Convenient features of refillable fare cards

Updated April 2014

Suica and Pasmo are refillable fare cards that can help make Tokyo’s transportation options less confusing and more convenient. This second post covers neat features using the cards.

Green Cars on trains and the cool pass feature

Green Cars cost extra and require an additional ticket. The extra ticket can be bought at JR ticket counters, from machines outside the gate (a little complicated), and from the designated machine on platforms (these are disappearing as of 2014). The attendant in the car will punch or stamp your ticket.

If you have a fare card, it’s simple! Scanning your card above the seat “buys” a Green Car ticket. If the light above the seat is red, the seat is empty. Scan your card and the light will turn green. When you leave, scan your card again and the light will turn red. This format of paying has the highest cost. (The lowest is buying a paper ticket outside the gate.) You need enough money on your card to use this feature and can’t recharge your card on the train.

Buses – using fare cards and choosing the right door

If you are taking a bus with a flat rate, you will probably board at the front of the bus, at least in Tokyo. Kyoto and Osaka buses tend to board in the middle. Touch your card to the scanner near the driver. Exit from the door at the middle of the bus.

If the bus has a variable fare that increases based on distance traveled, touch your card to the scanner when you board, usually at the middle of the bus. Touch your card again on the scanner beside the driver when you get off.

inside an old Japanese bus

taking the bus to Dakigaeri Gorge near Kakunodate, Akita

Trains leaving Tokyo – convenience may be lost

Cards are valid on many regular and express trains that depart Tokyo. If you board a train for a destination, often rural, that does not accept fare cards, you pay what you owe at the other end. There is no penalty but you may need cash. We ran into this every time we visited Hitoshi’s family home and used the back gate until 2012 when a scanner was installed.

Fare cards are, so far, not valid on the Shinkansen (bullet trains).

rural train crossing

rural train crossing, Ibaraki, Japan

Pass Holders

Depending on the thickness of your wallet, the cards can sometimes be read by the scanner without taking them out! I never had much luck with this but didn’t want to keep taking my card out of my wallet so Hitoshi bought me a stylish pass holder. Most stores sell more variations of pass holders than you could imagine. If you want to personalize your card, themed or bordered stickers are available. Some residents forego the card now and swipe their phone!

pass holder

pass holder from Hitoshi to me!

What about you? Have you used Suica, Pasmo or another fare card as a traveller or resident? Do you use your phone now instead?

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