Annals of cheap: Tokyo Metro kaisuken
The only thing I have against Tokyo’s two subway systems is that they don’t run 24 hours a day, though that may change for one of them. In almost every other aspect I think they’re pretty terrific, and since Tokyo Metro is cheaper than the Toei subway network, it’s even more terrific. Does that sound funny, calling something in Japan cheap? In terms of average fares, it’s actually one of the cheapest in the world. Of all the world capitals, only Mexico City, Beijing, Seoul and Moscow are cheaper. And considering how clean and reliable the Metro is, it’s even more of a bargain.
And because it’s cheap patrons may take it for granted. Since the advent of the PASMO rechargeable smart card, which enables mass transit users in the Tokyo metropolitan area to enter and exit stations, as well as transfer from one mode of transport to another, without the need for tickets, Tokyo Metro has increased the number of wickets in stations that don’t take tickets. PASMO and JR’s Suica card obviate the need to buy individual tickets, and thus save time and resources, but they don’t necessarily save money. If your PASMO is also a Tokyo Metro credit card you can earn points when you ride that can be used for discounts, but the discount comes out to less than one percent. However, if you buy tickets of the same value in multiples of 10 from either Tokyo Metro or JR, you get an 11th for free, meaning a discount of 10 percent. These multiple tickets are called kaisuken.
If you commute, of course, then you buy a commuter pass, which allows you to travel as many times as you want between two stations on a particular line during a designated period of time (at least a month). Kaisuken aren’t cheaper than commuter passes. The real value of kaisuken, which has been mostly overlooked since the arrival of smart cards and their focus on convenience, is the economy they offer to people whose public transportation needs are based on networks rather than single routes. JR kaisuken are not particularly useful, since their range, ¥130-¥870, is as large as the network they serve. Even if you use JR all the time, it doesn’t make much sense to buy batches of 10 tickets because you would have to buy so many to cover all the possible ticket prices. And if you use one route all the time, then it’s probably better to buy a pass.
But Tokyo Metro, at least within the city proper, only has three prices, ¥160, ¥190 and ¥230, so it’s easy to stock up on all three. If, like me, your work tends to take you all over the city, buying kaisuken for all three fares makes sense. I live close to both a JR station and a Tokyo Metro station, and I almost never use JR for transport within the city if I can help it. There seems to be a Tokyo Metro station fairly close to wherever I go. And for reasons I will leave for someone else to analyze, Tokyo Metro experiences much fewer delays than JR does for system breakdowns and “human accidents” (jinshin jiko), the euphemism commonly used when people purposely throw themselves in front of trains. For some reason, nobody seems to commit suicide on subway platforms.