TRIPPERS TIP: Hitch a Cheap Train to MinakamiFiled Under:
Yeehaw, baby! You’ve decided to immerse yourself in the knee-deep snow and picturesque natural surroundings of mountain-town Minakami. A decision you’re not going to regret. Now you just gotta figure out how to get there.
Good news: it’s not far from Tokyo. Only 90 minutes by Shinkansen, and a free trip if you get your grubby mitts on a JR Pass. So, if you got one of those bad boys then your fee is paid and ticket stamped, jump on the next bullet train and get on outta here, my friend, and check out these TV Shows if you need something to watch on the way (or, you could stick around for a handy hit on dodging expensive subway tickets).
Now, all the rest of you cheap scoundrels left: listen up, this one’s for you.
Once you’ve overcome the bamboozlement of figuring out how to buy a subway ticket in Japan, all you’re going to do is get yourself to Ueno Station and find the Takasaki line.
Here is where the magic happens (read: how you beat the system): when you’re buying your train ticket make sure you buy the least ticket on the line, usually the next stop. DO NOT purchase a ticket to Takasaki Station or all the way to Minakami.
Get on the train and destroy your ticket, or at least hide it inside a stranger’s backpack. Then just sit back, look out the window and do some armchair exploration until you hit Takasaki Station.
At Takasaki transfer to the JR Joetsu Line. It’s all internal so there’s no inspectors or ticket checkpoints on the way – just as long as you DO NOT EXIT THE STATION. You destroyed your (now invalid) ticket, remember.
So just chill at the platform and wait. Hitch your ride when the Minakami train comes and ride it out ’til Minakami Station. The ride will take between an 60 and 90 minutes, but make sure you’re paying attention to upcoming stations towards the end of the line ’cause when you exit Minakami Station without a ticket the sharp-dressed station attendant is going to ask you where you came from and where your ticket is.
Hopefully you’ve read our Japanese Language Guide and can sling a few familiar words the way of the attendant. Just tell ’em you lost your ticket and you are travelling from Numata (that’s the station before Minakami, but any recent stops you notice will do).
Pull out your wad of yen and offer to pay the fare. The station attendant will punch it in to his handy calculator and you’ll end up walking out of the station for measly couple of hundred yen (plus the cost of the ticket from Ueno to Takasaki) as oppose to the ¥3020 you would’ve been whacked with originally.
If you’re staying at Tenjin Lodge then you don’t even have to get off at Minakami Station. Just stay on board for another two stops until you get to the semi-abandoned Doai Station (which has no inspectors, attendants or machines) and you’re accommodation is just a short walk away.
I wouldn’t advise this unethical behaviour all the time, of course. But we’ve all been through dire times on the road where the $20 or $30 you save on a train ticket could buy you food for three days – so why not share a little five-finger discount for the cheap backpacker out there, huh?