Example for the Tōkyō/Kanto Area: Suica
(deutsche Version hier)
The Tōkyō/Kanto area (like the rest of the country) provides an excellent network of public transport and at the same time does not allow (and makes it virtually impossible) to use any of those modes of transportation with the “wrong” or without the respective ticket. Nevertherless, even those who don’t know the area and don’t speak Japanese needn’t worry about being confronted with huge problems when it comes to “buying the right ticket”.
I’ve read about various ways to buy tickets for the trains, subways and busses, and I don’t want repeat them here. Should you stay in Japan for more than just a couple of days, I would like to recommend to get yourself a „Suica”-Card (“Super Urban Intelligent Card”) (Picture) right upon arrival (no matter where you go in Japan – the Suica/Pasmo system has been made available throughout the country).
The “Suica” is a credit-card-sized pre-paid chip card which can be charged with cash. When you pass the entrance gates of the trains or subways or when you enter a bus, you simply “touch” a card reader (illuminated in blue) with your “Suica”. The card “remembers” the station you’ve entered and automatically calculates the correct fee when you leave the station at your destination. Busses mostly charge a standard ticket price when you enter the bus.
Just remember: There are various public transport companies in Tōkyō and the Kanto area (just to name some: 2 subway systems, Japan Rail (JR East), various private railway companies) – they all have their own ticket- and price system. And the “Suica” “knows” them all. You can travel around without having to worry which of the various systems you’re in or change to.
But how does one get such a „Suica”? Japan Rail (JR East) has already some vending machines from which also these cards can be “bought” (there is an initial fee of 500 Yen for the card itself). An example for an older version of such a vending machine can be seen here (picture 1). Newer vending machines are being operated via self-explanatory touch-screens.
Should vending machines like that not exist at your nearest JR-station, every larger station of Japan Rail has a „midori-no-madoguchi” (picture 2) – there you can get your „Suica” from one of the friendly JR-people.
Charging the card is one of the easiest things, since almost all vending machines at railway- or subway stations also “speak” English. Based on an Japan Rail (JR East) example I have tried to document the charging procedure (other public transport companies have different vending machines with also slightly different interfaces, but basically, the charging process is the same everywhere). The Label „Suica” and/or „PASMO”) (picture 3) indicates the vending machine you’ll need. As mentioned above: Newer vending machines can be operated via an self-explanatory touch-screen.
- To start, you have to press the “language” button first (picture 4) (many machines have the “language” button on the touch screen).
- Insert the „Suica” in the appropriate slot (the number of slots may confuse you, but don’t worry: the card won’t fit the “wrong” slot) (picture 5).
- On the touch screen indicate the amount you would like to charge (picture 6); many screens also show the amount presently available from your “Suica”.
- The machine will then ask you to insert the amount you would like to charge (picture 7 and picture 8). Don’t worry, if you don’t have the exact amount – all vending machines provide change.
- At the end of the charging process most of the vending machines offer a receipt (picture 9) – after touching the respective selection the “Suica” will be ejected – together with the respective change (if applicable).
By the way: The exit gates at subway and railway stations will remain closed should your “Suica’s” balance not suffice to debit the fare amount due. But that’s no problem! Close to every exit you will find “Fare Adjustment Machines” where you can charge your “Suica” with the amount due..
A system which really is fool-proof.
And also: With the “Suica” issued by JR East you can also pay in most of the super markets, convenience stores, taxis etc.
Please also read:
U-Bahn-Etikette / Subway Etiquette