Suica and ICOCA are two types of contactless IC cards that are widely used throughout Japan to pay for public transportation, shopping, and vending machines. Both are issued by JR (Japan Railways) and can be used on subways, buses, and private railways in Tokyo and the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, etc.).
Suica and ICOCA are interchangeable, meaning that if you buy a Suica card in Tokyo, you can also use it in the Kansai region and vice versa.
You can purchase Suica and ICOCA through ticket vending machines or at JR counters. On subways, buses, and private railways, you can simply place your Suica or ICOCA card on the card reader of the ticket cutting machine, and the fare will be automatically deducted without the need to purchase a separate ticket.
Starting from June 8, 2023, Japan will suspend the sales of anonymous Suica and anonymous Pasmo cards, with no specified date for resumption.
Starting from August 2, 2023, both Registered Suica and Registered Pasmo will also be discontinued for sale, with no set date for resumption.
Suspension of Sales for Suica and PASMO Cards
Welcome Suica, the red-colored card exclusively for travelers visiting Japan, will have purchase restrictions from August 2, 2023, regarding purchase locations and quantity limits.
Dedicated machines for Welcome Suica at Narita Airport Station, Airport Terminal 2 Station, and Haneda Airport Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 Stations.
【Welcome Suica Purchase Restriction】Limited to 1 card per person.
Travelers can choose to purchase ICOCA within the Kansai region or opt for Welcome Suica.
The Red Suica Card: “Welcome Suica” for Foreigners Visiting Japan
Benefits of Using a Transportation Card in Japan
Using a transit card in Japan is very convenient! You don’t need to buy a ticket to enter or exit the station, and you can simply tap your card without any hassle.
First of all, when you enter or exit the station by train, you can pass through the ticket cutting machine with a direct beep (swipe the card to touch the sensor), eliminating the need to buy a ticket, insert it and collect it. NFC contact swipe card will not have any jams, and you don’t even have to deliberately slow down your pace.
Common to Almost All Ground Transportation
With Suica and ICOCA, you can use your card for JR trains, private trains, municipal trains, and public transportation, eliminating the need to go to a ticket counter or ticket machine to buy a ticket each time.
However, there are some places in Japan where you can’t use your transit card, so it’s a good idea to do your research or check with the staff before taking the bus.
Saving Money on Transportation
You can get a discount with Suica and ICOCA! For example, you can get a 5% discount when using Suica on subways and buses in Tokyo. In the Kansai region, you can get a 5% discount on regular trains on the JR line with ICOCA.
You Can Use It for Train Rides and Shopping
You will see the Suica and ICOCA logos in many stores, which means you can use both cards (you must use the card with the corresponding logo) to make purchases here. It’s easy to use; you just need to put the card on the card reader in the store and you can pay.
Also, Suica and ICOCA can be used in vending machines, and many vending machines support both cards. If you see the Suica or ICOCA logo, it means you can use your transportation card to buy drinks, snacks, and other goods.
Transportation cards are widely used in Japan, even in parking lots with the IC logo. The number of places where you can use the card has been increasing recently, so if you have a card, you can travel all over Japan.
You Can Check the Details of Use
If you need to check the balance on your card, you can do so on trains, subways, convenience stores, etc. If you don’t know how much money is on your card, it’s a good idea to check your balance before taking a train to avoid getting stuck at the ticket cutter.
In addition, you can print out the details of use on the ticket machines at the stations. If you want to know which stations you got on and off and how much the fare is, you can print it out and organize it.
Easy to Get
It’s easy to get a transit card. You can buy one at the multifunctional ticket machines in large JR stations or manually at the green counter.
If you are planning to live in Japan forever, you can even purchase regular tickets straight from your card, or you can upload your card onto an NFC-enabled cell phone and swipe it directly at the station.
If there’s a balance left on your card after your trip, you can receive a refund.
However, there are some things to keep in mind. If you have more than 220 yen left on your card, a refund fee of 220 yen will be charged, and the remainder will be given back to you. So, it’s best to spend the remaining balance at the green window when returning your card, such as at a convenience store.
Suica and ICOCA Differences
Suica and ICOCA are both IC cards, which are commonly used prepaid cards for transportation and shopping in Japan. Although they have similar features, they also have some differences.
Suica is mostly used in Tokyo and surrounding regions, whereas ICOCA is mostly used in Western Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and so on.
Different Issuing Companies
Suica is released by East Japan Railway Company (JR East), whereas ICOCA is released by West Japan Railway Company (JR West).
Different Purchase Methods
Suica can be purchased at JR East ticket vending machines, designated counters at JR stations, and convenience stores.
ICOCA can be purchased at JR West ticket vending machines, designated counters at JR stations, and convenience stores.
Suica can be used to pay at particular stores and facilities in the Tokyo area, such as convenience stores, vending machines, and laundromats.
ICOCA can be used to pay at particular stores and facilities in the West Japan area, such as convenience stores, vending machines, and buses.
To sum up, it is suggested that you purchase a Suica card if you plan to travel in the Tokyo area/Kanto and an ICOCA card if you plan to travel in the West Japan area/Kansai. Additionally, since the functions of both cards are similar, you can also choose based on current promotions or purchasing channels at the time of purchase.
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