Late the night before Typhoon Hagibis had passed, and we had no idea what destruction, if any, it had left behind in the streets of Tokyo. I went up to our roof top terrace for some fresh air and to look at the view. The storm had left behind nice cool fresh air and a slight breeze, and from the view we could tell that at least power seemed to have stayed on for the majority of the city. But what would we find tomorrow as we headed out for our first full day exploring Tokyo.
Episode 3: https://youtu.be/V5IgRgkUdXs
As we headed out for the day we were amazed at how little effect the typhoon seemed to have had on the city. We weren’t far from home yet, and still had many places to visit, but so far so good. The most we saw were leaves and small branches which had been swept around by the storm. As we got into the train station we did notice some delays, and some trains still not running. The first spot we chose to go visit was impossible at that time of the day because the train line heading that way was still not up and running. But luckily the Yamanote Line was going and we changed our plans and headed towards Harajuku to visit Meiji Shrine.
As we navigated the train station, charged up our Suica cards and headed for the gates I came to realize that the whole train network in Tokyo could be rather daunting to new visitors to the city. And it definitely would be if you came with little preparation. There is one thing that can take the majority of the complications and unknowns out of the equation, an IC card.
There are two main IC cards to chose from in Tokyo, the Suica Card and the PASMO Card. Well actually, before I get too far ahead of myself, what exactly is an IC card?
An IC card is a rechargeable contactless payment card, which means you load money onto the card and then use it to pay for various things. You can use it at convenience stores, vending machines, shops, restaurants, and of course transportation. They are very convenient and will make life much easier for you as you visit Tokyo, or pretty much any large city in Japan.
Where they really shine for tourists is in making transportation much easier to navigate. Without an IC card you’d be left to figure out how to buy individual fare tickets at the automated kiosks found at every train station. Operating the kiosks are not so bad, but getting the hang of calculating how much your fare will be can be a struggle. Especially when you have to transfer across multiple rail company services. With an IC card you ignore all of this and simply tap your card as you enter and leave the gates of your origin and destination train stations. It will figure out how much the trip cost and deduct it from your balance. The gate will even show you how much your trip cost and the remaining balance on your card. It’s rather genius!
Back to the actual cards, in Tokyo there are two cards to chose from, Suica and PASMO. They are identical in terms of usage and which you get will depend largely on which you find first. I would suggest getting your card as soon as you are going to be taking a mode of transport that accepts it. You can purchase one at the automated ticket machines in train stations. Then get used to quickly pulling it out and tapping as you enter the gates, and remember to have it at the ready to tap when you leave at your destination.
A few things to keep in mind:
– There is a 500 yen refundable deposit you must pay to receive a card. This will be added to your initial charge amount, usually the minimum will be 1000 yen, making your first charge 1500 yen.
– You can get a refund of the remaining balance and your deposit when you turn in your card before you leave. But note that there will be a 220 yen handling fee deducted from your refund. Or if you are like us and plan to return, keep it!
– If you do keep it remember that there is a 10 year expiry from time of last usage.
– You must load your card with cash, you cannot use a credit card, unless you use our hack below!
We’ve only ever used Suica cards, and in fact still have our Suica cards from our first trip in 2007. We’ve never had a problem and have enjoyed using them for purchases, restaurants along with transportation. In recent years Suica has decided to keep with the times and you can now load your Suica card onto your iPhone (and I assume Android) making it even more convenient. You can set the Suica to be your primary transit card so you simply have to tap your phone to a reader, you don’t have to load the card up on your iPhone.
And this is actually where the hack I mentioned earlier comes in. You can load your Suica on your iPhone with Apple Pay, which means your credit card! On our last few trips this has been amazing. You can load the Suica card right from your phone, no waiting for an automated machine. And the best part is if you collect some sort of points on your credit card you can not maximize point collection. Before you’d obviously lose all that potential as you loaded your IC card with cash. But now all those expenses can be earning you points. Amazing!
I hope these details will help you navigate IC cards when you come to visit Tokyo. If you have any specific questions please ask them below and I will do my best to help you and possibly update this article. If you’d like to see me make a video detailing some of this let me know that as well!
There were several locations featured in this episode
- Ikebukuro Station – The second busiest train station in the world is our home station while we spend our month in Tokyo. Like many of the large train stations in Japan, you could spend a whole day in there exploring, shopping and eating.
- Harajuku Station – A smaller station servicing the Harajuku neighbourhood and located right beside Meiji Shrine.
- Meiji Jinju – This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, who were deified after their deaths.
- Harajuku Gyoza – An out of this world gyoza restaurant we tried to have lunch at. Unfortunately the typhoon impacted the early morning trains so they were not ready to serve by the time we needed to eat. We visited this restaurant in 2016, check out that visit here.
- Kohmen Harajuku – Chain restaurant we settled on and both decided to have ramen. It was good, but didn’t blow us away.
- Negishi – An amazing chain restaurant specializing in beef tongue, Sendai’s speciality. We were happy to have found it and really enjoyed our meals. Would eat here again, and I think we do!
- Family Mart – A Family Mart location we thought was a special location because of the fancy building it was in. Alas, it was just your ordinary Family Mart, which was really a big disappointment to be honest. Although, all the convenience stores we visited this day were rather bare. The typhoon affected their abilities to get restocked.
Thanks for watching/reading!