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Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – IC “Smart” Commute Cards

Suica Card

Daniel here. Reporting for

Japan, and especially Tokyo, is full of commuters; people going from the outside parts of Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures to work in the city, and students moving in all directions. Just this month, many of these commuters have had their commute habits simplified with the event of Pasmo, an IC (Integrated Circuit) card which can be used on most trains and busses in Japan.

Japan’s transportation system is one of the most convenient in the world. Trains, subways, monorails, busses, ferry boats, and taxis can get you to your destination wherever that might be in this archipelago nation. Most people can get along fine without owning a car. While I do own a car, I mostly use it to go shopping at Costco.

When I first started living in Japan, I would either buy a ticket for each ride on the train, or I would buy a pack of eleven tickets for the price of ten for a specific route. These are called 回数券 (かいすうけん). There was also a prepaid card called the Orange Card. With this card, one could quickly purchase a ticket at the ticket machine without using cash. However, this process still took time.

I remember one time I went to see U2 in concert. The friend I went with insisted we buy return tickets before the show because he rightly understood there would be ridiculously long lines after the show. That was a smart move.

Then, a number of years back, the iO (pronounced イーオ, ee-oh) Card was introduced for JR (Japan Railways) lines. This is also a prepaid card. But this card could be inserted into the wicket which would automatically update the balance as one enters and exits stations. This card really increased efficiency, saving passengers a trip to the ticket-selling machines and reducing lines. Commuters could also purchase passes between two set destinations at a reduced rate. With the event of the iO card, these passes could be used in the same wicket card readers.

Then came the Suica IC card about 5 years ago. With this card, if one’s commute was on the JR train lines, one could not only avoid the ticket-selling machines on their commute, but they could also pass through the wicket gates without taking their pass out of its case or their wallet. IC sensors were placed on the top of the wicket gates and people could simply put the card near the sensor and it would update the balance or check the route without being inserted into the wicket or even being removed from wallets, cases or purses. This card can be used as a 定期券 or as an iO Card, or both.

The problem for many commuters and other passengers is that they need to use a combination of JR, private lines and subways to get to their destination, and could not use the Suica Card on these other lines. Most of these other lines, and even some busses and ferries could use a card just like JR’s iO Card called Passnet. However this required carrying separate cards and the Passnet card did not have IC capabilities.

Now, at last, there is an IC version of the Passnet called Pasmo. And in addition to adding IC, this card is compatible with Suica system on most routes. The Suica Card also works with the Pasmo system. The card and the reader automatically charge your card for the rate between the two systems. Now, when I go to the offices, I can do it with only my Suica Card. べんりですね!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.