Why are Japan’s ticket barriers always open in railway stations?

It’s true that on Japan’s railway network and especially in major cities, the ticket barriers are always open. But try to go through without buying a ticket and you could be in for a nasty shock!

The ticket barriers are designed to only close if someone attempts to pass through without having already presented a valid ticket (a paper ticket, or a ‘FeliCa’ NFC equipped mobile phone, or an IC card), closing quickly and preventing you from exiting the gate.

Run through too fast and you could end getting a nasty whack in a vulnerable area as the doors swiftly shut in front of you!

This is an example of lean thinking or kaizen, a philosophy of efficient design with origins in Japan’s manufacturing industry. It’s also safer in a country prone to serious earthquakes!

Look also at how their machines handle paper tickets (although you rarely need one these days) – instead of having to pass the ticket through the right way and side around, most Japanese ticket machines take a variety of ticket sizes, upside down, back to front, at an angle, and are still able to read them and spit them out exactly the right way up. Very cool!