Savvy travelers will no doubt want to learn how to navigate Tokyo's trains and subways to maximize time at the city's highlights and minimize transit time. As contactless cash cards (IC Cards) increasingly become the norm, many people will opt to get a hassle-free card rather than buy a ticket for each ride. The "SUICA Card" is often at the top of search results for Tokyo transit cards. "SUICA" is an endearing Japanese pun on the word “watermelon” and “transit card.” This blog post tells you how to use the SUICA card and Tokyo Metro PASMO cards.
Read more to find out:
- What a SUICA Card can do
- Getting a SUICA Card
- Using your card for transit
- Charging your card
- Making purchases
- Returning your SUICA Card
What a SUICA Card Can Do
The SUICA Card is sold by the Japan Rail (JR) East Company and can be used for all JR East trains, the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, buses, and monorail lines. The card can also be used for parts of Sendai, Niigata, Hokkaido, Tokaido, West Japan and Kyushu. The SUICA only works if your entry and exit point accepts SUICA cards, which is the case for all stations in Tokyo. However, outside of Tokyo, the destination station may not accept SUICA cards. If so, the machine will not be able to deduct your fare. Check what cards are accepted in the cities you are visiting outside Tokyo. Don't worry if you are unsure. You can always ask a station attendant to adjust your fare upon arrival.
The Tokyo Metro subway network equivalent to a SUICA card is called the PASMO. PASMO cards can be purchased at subway station ticket machines that are similar to the machines shown below. You can also use this card at all stations and on buses in Tokyo.
Getting a SUICA Card
SUICA cards can be purchased from automated ticketing machines at stations, JR East Ticket Offices (Midori-no-madoguchi) and JR East travel information centres. Below, are the steps to buying a card from an automated machine.
First, look for the kanji characters "発売中" above the machine. These characters indicate that the machine sells SUICA cards:
This Machine Sells SUICA Cards -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Once you select 'English' (usually at the top right-hand corner), you will see the below default screen:
Click 'Purchase New SUICA' Button -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Select 'Purchase New SUICA.' On the following screen, click on the middle button in the red box:
Select 'SUICA New Purchase' Button -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
The card itself costs ¥500. This fee is a deposit and is refundable. If you select ¥1,000 when you make your purchase, you will only have ¥500 to use.
Select an Amount to Charge Your SUICA Card -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
After selecting the amount you want to charge the card with, insert the bills into the appropriate bill slot. The machine will then quickly produce a new card.
Insert the Amount Shown to Get Your SUICA -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Using your Card for Transit
Swiping in and out of the gates is the same. Tap your IC card on top of the sensor at the gate and walk through when they open. If the card you are using has no money left, the light will flash red, and you will first need to recharge your card.
Charging your Card
Look for “チャージ” on top of the automated ticket machines to charge your SUICA card:
This Machine Charges IC Cards -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Select the ‘English’ button on the screen:
Select English -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Click on the bottom left corner where it says ‘Charge’:
Select 'Charge' in the bottom left corner -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
In the left card slot under the screen, insert your card:
Insert Your Card in the Slot Below the Screen -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Choose the amount you want to add:
Choose the Amount You Want to Add -- Photo by Yunfei Zhao
Insert the cash for the amount you selected. Wait a few seconds and you will receive a confirmation that the top up was successful and receive your card back.
Some Vending Machines take SUICA Cards -- Photo from Flickr cc Needle
Users can also make purchases at vending machines, coin-operated lockers, convenience stores, restaurants and other places that show a SUICA sticker. Tap your card at machines and follow the instructions. At shops and restaurants, show your SUICA card and tap it on the machine reader.
Returning your SUICA Card
PASMO & SUICA Cards Work on All Train, Metro, & Subway Lines in Tokyo -- Photo from Flickr cc Chris Hsia
This section is for travellers who would like to get back their initial ¥500 deposit. SUICA card users can return their cards at the Midori-no-Madoguchi ticket offices and receive the ¥500 deposit and any remaining balance on the card. If you have less than ¥220 balance on your card, the full ¥500 will be returned. If the card's balance is more than ¥220, a handling fee of ¥220 will be deducted. The remaining balance plus the ¥500 deposit will be returned.
Because SUICA is sold by the JR East Company
, only JR East offices in Tokyo and the Kanto region can refund monies for this card, not other JR companies.
That said, after you’ve travelled Japan with your SUICA card, maybe you'll consider keeping it as a memento. IC cards are valid for ten years after the last usage date. Are you sure you won’t visit Japan again by then?
Now that you're more familiar with the SUICA Card, explore Tokyo!
(This post was translated from Chinese by Athena Lam)