Advanced Japan How To: Hop-On Hop-Off JR Trains Using Cheap Regular Tickets
This short article is for non-Japanese speaking travelers looking to hop-on hop-off JR trains without any rail passes.
Note – if you’re looking for info on Japan Rail Passes, refer to the official JR Pass site here. Or if you’re looking for the seasonal Seishun 18 Kippu, check out this Japan Guide article. That’s not the point of this post — I’m here to share my experience of hop-on hop-off using nothing but a regular JR ticket, for cheap but mainly for convenience.
First you need to learn one Japanese word: TOCHUGESHA (say it: Toll – Chew – Gay – Shah!)
Tochugesha literally means “getting off mid journey,” which is allowed if your ticketed journey exceeds 100 km. In the old days when trains ran slower and a one-way from Aomori to Kagoshima could take days, JR allowed passengers to break their journeys and exit the stations for meals and overnight sleeps. Amazingly this historical rule still applies in the 21st century, and millions of Japanese people still take advantage of this little non-secret.
Pictured at the top is a regular ticket that I used for Tochugesha. In this case I bought a ticket from Shin-Yamaguchi (major Shinkansen stop) to Miyajima-guchi (ferry pier to the sacred island). Mid-journey I stopped by the picturesque feudal town of Yanai for a few hours, then exited at Iwakuni to see the spectacular Kintai Bridge and stayed at a Ryokan for a night, before resuming my journey the next day towards Miyajima-guchi.
In other words, I traveled from Point A to B to C to D, while purchasing only a ticket from Point A to Point D.
There may be easier ways, but what I usually do is:
1) Go to Hyperdia or your favorite JR timetable engine and search for the length of your journey in kilometres, as measured by JR. For example, Tokyo to Nagoya is measured at 366 km. Anything over 100 km can be used for Tochugesha.
2) Buy a regular train ticket from Point A to Point D. When planning for Tochugesha I generally won’t bother with Shinkansen and Limited Express tickets, as seat reservations are only valid for a specific train-car. With a ticket in hand, take the train from Point A to Point B.
3) Here is the most crucial step. Upon arrival at Point B, do NOT pass through the automatic ticket gate as the ticket would be swallowed up. Instead, go to the manned gate and utter the magic word: TOCHUGESHA.
4) The attendant would stamp the ticket and let you exit. After finishing your sightseeing (or perhaps a sleepover), return to the attended gate and say Tochugesha again. Get on the train and head to Point C. Repeat.
5) At your final destination of Point D, pass through the automatic ticket gate and finish your journey.
JR ticket can be valid for multiple days, meaning that you can hop-on hop-off for more than a week while traveling from Hokkaido to Kagoshima. The calculation for days of validity goes like this:
0 to 100 km: Ticket Not Valid for Tochugesha
101 to 200 km: Ticket Valid for 2 days
201 to 400 km: Ticket Valid for 3 days
401 to 600 km: Ticket Valid for 4 days
601 to 800 km: Ticket Valid for 5 days
800 to 1000 km: Ticket Valid for 6 days
… and so on, 1 extra day for every 200 km increment.