National

JR East and Tokyo Metro to debut special IC cards aimed at tourists

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

From Sunday, visitors to Japan will be able to go cashless while traveling across the country, with major rail operators set to release new rechargeable prepaid transportation IC cards for tourists.

The Welcome Suica cards, to be offered by East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, add to a growing number of support services amid an influx of foreign travelers.

As with JR East’s regular Suica IC cards, it will be possible to use the special cards 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,” a spokesman for JR East told The Japan Times by phone.

The cards, featuring white cherry blossom flowers on a red background as a representation of Japan’s flag, will be available in six versions with balances ranging from ¥1,000 to ¥10,000. The JR East spokesman explained the main benefit of the service is that foreign visitors don’t need to pay an initial ¥500 deposit, which is required for JR’s regular prepaid cards. He said the exemption will save travelers from having to line up 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., is also set to release its own Pasmo Passport card on the same day, with a design that features Japan’s beloved mascot Hello Kitty and two other characters by cartoon-maker Sanrio Co. set against a backdrop of cherry blossoms and popular sightseeing spots — Mount Fuji and the Tokyo Skytree. The initial price will be ¥2,000, including an issuance fee of ¥500.

Both cards can be charged at train stations nationwide, and they will come with other benefits such as gifts and discounts at some hotels or stores.

The 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.

Both cards can only be used for a period of up to 28 days after which the card holders will receive an error when trying to proceed with e-money payment transactions.

It may not be possible to use automated gates to exit at the destination station if the cards have been used for a journey that straddles different rail service areas.

Money charged onto the cards will not be refunded, and the cards can’t be reissued. But according to the operators, travelers will be able to keep the cards as souvenirs. The campaign is limited to travelers.

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