TOKYO >> Visitors to Japan can go cashless while traveling across the country, now that major rail operators have released prepaid, reloadable transportation cards, called IC cards, for tourists.
The Welcome Suica cards, offered by East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, add to a growing number of support services amid an influx of foreign travelers. The cards were released Sept. 1.
As with JR East’s regular Suica IC cards, the cards can be used to pay fares on buses, trains and metro lines as well as taxis, and to buy goods at convenience stores, kiosks, vending machines or grocery stores. They will also be accepted for payment at eateries that support the payment service.
“Improving travelers’ experience and making it more convenient is our main goal,” said a spokesman for JR East.
The cards, featuring white cherry blossom flowers on a red background, inspired by Japan’s flag, are available in six versions, with balances ranging from 1,000 yen (about $9.25) to 10,000 yen. The primary benefit of the service is that foreign visitors aren’t required to pay an initial 500 yen deposit, which is required for JR’s regular prepaid cards. The exemption will save travelers from having to stand in line to get the deposit refunded at the end of their trip.
Pasmo Co., the issuer of Pasmo IC cards for rail operators including Tokyo Metro Co., has also released its own Pasmo Passport card, with a design that features Japan’s beloved mascot Hello Kitty and two other Sanrio characters, set against a backdrop of cherry blossoms and popular sightseeing spots such as Mount Fuji and the Tokyo Skytree. The initial price is 2,000 yen, including an issuance fee of 500 yen.
Both cards can be purchased at Narita and Haneda airports, as well as at railway pass counters and tourist information centers at Tokyo’s major stations including Ueno, Shinjuku, Ginza, Tokyo and Shibuya. Cards can be used for 28 days and can be reloaded at train stations nationwide. They often come with other benefits, such as gifts and discounts at some hotels and stores.
Balances on cards are not refunded, and the cards can’t be reissued. But according to operators, travelers can keep them as souvenirs.