Most Japanese machines adhere to the philosophy that traveling is not about the destination, but the journey.

Although on the whole convenient and well managed, the train system in Japan can be quite overwhelming for first-timers. It first involves studying the giant map above and finding your desired station which has the required fare printed on it.

Then once you’ve found it, you approach the machine and press the corresponding button with the same price. However, if you are like me a typical trip probably goes something like this:

“Okay, where am I going…ah there it is, 490 yen!”

“Wait a minute. Was that 460 yen or 490 yen?”

“Huh, there is no station 460 yen away….
What’s up with that? I hope no one is waiting behind me.”


“Okay, so that’s 260 yen.”

“I accidentally brought a bunch of plastic stars instead of money again.

Actually it’s hardly a mind-crippling experience, but recently the question has been floated over Twitter in Japan, “Wouldn’t it be better if they put the name of the destination on the touch screen?”

After all when you go to a vending machine you usually just press “Coke.” You don’t search through a catalog of drinks to look up the price of a Coke and than select that price on the machine. For starters, it would require all drinks to have a unique price, and furthermore it’s just plain dumb.

The original poser of the question got a lot of support in the form of over 100,000 likes and praises of, “Finally, someone’s asking the questions that need to be asked.” However, there was also a lot of defenders of the conventional method of buying tickets citing simplicity and cost as the main reasons.

“If you put the map on the touch screen, wait times will drastically increase while people search through it. The way it is now is a simple one touch process.”

“Reading the names of the stations takes more time than reading a simple number. The line ups would become huge.”

“It’s a lot cheaper to just distribute uniform machines to all the stations rather than customizing them.”

The waiting time excuse seems weak. Anyone concerned about that is probably a commuter or otherwise frequent user of a particular train line and would be better off simply buying a prepaid card to avoid the problem altogether, if they haven’t already.

And for the cost, considering everything is digital, creating a simple set-up system where staff inputs the station the machine is installed in and all fares are automatically calculated from that point is not exactly cracking the human genome. In other words, it wouldn’t take a huge financial effort to convert the display to focus on the station names rather than the fares to go there.

And in fact efforts have already been made to do this. Some train lines have screens that include station names along with the prices or show an interactive map. Tokyo Metro allow users to choose by fare, station number, or station name. Nevertheless, if you were to walk up to a random train ticket machine anywhere in Japan you’d still be likely to see a nondescript matrix of fares.

JR East told J-Cast News that the reason it is this way stems back to the early mechanical ticket machines which lacked the space to create a button for every single station they serviced. Adopting an if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it strategy, the layout remained the same well into the digital age.

It’s understandable too, because with the roughly 1,665 stations on JR East lines, it would take a considerable time to search for your desired one on a digital layout. However, in the case of the more streamlined Shinkansen, tickets are purchased by choosing a destination because it’s practical there and fits the pricing scheme better.

Again, this is hardly the most pressing problem facing the nation, but with today’s technology it does seem that these machines have room for improvement in one way or another. And with the Olympics approaching – which according to Japanese media is the only reason anyone has done anything in the past two years – this may be a prime opportunity for a redesign.

But even if they don’t, there’s still no need to fear the train stations or their machines. If you have a problem, you can just push a button and a friendly staff member will magically pop their head out of a hole in the wall.

Source: J-Cast News
Images: SoraNews24