Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Baffled by Tokyo's rail network? Try SUICA card.

screengrab from: http://www.tokyopocketguide.com
Before coming to Tokyo we had some apprehensions on how we would survive Tokyo's dense network of subway and train. Moreover, train maps available on the net look intimidating especially for Tokyo first timers since there are dozens of train and subway lines crisscrossing Tokyo alone not to mention that they are operated by different companies having their own payment or fare system.

Fortunately, we were able to gather enough info on the net and decided that Suica card was the way to go for us to navigate Tokyo's touristy places. Suica card is the prepaid card for JR Yamanote line which runs around Tokyo metropolis.

Thus, after disembarking from Narita Express at Shinjuku station we searched for a Suica card dispensing machine. I saw several Suica machines but all were showing Japanese characters. Remembering my golden rule when traveling I asked a train staff manning the glass-enveloped room where I can buy Suica card. He pointed to a particular machine and mentioned "English" at the same time. I approached that machine bearing SUICA CARD logo on the top and noticed the "English" screen button at the top right corner of the monitor. Yes! This "English" button solved our transportation problem in Tokyo. After pressing the "English" button, all the characters on the monitor magically turned into readable alphabet. I selected "Purchase New card" then entered the amount I wanted to charge the card. Be aware though that there is 500 Yen deposit for each card. I selected 3,000 Yen on the monitor to have 2,500 Yen charge. After the transaction the machine churned out a Suica card. I repeated this procedure five times.

There are two types of Suica machines if I am not mistaken. The first type is the Suica card dispensing machine while the second marked with "Ticket" on top is mainly used for charging your card. Usually you will find one card dispensing machine among several ticket machines. Just to add, both machines are touch screen and user friendly.

the two green color (ticket) machines are for charging while the farthest machine is for issuing Suica card

Having conquered Singapore and Hong Kong's Metros and subway we found it pretty easy to navigate and transfer to Tokyo's different rail lines by merely using our Suica cards. Just tap it when entering the station and tap it again when leaving or exiting the station. Your fare and remaining balance will be shown on the small screen right after you have entered or exit. If you hear a loud beep upon tapping your card when exiting then it means your card doesn't have enough credit to pay the fare. No worries; just approach the customer service or recharge your card at any ticket machines inside the station before trying to exit again.

Charging your Suica card doesn't require special skills, just follow the "English" procedures on the monitor or screen.

typical ticket machine

- Press "English" button at the top right corner of the monitor.
- Insert your Suica card.
- Select the amount you intend to charge your card.
- Insert your banknotes and/or drop the coins at the funnel shaped coin collector.
- In case you don't have exact amount then insert higher bill. Your change will come out from the machine.
- Your current balance will appear on the screen
- Take your card

Though Tokyo's Metros and subways are operated by different companies you can interchange their cards such as Suica and Pasmo in all their stations. Because of this we were able to visit the following places using our Suica cards only.

- Disneyland
- Disneysea
- Ginza
- Odaiba
- Akihabara
- Shibuya / Harajuku / Shinjuku
- Nakamise/Sensoji Temple
- Nippori (Keisei Skyliner)
- Yoyogi Park/Meiji Shrine
- Tokyo Tower

In addition, always bear in mind that nothing comes cheap in Tokyo (except Gundam and Uniqlo products) including train fare. Each of us consumed 3,500 Yen, excluding 500 Yen deposit, just to visit the places I have posted above. I heard Suica card can also be used in vending machines; we didn't try since we have to find ways to consume our loose change or coins.

with Keisei Skyliner ticket

Finally, we also used our Suica card to purchase Keisei Skyliner tickets at Nippori station on our trip back to Narita airport. Upon arrival at Narita airport terminal 2, I surrendered our 5 Suica cards to Narita Express counter at the basement level. For each card, I received 500 Yen deposit while a refund fee of 220 Yen was deducted from the existing balance.

Our Tokyo Journals:

Practical tips for Filipinos applying for Japan visa in Philippines
Does your flight lands at Narita airport T1 or T2?
Our first day - Arrival and explore Harajuku & Odaiba
Our second day - Tokyo Disneyland
Our third day - Tokyo Disneysea & explore Akihabara
Our fourth day - Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Ginza, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku & Tokyo Tower
Our fifth day - Sayonara Tokyo!
Baffled by Tokyo's rail network? Try Suica card.
Big apartment near JR Harajuku Station


  1. All in all, how much did you spend per person during your Japan trip, excluding the air fare? I've been to Singapore before and I found the cost of living too expensive. Is it around the same in Tokyo?

    1. Without airfare, around 25 k pesos each.. It is more expensive to visit Japan. The only things that you can buy cheap in Japan are Uniqlo and Gundam products.