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The Ultimate Guide; The prepaid transportation card in Japan

the ultimate guide the prepaid card transportation card in japan Travel Guide

In Japan, public transportation is well developed, especially in major cities, people don’t need to drive cars around.

To travel around Japanese major cities, using public transportation is much easier than driving a rental car on the left side road with the right-side steering wheel, different traffic rules, and pricy parking lots in downtown.

You have many opportunities to use public transportation more if you visit big cities during your trip.

However, don’t you want to skip stopping every time for purchasing tickets, especially change transportations?

Although you are Japan Rail Pass holder, subways and buses are more available to see around IN the city.

The handiest weapon is the prepaid transportation card, which is refundable and rechargeable. It can also be used on buses, and other public transports, as well as at convenience stores, restaurants, and vending machines.

So I am going to tell you about the prepaid transportation card for your travel to Japan.

IC card

ic card in japan*Manaca and Toica

In Japan, the prepaid public transportation card called the “IC card” is really common.

Once you purchase an IC card (you can get it via a ticket vending machine), just use the IC card everywhere and any transportation where “IC” mark on.

Even though IC cards issued by different companies in different regions, they are enabled to use for most major public transportations.

The design of IC cards is different from each company, for example, IC cards above are “Manaka” and “Toica”,

“Manaka” is issued by “Transportation Bureau, City of Nagoya” which owns Nagoya city subways, buses.

“Toika” is issued by the “JR Tokai company” which owns local overground trains to cover the city and suburbs.

You can use both cards between Nagoya city & Nagoya Railway company’s subways, buses, and other types of transportations, JR lines, and available for transportations nationwide.

Basically you can’t use IC card for Shinkansen ride unless you register “Smart EX” which is cashless system of Tokaido & Sanyo Shinkansen for mainly Japanese frequent passengers.

Compatible nationwide

ic cards in japan

On March 23, 2013, the interoperation of 10 transportation IC cards started nationwide.

You don’ t have to think too much if you see the “IC” mark on the scanner, mostly succeed paying.

I think you have no chance to use “Pitaka” in Kansai region, only Pitaka has more regulation.

ic card mark

Kitaca (Hokkaido): JR Hokkaido trains, subways, buses and trams in the Sapporo and surrounding areas, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Pasmo (Tokyo area): Most major transportation in Tokyo and suburbs, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Suika (Tokyo area): JR East trains and most major transportation in Tokyo and suburbs, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Toica (Central Region): JR Tokai trains in Nagoya and the suburbs, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Manaca (Nagoya): Nagoya city subways, buses, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

*Pitapa (Osaka area): Kansai railway and subway operators outside of JR (*postpaid card, not easy to use in other regions).

Icoca (Western region): JR West trains in Kansai, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Hayakaken (Kyusyu area): Fukuoka Subway in Fukuoka city and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Nimoca (Kyusyu area): Nishitetsu trains and buses in Fukuoka and suburbs, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

Sugoca (Kyusyu area): JR Kyushu for Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Oita, and Nagasaki regions, and available for use throughout all regions of Japan.

While each card are compatible in diffrent regions, you can only get your money refunded from the particular office for that particular card. It also means that if you purchase a card in Tokyo but depart Japan from another city in other region, you won’t be able to get a refund because the card-issue comapnies are different. 

How to get the IC card

The Ticket Maschine in Japan

manaca ticket vending machine nagoya station

These IC cards can be purchased from ticket vending machines at stations.

Find a ticket vending machine, and make sure it’s available in your language and credit card payments if needed.

ticket vending machine screen

Generally, changing the language button is in the upper right position on the screen or the push button on the left side of the screen in most of my cases.

suica colored ticket maschine

At some major stations, you can find the colored machines (mostly the same color as the IC card), it means the special machine for IC cards only to purchase and charge money.

  1. Change a language setting and make sure it accepts credit card or yo have enough cash.
  2. Select the “IC Card” section.
  3. Press the “Purchase a New (IC card)” button.
  4. Select the type of IC card, which is “**Registered card” or “Blank (regular) card”. Just make it easy, I always buy a regular card.
  5. Select and pay the initial purchase of how much you want to put money on the card.

**Register card is the personalized card in which your name, age, and other information will be printed on the front of the card. The most reason for personalized the card is in case you lose the card, they will give you a new card that exact money is charged on.

However, you have to bring your ID when you return the card, so I will recommend buy the regular blank card and don’t charge big money on it.

In Japan, you can recharge money inside of the gate in case the card doesn’t have enough money for the ride, so don’t worry about it.

The ticket office

ticket office*JR ticket offce, “Midori no Madoguchi”

You can buy an IC card at the ticket office of the major station.

“Station Master Office” “Information center” or “Ticket office”, where you also use it when you get a refund.

  • Ticket office in JR line…”Midori no Madoguchi” (みどりの窓口)
  • The common “station master office” called…”Eki Cho Shitsu” (駅長室)

Just touch IT

ticket gate in japan

When you are going through the ticket gates at station, go to the gate said “IC”,  simply touch the card to the reader. 

When you exit at your destination, repeat the same thing. 

In Japan, you need the ticket even when you get off.


If the card are shortage of the fare, don’t be panic.

You can find the charge maschine by the gate, you can recharge money on the card. 

Only thing, carry cash all the time in Japan!

There is no guarantee that the charge maschine accept credit card payment, especially at not busy station.

By the way, don’t do this in London. They will charge fine next time you charge money on the card called “Oyster card”. 

charge maschine inside the gate*A IC card charge maschine

The extra fee for the special car

When you use the IC card, it means you can get on regular cars.

If a transportation that you will use have special cars such as airport shuttle, sightseeing shuttle train, you are required to pay the extra fee for it.

Money Charge 

You can do with a ticket vending machine (doesn’t matter issued company), or at the convenience store.

How to check the balance on the card?

  • A quick-look the scanner display on the ticket gate
  • A ticket vending machine
  • An IC card charge machine
  • A drink vending machine with IC card reader
  • Check a receipt when you shop at a convenience store
  • ATM machine at Seven-eleven (Seven Bank)

When you touch the reader when you get out the gate, the balance shows up on but it needs a technique a little bit before getting used to.

Other easy ways are just to insert the card of the ticket vending machine or charge machines or scan the card on the drink vending machines that have IC card scanners.

The ticket vending machine at the station

With the ticket vending machine, simply repeat the same order when you purchase the card.

  1. Change the language setting and make sure the payment. (Cash or credit card)
  2. Select the “IC card” section.
  3. Insert your IC card.
  4. Press the “Charge” button.
  5. Select money how much you want to add on, and pay.

At the convenience store


At a convenience store, tell a staff that you want to charge, and place your IC card on the reader by a cashier.

Japanese Lesson

I would like to charge “¥0,000 on this (the IC card).

kore ni 0,000 yen charge shitainodesuga

  • ¥2,000…NI sen yen
  • ¥3,000…SAN zen yen
  • ¥5,000…GO sen yen
  • ¥10,000…ICHI man yen

Seven Bank at seven-eleven

seven eleven illustration

Find ATM machine in seven-eleven convenience stores, called Seven Bank.

Simply insert your IC card, follow the direction on the screen. English is available.

Refund Your Card Before Leaving Japan

If you don’t care about keeping the IC card as a souvenir, you can refund it before leaving Japan.

Remember, you can only refund the IC card at a major station of the same company that issues the card.

The refund will be the balance on your card, and the ¥500 deposit you paid,

But, only when you leave the balance on the card, they will refund the money minus ¥200 commission.

IC card refund

Refundable Amount = Remaining Balance – Commission Fee (220 yen) + Deposit (500 yen)

If it does’t make sence to you, just spend all money for shopping at convenience sotres or other facilities that accept IC card paayments.

And make the balance ¥0, so that you don’t lose ¥220.

Non-deposit IC card for overseas travelers

“Suica” and “Pasmo” started to sell special “IC card” for overseas travelers.

It is required to show the passport when you purchase both cards.

“Welcome Suica” doesn’t require to put a deposit on, but it will be used for 28 days’ limited and also don’t have a refund policy.

Prices of the card start from ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥3,000, ¥4,000, ¥5,000, ¥10,000.

It is available at JR EAST Travel Service Center (Narita Airport Station, Airport Terminal 2 Station, Tokyo Monorail Line in Haneda Airport International Terminal Station, Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, Ikebukuro Station, Ueno Station, Hamamatsucho Station), Narita Station Airport Station, Airport Terminal 2 Station.

Welcome Suica

“Pasmo Passport” also doesn’t require to put a deposit on, valid for 28 days  and non-refund policy.

The price is ¥2,000 (¥1,500 + ¥500 issu commision fee), avairable for Narita & Haneda airports and the major staions in Tokyo area. 

Pasmo Passport

Those cards are used as well as regular transportation cards if you want to the special design of the transportation IC card as the souvenir and want to skip the refund procedure, it may one of the options.

Shopping with IC card

ic card mark

Wherever you can see the “IC” mark, you can purchase with the IC card.

At a convenience store, restaurant, stores, just tell them you want to use the IC card.

IC card reader vending machine

Also, most vending musicians at stations, you can buy a drink with the IC card.


The transportation IC card can be one of the most beneficial items during traveling in Japan.

It doesn’t hurt your budget, moreover, it reduces so many hassles.

In case you lose, don’t put too much money on the card.

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