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Old 4 May 21, 04:10 PM  
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AntonyJ
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Suica Card – Why Does Antony Go On About It?

One thing I found on before last (and only to date!) trip to Japan, was that the Suica travel card can do more than pay for the trains, you can use it to do small / medium purchases too in many normal stores, and within the Tokyo Disney Resort too.

When in Japan I pronounced Suica as follows:
Swee – as in sweet minus the “t“ on the end
Ka – as in Ford Ka
SweeKa
Right or wrong, it got me through in Japan OK

Familiar with the Oyster card in London? Same idea, but can you also use it to buy things in Boots, WH Smiths, M&S Food at the stations? Well with Suica you often can!

I found it so easy to use and loved the idea of not fumbling for coins and holding up a queue, or having a pocket full of coins at the end of the holiday. When I was at Disney pretty much anything could be bought with Suica in the parks, food, drinks, popcorn, merchandise in stores, bar these:
• Pressed penny – called medallion machines there
• Capsule toy / Gatcha machines
• The most mobile drinks carts – aka a cool box full of ice, on wheels.

There were some other things when I went (luggage lockers at the parks and monorail stations) that could not be done with Suica but can now I have read. Also, the drink vending machine at Bayside monorail station now takes it – see!



The Suica card, at its heart, is a pre-paid travel card that allows to you get around the train lines owned by the JR Train Company. Japan has several private train companies that have train lines all over Japan, but JR is the main one. There is JR East around Tokyo and it has sister ones all over Japan.



The Suica card is part of a family of “IC” cards that are used mostly for travel in Japan, if you look at the JR web site via the link below, you can see different cites / rail companies have a variant of the Suica card, but the good news is they are all accepted by each other.

Strictly speaking, Tokyo is mostly a Suica area, but the Disney Resort is a Pasmo area - but they are all interchangeable between each area.




You load cash onto the card in stores or automated machines in stations etc. – and then it is like contactless spending here. Be it at the train station to act as a ticket, or in a store when you buy something.

The most you can have on the card is 20,000 Yen - about $200.

For more information on the use of the Suica card, read the English version of the JR East rail company web site:

jreast.co.jp/e/pass/suica.html

More information and history of the card, can be found at:
en.wikipedia/wiki/Suica

The purpose of this guide is not to go over the travel options (mostly) of the card, but its other uses. These are based on my experience with the card in my trip May 2019, that was mostly in Tokyo area, and things might have changed since I was there. In fact, some information on how useful it is in the Disney parks is based on postings on YouTube etc. since I returned. It does not cover its use for commuters in Japan and associated features, but as a card to get around Disney Monorail and spend cash on it while in the Disney “bubble” and in the greater Tokyo area. Am told cash is much more king outside the big cities, so always take cash with you but most credit cards were taken wherever we went in Tokyo.

There is a law in Japan that says you cannot have a free train ride, so the Disney Monorail charges you for a trip – the equivalent of a couple of quid each way. You can buy a paper ticket or a pass that last a few days at the monorail stations, or you can use your Suica card to tap in and out easily. In the picture below you can see the reader on the right of the “corridor” you walk through – you tap, hear a PING and the small doors open in front to let you through. When you reach your destination, you tap out and the system automatically works out the fare and takes it off your Suica card balance. Current Balance is shown when you tap in, and balance less your fare when you tap out.



There is a childs Suica card you can get so the child pays the child rates on the trains, read here for more info:
how2traveljapan/how-...0child%20 fee.
Also remember that only foreign tourists can buy the JR Rail Pass – some details below – that lets you use many trains etc for the cost of the pass. As a rule of thumb, if you have one return bullet train trip planned, it makes sense to get the pass:
japanrailpass/en/
When I went it was a paper pass you had to show at station barriers, took only a few seconds, but it was a faff to dig it out – so often I just used my Suica instead. However, I have read, but not looked into, that the new JR Pass is readable by the ticket barriers.
At most stations in Tokyo they have machines where you can buy a Suica card or top up a Suica card (add cash to it) but will cover that process later. As I did not do so myself, I cannot confirm if you can buy a Suica at Miahama station, the main train station for Disney. You can top up the card at most convenience stores (7-11, Family Mart etc.) and in the train stations at machines – they have English language menu options on them too.
The Suica card comes in 2 basic variants – a physical card (that comes in 2 versions!) and the electronic one you can put on a modern iPhone or iWatch – much like you can do with your bank cards in the UK. I think you may be able to add to Google Wallet but have no experience of that sorry. You can also “move” the physical one onto your iPhone. NOTE – if you add it to you iWatch it then comes off your iPhone, and I thought holding my phone to reader would be easier then bending my hand / wrist each time, to the reader.

This is the standard Suica card:



This card costs you 500 yen (about $5) to buy in Japan, it is a deposit, and as you leave Japan you can go to a ticket gate and hand your card in and get the balance left on it, back in your hand, including the 500 yen deposit. The card lasts 10 years so if you think you might return again in that time, perhaps keep the card alive with that few Yen on

And here is the tourist only version:



This is new for tourists only, there is no 500 Yen deposit, it only lasts 28 days, but you cannot get a refund of any balance left on it.

When I made my visit, I wanted one before I went so, I bought it on Ebay

Many people can leave it in their purse / wallet (or at Disney in a passholder) and tap that on the reader, it seems to work fine. I had mine inside my wallet and touched that side to the reader and it worked fine.
We paid for our quick meals, popcorn and merchandise with the Suica card – was so easy to tap and hear that PING! When the casher had rung up all the things we had bought and looked at us to pay the balance I held up my Suica card and said “Suica?” and they tapped something on the till and then I tapped the reader, an example of it is shown below:



How to add to modern iPhone or iWatch / Apple Wallet
There are basically 2 ways:

1 – You have a physical Suica card in your hand and want to “move” it onto your Apple device – at that point the original plastic card is dead / worthless – so throw it away.

Below is the Apple support document that talks you through it but basically you set your iPhone region to Japan, go to Apple Wallet and click add a card, you will see option for to add Suica and follow the prompts.
After you had done it, set the region back to UK and it stays in your wallet – bobs your uncle!

support.apple/en-us/HT207155






NOTE The application named below is no longer in the Apps Store and no idea if / when it will come back - so as of 27/5/2021 the only way to get Suica on your iPhone / Apple Watch - is to buy a physical card and move it onto your apple device.

2 – You have a modern iPhone / iWatch (read support doc below for applicable models) you can use the Suica app to “activate” the special Suica chip in your device, and then you have a Suica card on your apple device.

From the Apple store get this app – note its name as there are a few similar ones:


It was quite easy; follow instructions and you will have valid Suica card on your Apple device, if memory serves it uses the active card in your Apple Wallet to do an initial top up, as you can see in my pic I added 1000 yen, about $10.

The positives of having Suica on your iPhone
[You do not have to activate the Suica card each time you want to use it, it is “always on” in that sense, at least when you use at ticket barriers. I think I activated it in my Apple Wallet at stores when I bough food / merch, but to be honest I do not remember <blush> - at stations you just swipe it over the reader at ticket barriers and it does its magic without you having to do anything.

The Suica chip uses a tiny amount of power, so if you put your iPhone into low power mode to extend the life of your battery on a long day, the Suica card still works.

I have phone in my pocket so it was so much easier to pull it out and tap, rather then pull wallet out of rucksack safe place, and tap – but that could just be me!

You can add money to it via the cards in your Apple Wallet – be aware that most bank / credit cards will charge you a non-Sterling fee to add Yen. I have a card that does not charge me for adding foreign currently, so could be wise to get one. However, adding cash to it once it Japan is quite easy, will cover later.

If you open the Suica card in your Apple Wallet you can se a history of purchases etc. shown.

This short YT video shows using you Suica on iPhone:

This two short 55 second videos shows you add cash to a physical card at the machine in stations:



Negatives of having Suica on your iPhone
Battery runs out on your phone; you have no access to the Suica cash until you charge phone.

There are machines in many stations to add cash to Suica card, with English language options too – where you slide your physical card into the machine when prompted. With iPhone you need a machine that has a “shelf” or “hole” where you can pop your iPhone in, to add money to it. These were not as common but I never used them on my trip. I topped up via the app on my iPhone, or at the convenience store - the Hilton convenience store was my first top up and they were super kind – will cover later.

Adding Money to Your Suica Card
Physical card
You can use the ticket machines as shown in the videos above, to add cash to the card. You can also top up in a convenience store by going to the till and saying (in English!) as I held my Suica card in my hand:
RECHARGE SUICA?

This is what I did at the convenience store inside the Hilton Tokyo Bay and the lady there then tapped something on the till, the screen facing me gave options for how much I wanted to add (1,000, 10,000, 100,000 etc.) and I tapped the option on the touch screen, handed over my cash, she got me to hold my card to reader and BINGO – all done. Handed me a receipt to show the money had been added, and it was also displayed the total on the till screen I had touched.

On Your iPhone
Easiest way is adding it via a card in your Apple Wallet – open the Suica in your wallet, take the option to ADD MONEY and away you go! Be mindful that your band card supplier might charge you fees for a non Sterling transaction. The other way is the same as with the physical card – go to a convenience store and say the phrase that pays (sorry, could not resist!) as you have you Suica card showing on your screen so you can show them. I think the Suica card needs to be open / on / active on your screen, for the top-up to work. I top up mine via the cards in my Apple Wallet as have a Curve card that saves me on fees.

Here is a video of a person recharging Suica in a machine in the station:


Here is someone recharging Suica on iPhone themselves in a 7-11 convivence store, must try this myself on next trip



Security - cloning of card, do you use PIN?
With a physical card, the main risk is if you lose it. If you lived in Japan you can register the card with the JR train company and might be able to get the money back on a new card, but never investigated that. The card can hold a max of 20,000 Yen at any one time, about $200 and while you can use the card to buy merch in Disney I just used my non-fee credit card for that mostly. I tended to keep about 2000 ($20) on it at any one time for those times I wanted to avoid using coins, drink vending machines, snacks at stores etc. With it now on my iPhone am not worried about losing the card and will happily top it up to the max amount and spend on bigger things.

There is no PIN you type into a terminal, the Suica is always on so you might be scared about card cloning – I did a Google search and there does not appear to have been any cases of it I can find. However, if you lose your Suica card and someone finds it, they could spend the money on it.
With it on your iPhone, I suppose it depends if you are a person who looses their phone



Spending With Suica
For use on the trains and buses - just tap and go.
For buying other things, with physical card just tap, with iPhone make the card active in your Wallet, and tap.

Any issues I had With It On My Trip?
No not really, not spending with it beyond the Starbucks one mentioned above. I had a strange issue inside Shibuya station that I think have worked out why it happened, but not 100% sure am right, but think my logic is sound. Train stations in Tokyo can be vast, with many many exits and are like underground cities in themselves. At Shibuya station we tapped at the ticket barrier to go “air side” and look at the shops / places to eat that were the other side, After a while of looking around we tried to tap to get out, but it would not let us out at the barrier. We went to the gate and showed the lady there what happened when we tapped to get out, and she smiled and waved us through the gate in front of her. What I think happened is that we did not go anywhere, we tapped in and out in the same station rather than make a trip. Next time will buy a platform ticket from the ticket machines (about £1.50) before trying again

Finally, there is one situation in Disney where you may not want to use the Suica card – and that is for the Monorail Passes. You can tap in and out with your Suica card on the monorail instead of buying a ticket “each way” but the monorail offer 1, 2, 3 and 4 day passes that could save you a few Yen rather than paying each trip. However what you get is a nice themed (depending on events in park in might be Easter, Halloween or Christmas themed) paper pass that makes a nice memento I think. The ticket machines at the monorail stations sell these passes. They used to be a very limited edition pin you could get if you had bought passes and showed them to station staff, but that has stopped now I read, but may come back.


Anything else of note worth mentioning?
My partner and I are both on the iPhone Upgrade Program and get a new phone each year.
We have the same model of iPhone.
We both had added Suica card via the app, to our own Apple Wallets some months ago.

In November we went to get our new iPhone, and the basic order of events is:

Backup your iPhone to the Cloud - full backup.
Go into Apple store, get new iPhone.
During setup on new iPhone tell it you want to restore from a backup, nd some time later it is done, and you new iPhone has your last backup in it.

My partners phone was fine and the Suica and balance was still there.

My own phone, the Suica card was gone - along with the balance on it. Luckily it was only £10 but still the fact that it had gone was most annoying.

Apple in the UK could not help, they could only refer to the support pages that talked about adding a Suica etc. and to be fair to them, how many people in the UK will have had this problem, and sort of ran out of ideas.

In the end I added a new Suica via the app and that is the one I have now, but am due to get a new iPhone in September and will not be adding any more money to the card, until I have seen it appear on my new phone.

I had thought that I could use the option in the app to add a Suica card number and add it that way but a) I did not have a note of the card number and b) if you look at the Suica in your wallet, it only shows the last 4 digits or so.

As I said my partner was 100% fine when they moved to new iPhone, but I did want to mention the issue I had.

Edited at 08:46 AM.
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Old 4 May 21, 08:08 PM  
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Pumpkin Pie
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Lots of detail here. Thanks for doing this Antony. I am sure we will get back next year.
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Old 4 May 21, 09:33 PM  
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kk20
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i cant be bothered retyping on my phone

go to JR station with kids passport and you can get a suica for kids that uses kids fare on the subway. it does add up to quite a saving over a few weeks of use.

we timed our JR pass start day to coincide with our bullet train trips over a week. the suica use was less than the difference between a 14 and 7 day JR so it worked for us.

we used a few buses for single trips and they accepted suica. however a day bus pass works out cheaper if you intend a few bus journeys in a day.
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Old 5 May 21, 08:53 AM  
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AntonyJ
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That is my first go complete.

Any thoughts, bits where made a boo boo, contradictions etc - please point out and will go fix. Off for a drink now...
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Old 5 May 21, 10:02 AM  
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nickyjw
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Great Anthony... thanks again, this will be a really
helpful guide for anyone looking to visit Japan.
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Old 5 May 21, 10:33 AM  
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JoanicSicos
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Originally Posted by AntonyJ View Post
That is my first go complete.

Any thoughts, bits where made a boo boo, contradictions etc - please point out and will go fix. Off for a drink now...
Is an awesome guide, and I agree, it was super handy having it. I can confirm that the ticket gates do show your balance - Current Balance when you tap in, and balance less your fare when you tap out.

You can also top up "air side" if you've run out of monies too or if you're train trip has gone on a few stations longer than you expected.
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Old 5 May 21, 11:46 AM  
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Have just add a bit to the end I forgot.
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Old 5 May 21, 11:58 AM  
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AntonyJ
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Originally Posted by JoanicSicos View Post
You can also top up "air side" if you've run out of monies too or if you're train trip has gone on a few stations longer than you expected.
You mean there are ticket machine air side, or another type of machine that is not a ticket machine or ... ?
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Old 5 May 21, 01:46 PM  
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JoanicSicos
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Fare adjustment machines air side where you can top up
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Old 5 May 21, 03:58 PM  
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Thanks Anthony, that’s a really helpful guide. We are hoping to visit Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa next year. Originally hoping for April but it’s too expensive at the moment so now looking at October 😁
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