Overview of Japan IC Prepaid Transportation Cards

There is a myriad of prepaid transportation cards that you can use in Japan. Other than the popular JR Pass, which many people purchase for the long-haul trips around Japan, you may want to consider purchasing a prepaid IC (integrated circuit) transport card for travelling within a particular city/region. These IC cards can be used in Japan anywhere you see the IC symbol (see image above), simply just wave them over the reader at the gates as you enter/leave the station.

These prepaid cards are an essential tool when travelling in Japan. They will save you the time searching around for change/money every time you need to take a train or bus. They can also save you money as well, as some cards offer a small discount on train fares in some of the cities. The cards can also be used to purchase items at many shops, restaurants, and vending machines.

Which card you decide to get will depend on where you plan to start/end your trip in Japan as there are some differences – mostly in relation to the deposit and refunds obtainable with each card.

Even though the prepaid cards are different for each region, they are compatible with each other. You can use them for transport in another city/region, you just can’t use them to travel from one region to another.

How to get the card

The cards are usually sold at ticket vending machines (or at ticket offices) at stations throughout Japan. The first thing to determine is what the IC card is called in the city you are starting from. Each city may call it something different (see list below).

The process of purchasing a card from the ticket vending machines is easy.

  • Just look for the machines with the symbol of the card you wish to purchase. Some cities, like Tokyo, will have 2 different cards (eg. PASMO or SUICA) to choose from
  • Select your language preference
  • Follow the prompts for a new card (blank card)
  • Select amount of yen to put on the card (minimum is usually 1000 or 2000 yen depending on the IC card) The cards usually also requires a 500 yen deposit which is deducted from the initial amount you purchase eg. insert 2000 yen and you will have 1500 yen credit on the card
  • Insert the cash (coins or notes) into the machine
  • The card will be dispensed

Depending on the card you purchase, you may be entitled to get the deposit back, (see details below for each card). The same vending machines can be used to top-up the card when your credit is low.

Note: Some cards can be pre-purchased and collected in your country of residence. For example, in Australia, you can order the SUICA prepaid card from a JTB office and collect it, or have it delivered (for a fee) prior to departure. Not all cards can be purchased this way so please check with your local Japan tourist office for full details.

Kyoto Station, Japan

How to use the card

On the train, metro and subway you simply need to wave the pass over the IC panel (contactless reader) which scans the pass as you enter and exit through the gates. Some gates have retracting sliders, that will open as long as you have enough funds on your card. Others make a beep sound. If you don’t have enough funds on the card, an alarm will sound. Don’t worry as there are usually Fare Adjustment vending machines nearby that you can use to top-up/recharge your card. If you change your mind and do not want to travel for any reason after passing through a ticket gate onto a platform, you will need to go to the station attendant to credit the fee back to your card.

IC Card reader near drivers compartment - Kyoto, Japan

For buses, there is usually a flat fee within the city limits so it makes it easy to use your IC card.

  • Enter the bus via the back door
  • When your stop is approaching, press one of the buttons to signal the driver that you wish to get off at the next stop
  • Exit the bus via the front door. There will be an IC reader near the driver, just touch the card against the reader as you exit

If the bus fare is based on the distance travelled, you just need to tap on as you enter and tap off again as you exit. Note: You always enter the bus via the back door and exit via the front door.

Some tram lines, such as the Randen Tram Line in Kyoto, are also based on flat-fee within the city limits so you only need to pay using your IC card as you exit, this is sometimes done near the driver or on the platform after you have exited the tram.

List of Prepaid IC Cards

When researching online the transport options in Japan you will find that the SUICA & PASMO cards are the ones that are mentioned the most. This is largely due to the fact that they are Tokyo transport cards, which is where the majority of travellers arrive and depart from. All of these cards can be topped up (recharged) as needed, and as mentioned earlier, all cards are interchangeable and can be used anywhere you see the IC symbol.

The only difference is when you want to return the card and get your deposit and refund of any balance on the card (depending on the card). This must be done in the same region where the card was purchased. This is not an issue if you are arriving/departing from the same location eg. arriving in Tokyo and departing Tokyo. If this is not the case (eg. arriving Tokyo and departing Osaka or vice versa) then you will forfeit the 280 yen (500 yen deposit less the 220 yen handling fee) in some cases (approx. USD2.50, AUD4.20, EUR2.30). You can use the remaining funds on the card at many shops, convenience stores, restaurants, etc.

Click on the card or link below the card for more information.

Area: JR East (Greater Tokyo, Niigata & Sendai regions).
Purchase at: JR EAST stations at Ticket Vending Machines & JR Ticket Offices.
Return to: Cards issued by JR East Japan can be returned at JR East stations. If purchased at the Tokyo Monorail or elsewhere, they need to be returned there.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

Welcome Suica Card
Valid: 28 days from the date of purchase.

Area: JR East (Greater Tokyo, Niigata & Sendai regions).
Purchase at: JR EAST Travel Service Centers and ticket machines located in Narita Airport, Haneda Airport, and major stations in the Tokyo Metro area.
Return to: Not available. No refunds are available, regardless of the validity period status or balance loaded on your card. So before leaving Japan be sure to use the remaining balance at a location displaying the Suica / IC logo.
Deposit: No deposit taken.
Refund Fee: Not applicable

Area: Tokyo Metro for use of Tokyo’ railway, subway and bus.
Purchase at: Private railway station, subway station or bus depot in Tokyo.
Return to: Can only be returned within the Tokyo area at a non-JR subway line (for instance: the Keihin-Tōhoku or Keisei Main lines), or stations at Narita or Haneda Airports.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned.
Refund Fee: No fee is charged.

Pasmo Passport Card
Valid: 28 days from the date of purchase.

Area: Tokyo Metro for use of Tokyo’ railway, subway and bus.
Purchase at: Private railway station, subway station or bus depot in Tokyo.
Return to: No refunds are available, regardless of the validity period status or balance loaded on your card. So before leaving Japan be sure to use the remaining balance at a location displaying the Pasmo / IC logo.
Deposit: No deposit taken.
Refund Fee: Not applicable.
Special discounts available with this card, see website for details.

Area: JR West in Kansai (including Osaka & Kyoto), Chuhoku and Hokuriku regions (Okayama and Hiroshima).
Purchase at: JR-WEST station ticket vending machines or JR-WEST ticket offices.
Return to: Can only be returned to JR-WEST ticket office & reservation ticket offices in JR-WEST stations.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

AreaKansai Region but can also be used in some areas of Okayama Prefecture, Hiroshima Prefecture, and Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan.
Purchase at: Available online and on a subscription basis so may not be suitable or easy for a foreign tourist to obtain.
Return to: Refer to website for full details.
Deposit: Refer to website for full details.
Refund Fee: Refer to website for full details.

Area: JR Central in Greater Nagoya area and parts of Shizuoka Prefecture.
Purchase at: JR Central stations and ticket offices within TOICA card region.
Return to: JR-Central ticket office or reservation ticket offices in JR-Central stations.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

Area: Nagoya train, subway & buses.
Purchase at: Ticket vending machines and ticket booths at stations of Meitetsu Line (railway and bus), JR Tokai, Aonami Line, Yutorito Line and Toyohashi Railway.
Return to: Stationmaster offices (some stations not included), the Transportation Bureau Service Center within the area.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: Handling fee ranges between 220-520 yen depending on the IC card type, check website for full details.

Area: JR Kyushu in the Greater Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Oita and Nagasaki regions.
Purchase at: JR Kyushu Hakata Station Ticket Office, JR Kyushu Kumamoto Station Ticket Office,JTB Fukuoka Airport Global Counter (International Terminal 1F).
Return to: JR Hakata Station Ticket Office, JR Kumamoto Station Ticket Office.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

Area: JR Kyushu in the Greater Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Oita and Nagasaki regions on Fukuoka subway, Nishitetsu train, Nishitetsu bus etc.
Purchase at: Automatic ticket vending machine with SUGOCA release function. It will be on sale at the green window in the SUGOCA area of ​​JR Kyushu.
Return to: Check website for places to return card to obtain refund.
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

AreaGreater Fukuoka and selected transportation in other cities in Kyushu and in Hakodate.
Purchase at: Main bus terminals in Fukuoka, Saga, Miyazaki, Hakodate, Kumamoto, Oita, Kitakyushu, refer to website for full list of locations.
Return to: Can return to places of purchase. Refunds are not available at Fukuoka Airport International Terminal (Bus Counter).
Deposit: 500 yen, refunded when returned (less fee).
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

Area: Fukuoka City, Meinohama to Fukuoka-kuko, Nakasu-Kawabata to Kaizuka, and Hashimoto to Tenjin-minami.
Purchase at: Subway ticket machines with the HAYAKAKEN logo.
Return to: Can return to places of purchase. 
Deposit: 500 yen.
Refund Fee: Information not found online, check at time of purchase.

Area: JR Hokkaido for use on rail lines in and around Sapporo.
Purchase at: JR Ticket Counter inside the Kitaca card area. The “Non-registered Kitaca” can be purchased at ticket vending machines that handle the Kitaca card.
Return to: Can return to JR Ticket counter inside Kitaca card area.
Deposit: 500 yen.
Refund Fee: 220 yen handling fee will be deducted from the amount being refunded.

Booking.com

As mentioned, you can’t really go wrong with any of these cards as they are interchangeable and can be used anywhere you see the IC symbol. If in doubt just ask – people in Japan are always happy to help out.

There are also many 1,2 or 3-day tourist passes that can be purchased throughout Japan offering transport and entrance to attractions within a region. So depending on your length of stay in these places, the passes may work out cheaper, especially if you plan on visiting many of the attractions included in the pass. Below are just a few places that you can find alternative passes. Check individual city websites for places not mentioned below.

If you are interested in learning more about places to visit in Japan (with an emphasis on photography) you can check out our Exploring Japan – Photography + Travel series.

We hope this post has been helpful in your planning for a trip to Japan. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave us a comment. Over time things change so if there is any information that is incorrect in this post please let us know and we will amend.

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