Tuesday, January 23, 2007

illegallity for your amusement and education

The transit system in Japan is amazing, and I've written many times that it is a model of how density can improve your life.

But what if you've forgotten your wallet? What if you had no money? In a car based society, one could hitchhike, or beg the bus driver to let you on. Here in Japan, hitchhiking for the train is not so effective....and the bus drivers...well...they don't speak English so well, so "begging" doesn't work.

So, for your education, dear reader, several friends and I engaged in an academic exercise...

(Four Handy Methods and One Disclaimer)

There are several main schools of thought about the best way to engage in this activity (sport?).

SCHOOL ONE: Don't do this.

The first school of thought suggests quite clearly that this is an illegal activity, and you can probably be sent to pounding-you-in-the-behind-by-a-sumo-wrestler prison if you do it too often. Anyway... the penalties are quite severe (so stay tuned!) After all, you are making use of the service, so... I seriously suggest that you buy a ticket. Er...and do remember that cameras have been mounted at all of the station gates...so you may get booked if you use this knowledge for the cause of evil.

Of course, unless you feel like making funny videos while you wait for a friend. Then... well... go to town.

SCHOOL TWO: Clueless Drunken Foreigner Bash Through Style

This is probably the most widely used form of train-gate missing. It quite simply means "walking through the gate" and giving your best "I'm a stupid foreigner and I don't know how to work this crazy Japanese stuff" look to any train staff you make eye contact with. They will usually decide that you are too much effort to deal with and wave you through.

It looks like this:

I've used this trick a few times (*almost* exclusively by accident). It works better the less you shave and the more confused you look.

SCHOOL THREE: Super Samurai Somersault Style

I think the name pretty much says it all. This method can be used in two ways. You can either try to barrel through as fast as possible and hope that the gate doesn't bash you in the face. Or... you can strategically note the placement of the sensor beams, cover them, and edge your way through until you think you can jump through before the electronic senors realize that the jig is up. Good, except during rush hour.

For the record, this style is known to be 70% more effective if you provide your own "Mission Impossible" Soundtrack.

EDIT: Some folks have complained of video trouble with this one, so I've reloaded and reposted for your repeated enjoyment.

SCHOOL FOUR: 2 - for - 1 Fire Man Carry Bonus Style

This one is more about strategy than physical prowess, though it takes a slight amount of technique. The trick is to balance one train customer on top of the other so you can use a single ticket. This makes your subterfuge less noticeable, as you will not set off the alarm trigger. On the other hand, you will clearly be carrying someone else. Try it if the guard is sleeping.


This is probably the most satisfying method to use. In it, you attempt to clear the gates in a single bound, avoiding the sensors and thereby winning glory for your entire deadbeat family (you rapscallion). If you manage to limit the size of your hop, you can probably get this done without alerting the station staff. It'll just between you and the maker, so start thinking about whether your eternal soul is really worth 130 yen. Well? Is it?

Here, Ben Sensei answers with a firm "no".

Oh... and stay tuned for the heavy handed response at the end from the station staff. He really fixes Ben good for using their property as a metaphorical transit chew-toy.

Ok, it's poll time... what's in his head?

1) Take that, foreign hooligans!!! It's my shakey hand! You'd better say "sorry" in Japanese or else....

2) Thank you very much for not jumping repeatedly through the gates for the past twenty five minutes!

3) I. hate. this. job.

4) Phew... what's that smell???

5) Look... I know I failed out of cop school...but seriously...where did life go wrong?

I'm open to suggestions, either for the "what's going through the station staffer's mind"... or for other academics' thoughts on this fine art.


David said...

One of my most memorable moments of "stealing" transit had to be when I was visiting London. I was trying to exit a station and had put my card in the machine that was then supposed to open the door, and I watched the machine eat my card and stubbornly refuse to open.

I stood there for a split second, a confused foreigner wearing winter clothing and a full camping backpack, in the middle of rush hour with people behind me, and stared at the doors. These doors have got to be at least four feet high, and are definitely designed to stop you from doing anything—the Tokyo doors look like pleasant reminders to obey the law (is that what all of Japan is like?).

In what I can only describe as fight-or-flight panic I grabbed both sides of the stile and managed to vault my legs upwards and over the doors, just barely clearing it.

No one ran after me, which I thought was really weird, considering all the fear or terrorism out there.

Jarvik said...

You neglected to mention the best method (being the one that works most of the time). Mix yourself in a large pack of natives when a train arrives and the gates are crowded and just keep walking. You can get through the gates from the person ahead of you before they close. I've done it multiple times when I either lost my train ticket or drunkenly bought the wrong one.

Doesn't work in the inaka though.

David's story reminds me of using the train system in Paris (where the ticket barriers are over your head in places). It's like climbing a fence to get over those. Oh, and the station had guards carrying submachineguns.

ターナー said...

Getting your hand on a JR Pass can be a quite effective method of getting through - just flash it and walk.

Merry Man In Japan said...


yeah... I've seen the Paris gates. The ones I saw had two separate sets of doors, to prevent economical Parisians from trying any of my aforementioned stunts. This led to some serious culture shock when I went to Frankfurt the next week and saw that the barrier was a line painted on the floor and a sign asking you to respect the honour system.

There isn't a lot of petty crime in Japan, and the use of cautionary signs generally takes the place of "electical barbed wire" in most other countries. For some reason, people just have a strong internal sense of respect for others' property.

er... except umbrellas. Those are fair game to be stolen all the time.

As for the train gates, there are some stations that don't have an attendant after a certain hour, and they just trust you to have paid the correct fare when you walk out.

I actually had almost the same experience as yours while travelling out of town. I bought a ticket for an assigned seat, not realizing that you need to buy the regular ticket as well. When I got to the end, the machine ate my ticket and didn't let me through. I just sat there and looked around until the station staff came over, tried to explain a bit, then gave up and formally marced me back to the station office, around the gates and put me out the other side with a few bows for good measure. Amazing.


Yeah, I've heard of that one... I've never gotten around to actually trying to slip through, as I seem to do well enough with the "confused barge through". That's a good one... do you usually set off the alarms?


So... um... where I can get one of these JR passes? If you mean the "Japan Rail Pass" that they sell to tourists, that would be um... paid for and therefore not...um... cheating. dagnabbit.

Unless you mean snagging an expired one and just flashing that?


Jarvik said...

Using that method the alarm goes off sometimes, but even if it does, the ekiin have no idea who it was that set it off since 200 other people also went through.

As for the JR pass suggestion, I don't think that would work too well, since they would want to know why you didn't just USE the pass instead of flashing it at someone who isn't even looking (ekiin never pay attention). I primarily ride Keihan line anyways :/

Anonymous said...

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Merry Man In Japan said...

Hey Thanks! I'm glad that you enjoy it! I've got a bunch of reviews to write for Tokyonodoko, (especially for the Noborito area, where I live).

Stay tuned, and take care.

Anonymous said...

It's a lot easier in Australia if you have a sort-of recent ticket.

Just pass through the open gate and flash your ticket at the guard.

ターナー said...

I had my first experience with losing my ticket coming from Himeji and arriving and Shin-Osaka. Not knowing exactly what to do, I approached the fare adjustment window and told him in Nihongo that I had lost my ticket.

Without missing a beat, he asked me where I had come from and how much it cost. I told him the point of origin, but I really didn't remember the cost (about 3000-4000 I said). After a few hard looks, he gave me a pass-through ticket without a word.

Later, when I talked to a Japanese acquaintance, he informed me that many Japanese people often pay the full fare if their tickets are lost; I wonder if foreigners are given a kind of leeway for not "understanding" the train system.

Anyone lost their tickets or know someone who has?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In Australia check out the Melbourne
tramway system. It's just about free.
You don't buy tickets from drivers anymore (or conductors - they got rid of them) but from 7/11 shops.
When you get on a tram you're supposed to "validate" your ticket by putting it in a machine.

It's enough to merely have a ticket in your pocket. It can last for days or weeks. If you see the boys in brown (inspectors approaching), just validate it then.

When I did this the machine didn't work. The inspector said
"You haven't validated this",
which was untrue. I told him that I had validated it as I saw them approaching.

He kindly showed me how the machine worked.


Md Shohidul Islam Robin said...

What do you think? is Double Wing Walking Gate safe or not?