Smart cards (or prepaid cards) are the best way to pay for transport and many other things in Tokyo and the rest of Japan. The best ones are Pasmo and Suica. I'll give you all the details on buying and using them here.
Tokyo Suica Card: TungCheung / Shutterstock.com
- Prepaid smart cards are incredibly convenient. Buy one as soon as you can!
- The best prepaid cards for travelers in Japan are Pasmo and Suica.
- For most purposes, Pasma and Suica are interchangeable. Buy either!
- You can use Pasmo/Suica for all trains, subways and buses in Tokyo.
- You can also use Pasmo/Suica at many shops, especially convenience stores.
- You can use Pasmo/Suica in other parts of Japan as well
- Buy Pasmo cards from vending machines at subway stations in Tokyo
- Buy Suica cards from vending machines at JR stations in Tokyo, or buy a Suica card online
- You can buy either card at Narita and Haneda airports.
- Buy a Pasmo or Suica! Wait, did I already say that?
Be aware that Suica (and Pasmo) cards are becoming harder to get in Japan due to IC chip shortages. However, the tourist versions called Welcome Suica and Pasmo Passport are still available at the airport (and some other locations in the case of the Pasmo Passport). See this page for details.
- Prepaid cards (also known as stored-value cards, smart cards or internal chip/IC cards) are huge in Japan. Once you buy one and use one, you'll never want to go back to fishing for change in your wallet every time you ride a bus or a train or buy something in a convenience store. Normal tourists can buy prepaid cards in Japan (ie, you don't need to be a resident and you don't even need to show ID). I strongly recommend that you buy a prepaid card, even if you just intend to spend a few days in Tokyo.
- The two main prepaid cards in Tokyo are Pasmo and Suica. Suica is issued by JR East (one of Japan's main train companies) and Pasmo is issued by a consortium of private transport companies in east Japan. But, this doesn't matter, because they're fully interchangeable! I mean, you can ride JR trains with a Pasmo and private lines with a Suica. The only difference is where you purchase them: you purchase Pasmo cards from vending machines at subway stations in Tokyo; you purchase Suica cards from vending machines at JR stations in Tokyo. Both types of machines have English-language screen guidance. You can also buy these cards at the ticket offices in these stations. You can also buy these cards at Narita or Haneda airports. You can also buy a Suica card online
Here's a quick FAQ with everything you need to know:
How much do Pasmo/Suica cost?
You can buy one for as little as Y1,000 (adult/child). This includes an Y500 deposit. Before you leave Japan, you can bring the used card to a ticket office and they will refund the deposit, minus a small service charge.
Where can you buy Pasmo/Suica?
Buy Pasmo at subway stations in Tokyo or at Narita/Haneda airport train stations. Buy Suica at JR stations in Tokyo or at Narita/Haneda train stations.
Are there child Pasmo/Suica cards?
Yes, and you should buy a child card for your children because they will charged children's fares when using their child cards on transport.
How do you top up a Pasmo/Suica card?
It's very easy to top up a Pasmo/Suica at vending machines. You top up Pasmo cards at subway stations in Tokyo. You top up Suica cards at JR train stations in Tokyo.
What happens if you lose your card?
Pasmo offers a "named" Pasmo card that can be reissued if lost. When you purchase if, you must input personal details. To be honest, I don't recommend buying a named card because it's a bit of a hassle. Just don't put too much money on the card at one time and be careful with it.
Can you use Pasmo/Suica in other parts of Japan?
Yes. They're fully interchangeable with other prepaid card systems in Japan. Note, however, that you cannot use a Pasmo or Suica to travel out of the Tokyo train system into another region's train system. That is, you cannot use these cards to pay for a ride that begins in one area of the country and ends in another. But, once you arrive, you can use the card there. So, for example, you cannot use these cards to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto by train.
Can you use Pasmo/Suica in shops and vending machines?
Yes. You can use these cards in most convenience stores, many shops and many vending machines. You can also buy a Suica card online
Can you use Pasmo/Suica on the shinkansen?
Should I buy a Pasmo/Suica card?
Yes! Definitely! Absolutely! Without question! As soon as you can!
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
- Check Tokyo accommodation availability and pricing on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Tokyo
- You can buy a Japan SIM card online for collection on arrival at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare airline flight prices and timings for the best Japan flight deals. Check my guides to arriving at Narita Airport and at Haneda Airport.
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's why it's worth it
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Tokyo much easier - here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world