Why are ticket barriers in Japan open by default?

Ticket gates at Hakodate station, Hokkaidō

Ticket gates at Hakodate station, Hokkaidō

In Japan, the default state for a railway or metro ticket barrier seems to be open. In the UK, US and continental Europe, it seems to be closed. This is interesting. Except that the only decent free-to-use photo of Japanese ticket gates has some closed ones in it – why is this?

In any case, I like the idea of technology which assumes, by default, that the intentions of its user are honourable – in this case, that they’ll pop in a valid ticket and walk through. In the Japanese example, if your ticket isn’t valid, or if you try to walk through without putting a ticket in at all, the barriers flap shut; job done.

It looks different, and feels different to the you’re-not-going-anywhere-until-you-give-me-a-ticket UK/US/European versions – and sounds different too. The beep-slam of London Oyster-reader gates is replaced by melodic beeping of Suica and Pasmo (and other) cards and – well – nothing at all. Except the odd flap of barriers in front of a tourist.

Of course, the Japanese barriers (at JR stations at least; my experience isn’t particularly wide-ranging) do other clever things, like accepting tickets pretty much however you want to throw them in, and present them back to you neatly sorted and stacked. Welcoming and helpful: not things you’d expect from a ticket barrier in the UK. I can only assume that the Japanese ones are fantastically expensive.

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