The IC smartcard is a new innovative way of paying your train, subway, monorail, and other e-payment fares in the most convenient way possible. The IC first made its debut in 1998 when it was used for the Midorizaka Line monorail, later in 2001 Japan was introduced to JR East’s Suica and today you can find more than 20 different IC transport cards. Not only can you pay your bus, tram, and subway fares you can also purchase items from vending machines, shops, and restaurants which allows you to keep your credit card as well as cash safely stored in your hotel.
What is IC card?
An IC card is one of the most popular and convenient ways to travel and pay your fares in Japan. These cards can be purchased at ticket machines and counters at any railway station and used for traveling in trains, subways, and buses. IC cards have been used since 1998 by only a few companies and today you can find over 20 types including – Suica, Pasmo, Icoca, Pitapa, Toica, Manaca, Kitaca, Sugoca, Nimoca and Hayakaken.
You can use your IC card if you wish to travel around these IC areas- Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Purchasing and using your IC card is very simple, they can be purchased before your travel at any ticket machines or counters and used by simply touching the detector at the ticket gate where your fare will be deducted, bear in mind that the card can only be used by one person at a time.
Where can I use IC card?
Your IC card can be used to pay fares while traveling on a bus, tram or subway around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. The IC card can also be used to purchase items from vending machines and paying in shops and restaurants around Japan. Like a credit card, an IC card can be merged with your mobile smartphone which replaces the card and allows you to pay with your device.
Since 2013 providers like Suica, Pasmo, Icoca, and others have joined together which means that any type of card can be used for any type of traveling area.
Before purchasing an item or using any service make sure to check if the business has displayed the IC Card Logo that indicates that they accept IC cards.
How to buy an IC card?
IC cards can be purchased at ticket machines and counters at railway stations, if you are purchasing a new IC card you will be asked to pay a 500 yen refundable deposit and first-time charge of 1500 yen. If you already hold an IC card and simply want to top it up you can do so by using the same ticket machine, special recharge machines at the stations, or by visiting the issuing company, you can recharge it up to 20,000 yen. If you are in the process of using your card and simply want to check your balance, you need to visit the ticket machine or pay attention while purchasing an item at a store, check the cash register screen, or check the screen at the ticket gate. Basic cards are valid up to 10 years and they can be returned to the issuing company if you wish to get back your 500 yen deposit.
Types of IC card
Suica – prepaid IC card by JR East used for JR trains in Tokyo regions Niigata and Sendai for Japanese residents and Welcome Suica for foreign travelers, this card is valid for 4 weeks.
Pasmo – prepaid IC card used for Tokyo’s railway, subway and bus can be purchased by Japanese residents and Pasmo Passport for foreign travelers, this card is valid for 4 weeks.
Icoca – prepaid IC card by JR West for JR trains in Kansai regions Chugoku and Hokuriku for Japanese residents and Kansai One Pass for foreign travelers, this card also gives discounts for many tourist attractions.
Pitapa – postpaid IC card for non-JR Kansai railway and subway, this card cannot be obtained by foreign travelers.
Toica – prepaid IC card by JR Central for JR trains in the Greater Nagoya region and Shizuoka Prefecture.
Manaca – prepaid IC card for non-JR Nagoya train, subway and bus.
Kitaca – prepaid IC card by JR Hokkaido for Greater Sapporo regions subway, bus and tram.
Sugoca – prepaid IC card by JR Kyushu Greater Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Nagasaki regions.
Nimoca – prepaid IC card for Nishitetsu trains and buses in Greater Fukuoka region.
Hayakaken – prepaid IC card for Fukuoka city subway.
What does the IC card cover?
With your IC card you are allowed to travel on – Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura, Fuji five lakes, Hakone, Nikko, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Beppu, Izu Peninsula, Ise Shima, Mount Koya, Kagoshima and Naha transportation. In order to use the card, the origin and destination area must be in the IC card area.
IC cards can also be used on Shinkansen lines:
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen – you can use your Suica, Pasmo or Icoca card which has to be registered on the app, tickets can be purchased online, but the fee will be deducted from your credit card, not the IC balance.
Tohoku/Joetsu/Hokuriku Shinkansen – use any IC card for non-reserved seats, you must register the card on a ticket machine. The fee will be deducted directly from your IC card when boarding your train.
Note that your IC card does not cover the travel on highway buses.