As of now, Japan has ceased the sale of new physical Suica and PASMO cards. However, if you arrive in Japan from Kansai Airport in Osaka, you might consider purchasing an ICOCA card, exclusively available in the Kansai region, to conveniently ride trains. ICOCA can be used not only in Kansai, including Osaka and Kyoto, but also in other regions like Tokyo. So, there’s no need to worry about not getting your hands on a Suica card anymore!
What is an ICOCA？
ICOCA (Integrated Circuit Operating Card) is a prepaid transportation card initially introduced by JR West, operating in western Japan. The ICOCA card can be used for riding JR (Japan Railway) trains, subways, buses, and even for making purchases at certain convenience stores. The payment process is as simple as Suica; just place the card on the card reader to pay for your ticket or shopping. ICOCA is extremely user-friendly, making it especially suitable for frequent travelers in Japan.
In addition to the Kansai region, including Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, ICOCA is also usable in transportation networks in other areas. Whether you are in Tokyo, Fukuoka, or even Hokkaido, you can use ICOCA to swipe and ride.
Where and How to Get an ICOCA?
To purchase ICOCA, you can buy it at JR West Japan stations or some convenience stores, where recharging ICOCA is also conveniently available.
When purchasing a new ICOCA card, a one-time payment of 2000 yen is required. Of this, 500 yen serves as a deposit, and the remaining 1500 yen automatically becomes the card’s balance.
To prevent discarding IC cards after use, a deposit of 500 yen is required when purchasing a new card.
If you later need to return the card, the deposit will be refunded upon return.
You can purchase ICOCA from the self-service ticket machines at various JR West Japan stations, and some machines support purchasing ICOCA with 1000 yen, 3000 yen, 5000 yen, and 10000 yen. Like the 2000 yen ICOCA, 500 yen serves as a deposit, and the remaining amount is loaded onto the card as the card balance.
Additionally, you can directly inquire with the staff at the “Midori no Madoguchi (Green Window)” at various JR West Japan stations to purchase ICOCA.
It’s important to note that ICOCA can only be purchased in the ICOCA-compatible area of JR West Japan, which includes the Kansai city circle (Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kobe), commonly visited by tourists. However, if you are in the Tokyo vicinity, such as Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, as well as places like Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, you cannot purchase ICOCA.
How to Recharge ICOCA
You can recharge ICOCA at ICOCA charging machines, self-service ticket machines, fare adjustment machines, and some convenience stores and electronics stores.
ICOCA Charging Machines
At JR West Japan stations, look for ICOCA self-service charging machines similar to the image above.
To recharge ICOCA using the automatic charging machine, follow these steps:
- Insert ICOCA into the card slot on the upper right of the charging machine.
- Select the desired recharge amount (options are 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 10,000 yen).
- Insert cash.
- If you need a receipt, select “Receipt Issuance.”
- Retrieve ICOCA from the card slot.
Self-Service Ticket Machines
You can also find self-service ticket machines similar to the image above at JR West Japan stations. For the two on the left, simply place ICOCA where it says [IC]. For the two on the right, insert ICOCA into the card slot indicated by the arrow.
To recharge ICOCA using a self-service ticket machine, follow these steps:
- Press the “Charge” button.
- Insert or place ICOCA.
- Select the desired recharge amount; options are 500 yen (some machines may not have this option), 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 10,000 yen.
- Insert cash.
- If you need a receipt, select “Receipt Issuance.” If not, select “No Charge Receipt.” For button-type machines, selecting “Receipt” issues a receipt; if not, it doesn’t.
- Retrieve ICOCA.
Almost all convenience stores (7-11, Family Mart, Lawson, Daily, MINI SHOP, etc.) can recharge ICOCA. In addition, electronics stores like Bic Camera, Sofmap, Kojima, etc., also support recharge.
To recharge at a store, follow these steps:
- Go to the cashier and request to recharge ICOCA.
- Pay the desired recharge amount in cash.
- Confirm the recharge amount displayed on the screen, and read the card on the card reader.
- Complete the recharge.
What are the Differences Between ICOCA and Suica?
In a nutshell, there’s not much difference in terms of usage.
Places where Suica can be used for transportation are generally the same for ICOCA, and locations where you can use ICOCA for shopping are generally the same for Suica.
Initially, ICOCA could only be used in the Kansai region, and other transportation cards born after ICOCA also had their own applicable areas. However, this led to the inconvenience of travelers needing to carry multiple transportation IC cards. Therefore, the Japanese government unified transportation IC cards nationwide in 2013. Regardless of the region-specific card you hold, it can be used throughout Japan.
However, it’s essential to note that while there’s no distinction in usage between ICOCA and other transportation IC cards like Suica, and you can recharge ICOCA at Suica charging machines, you cannot purchase ICOCA outside the JR West Japan region. Also, ICOCA cannot be used as a commuter pass in areas beyond JR West Japan.
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