An IC (Integrated Circuit) card is a handy card that anyone staying in a city in Japan should have. They are easy to get and can be used in a variety of ways. Someone who is traveling around the city for a day will probably use their IC card at least once. So what is an IC card and why should you get one?
The two most common IC cards in Tokyo are the Suica and the PASMO. When you “charge” the cards, i.e. add money to them, they are funded with the amount you add and those funds can be used when you ride the train. Instead of having to buy a new ticket each time (and by doing so, you have to check the map for the price and the correct line), you can just scan your card and the correct amount will be deducted automatically.
It’s a much easier and faster way to travel, and once you start getting around the cities with an IC card, you won’t want to go back to buying a ticket each time. In addition, with every fee you pay to get on and off trains using your IC card, the price is generally very slightly cheaper than if you buy a physical ticket, perhaps because there is no printing cost involved.
The IC card isn’t just for the train. You can also use it in convenience stores and some in-station shops to purchase goods. This is really handy if you just want to grab a coffee or you would like to buy something without having to delve into your wallet to grab change.
You can also use your IC card to easily pay for rides on the city bus. Be sure to check for the green Suica or pink PASMO sign on the sides of the bus for Tokyo and the surrounding areas, the ICOCA card for Kyoto, and so on.
To get your own Suica or PASMO card, go to a ticket machine in any station. There will be an option to purchase a new card. A new card costs 500 yen and it will require you to put at least 500 yen on as credit. You can put as much as you like on, but it’s recommended you start with at least a couple of thousand yen.
On some machines, you can also get your IC card personalized with your name by registering your name and phone number on it. This is optional, but if you choose to personalize it, the card will be printed with your name at the bottom. This is useful if you are traveling in a group and are buying several cards. Print your names on them so you can easily see which belongs to whom.
Anytime you need to add funds to your IC card, just go to a ticket machine and tap the “charge” button to add money. You can also use this feature to check your balance. When you go through the ticket barrier, your balance and the amount you just paid can be seen briefly on the screen. Keep an eye on it to make sure you can top your card up when needed.