).

How to draw magic!

The beauty of this was when I went to my work every day, I didn’t have to pass through Jiyugaoka (自由が丘). As long as I do not go out at Okusawa (奥沢), it is still considered within the Teiki range. From a ticket perspective, I got in at point A and got out at point D, without going out in the middle. So it is still fine.

Loophole win! FATALITY!

And whenever I wanted to go to Jiyugaoka (自由が丘) for a little walk or meet friends, I just go and it is within my Teiki range as well. And now that I have Teiki, I go more often.

Man, I was so proud of myself for finding this loophole!

Extra credit 

Freelancer

If you are a freelancer, at one point I used to run my own business, and I was living in Shinokubo (新大久保). I was responsible for the sales part, so I had to go out a lot. Luckily Shinjuku (新宿) and Shibuya (渋谷) are -as everybody knows- major meeting spots, so it’d be logical to get a commuter pass to these points. 


BUT… This is not just how I viewed it. I also see major transition hubs all the way to Meguro. So I went ahead and bought a commuter pass from Takadanobaba (高田馬場) all the way to Meguro (目黒). The breakdown is:

  • Takadanobaba (高田馬場) has Tozai line (東西線) and Seibu line (西武線).
  • Shinjuku (新宿) has an infinite number of lines.
  • Yoyogi (代々木) has Sobu line (総武線) and Oedo line (大江戸線).
  • Harajuku (原宿) has Chiyoda line (千代田線), and I can walk to Omotesando (表参道).
  • Shibuya (渋谷) has Ginza line (銀座線), Toyoko line (東横線), and Shonan Shinjuku line (湘南新宿線).
  • Ebisu (恵比寿) has Hibiya line (日比谷線) and Shonan Shinjuku line (湘南新宿線).
  • Meguro (目黒) has Meguro line (目黒線), Mita line (三田線), and Namboku line (南北線). 

Buying a 6 months pass costs ¥25,290. The fun part though?

  • I travel between the major areas in the west part of Yamanote line sometimes a few times a day, and I can use it all I want.
  • If I need to get out of the Yamanote line (or out of my commuter pass area), I’ll have to use one of those stations anyways, so most of my trips cost half of the usual price.
  • As a result, although I used to have to go out a lot, my monthly commute expense only cost an extra ¥10,000 ~ ¥15,000/ month. (Compared to a usual ¥30,000~¥40,000 if you are a heavy commuter).

So in the end, If you are a heavy commuter, you could easily spend ¥40,000 x 6 months = ¥240,000.

But using a Teiki, this can go down to ¥25,290 + (¥10,000 x 6 months) = ¥85,290

Viola! you save ¥154,710 !!

Employee

If you are an employee, most companies in Japan reimburse commuting between your home and work place. Most companies also pay you the paper ticket fare price, based on 21 or 22 working days a month.


Back to our example above. If you travel between Ikebukuro (池袋) and Meguro (目黒), you’ll be paid ¥200 x 2 times a day x 22 days a month = ¥8,800/month.
If you purchase a 6 months commuter pass, you’ll:

  • Pay to JR ¥28,460
  • Receive from your company ¥8,800 x 6 months = ¥52,800
  • Save ¥24,340!

With that extra cash, you can pay a little bit more, as I mentioned above, and buy a commuter pass that covers a little bit more range. You will pocket the rest. This is totally legal, and company knows it, so nothing to be afraid of.


The only catch is that you have to pay the train company at full when you purchase the commuter pass. On the other hand, your company will only pay you per month. So be smart about calculating your budget.


*If you are unlucky, and your company pays for the Teiki instead, then you can just plan it out.

That concludes my take regarding Teiki. You can use the principles above and apply it to your case, and find a route that suits you best!


Cover photo by Yerko Lucic on Unsplash

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