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Osaka-based Japanese rail company JR West has launched a ticket campaign in which travellers pay a flat fee and then roll computerised dice to determine their destination. Photo: pakutaso

Japanese rail company asks passengers to roll the dice with its tickets to random destinations

  • Osaka-based JR West has launched a ticket promotion in which travellers pay a flat fee and let a computer randomly pick which of 7 destinations they will go to
  • Whether they end up in beach resorts or a hot-spring town, passengers enjoy big fare discounts. The campaign mimics a successful one Japanese airline Peach used
Asia travel

This summer, West Japan Railways is sending passengers on what is probably best described as a mystery tour.

JR West is based in Osaka and operates a network of lines throughout the western half of Japan’s main island of Honshu, as well as on parts of Kyushu – the large island just southwest of Honshu – including the Sanyo Shinkansen “bullet train” line between Osaka and the main city on Kyushu, Fukuoka.

From July 29, the company is launching the Saikoro Ticket campaign, with “saikoro” the Japanese word for “dice” and, as the name suggests, a traveller’s destination left to chance.

A customer wishing to travel from Osaka can access the dedicated JR West website, enter the number of passengers – a maximum of six - and the date of travel before paying 500 yen (US$3.70) to “play” and 4,500 yen per ticket. At the touch of a button, the website will roll computerised dice and let the traveller know where they are going.

Amarube, a coastal resort town in Hyogo Prefecture known for its railway viaduct, is one of seven possible destinations for JR Rail West Saikoro Ticket travellers from Osaka. Photo: Kansai-Guide

Although a conventional dice has six sides, there are seven potential destinations, with the return tickets valid over a three-day period.

The odds of going to any of the seven destinations aren’t equal. There’s a 16.7 per cent chance each of getting a ticket to Shirahama, Amarube, Higashi Maizuru, Kurashiki or Awara Onsen. There’s a 13.9 per cent likelihood of a journey to Onomichi, and a 2.6 per cent chance of bagging a prized ticket to Fukuoka.
Shirahama, in Wakayama Prefecture, is among the destinations passengers may be sent to.

Shirahama is a resort town in Wakayama Prefecture to the south of Osaka popular for day trips, with onsen – hot springs – and a quartz sand beach. Amarube is another coastal resort town, in Hyogo Prefecture, and is arguably most famous for the views from its railway viaduct.

Higashi Maizuru is the station for Maizuru, an attractive port town on the Sea of Japan coast of northern Kyoto Prefecture, while Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture is on the Seto Inland Sea, and is famous for its old buildings, a network of canals and the Ohara Museum of Art. As the name suggests, Awara Onsen in Fukui Prefecture is one of the most famous onsen towns in central Japan.

Onomichi is a picturesque town on the Seto Inland Sea in eastern Hiroshima Prefecture that is famous for its network of hiking paths that connects 25 temples in the surrounding hills.

Maizuru, a possible destination for JR Rail West Saikoro Ticket travellers, is an attractive port town on the Sea of Japan coast. Photo: Japan Travel
Kurashiki is a beautifully preserved old town in Okayama Prefecture and another possible destination included in the “dice” promotion. Photo: Japan Wonder Travel
By far the rarest of all the tickets passengers may win is one to Hakata, the rail hub of Fukuoka – more than 600km (370 miles) from Osaka. Widely considered one of the most liveable cities in Japan, Fukuoka is surrounded by stunning scenery, is famous for its restaurants and cultural attractions, and serves as the gateway to the rest of Kyushu.

In contrast to some past Japanese discount rail tickets, the Saikoro Ticket allows passengers to take the faster special limited express trains and even bullet trains depending on the line that the destination is located on.

For a ticket that costs only 5,000 yen, the savings are remarkable. The destination on the list that is usually the cheapest to get to from Osaka is Higashi Maizuru, with a round-trip ticket normally costing 9,180 yen, while the sought-after Hakata ticket typically costs 29,240 yen from Osaka – thus giving those who role the dice a potential saving of nearly 83 per cent.

Saikoro Ticket buyers have a 13.9 per cent chance of landing a trip to Onomichi, in Hiroshima Prefecture. Photo: Shutterstock
Fukuoka at dusk. The city is known for its restaurants and stunning surrounding scenery. Photo: Shutterstock

The railway mystery destination campaign comes on the heels of a similar strategy last year adopted by Japanese low-cost airline Peach.

The airline, which is owned by All Nippon Airways and based at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, started selling tickets for 5,000 yen through a gacha-gacha machine in Osaka in August. The campaign followed in Tokyo in October, and in central Japan’s largest city, Nagoya, in November.

Gacha-gacha machines usually dispense children’s toys and trinkets in a plastic sphere that drops out of the machine when the handle is turned, but the airline replaced the toys with random flight tickets.

Customers found out where they were flying to only after opening the capsule, with the possible options being Sapporo and Sendai in northern Japan, and Okinawa and the island of Ishigaki in the far south. The company said the campaign was hugely successful, with hundreds of people lining up in advance and 4,800 capsules sold in the Osaka and Tokyo campaigns alone.