Many of the electronic IC cards issued for travel in various cities and regions are compatible with each other.
These cards, similar to London’s “Oyster”, have been introduced in all of Japan’s major cities in recent years, and are convenient to use on the public transport systems of that area. But now most of them have been integrated so that if you possess one of the cards, you can use it on the public transport systems of other cities around Japan. The following ten IC cards have become interchangeable:
KITACA (Sapporo), SUICA (Eastern Japan), PASMO (Tokyo), PITAPA (Kansai), TOICA (Central), MANACA (Nagoya), ICOCA (Western Japan), SUGOCA, NIMOCA & HAYAKAKEN (Fukuoka & Kyushu area).
The cards can be used on buses, city metro networks and private railways, and also at shops accepting e-money. They can be bought at major JR stations in each of the applicable areas.
The Tokyo Metro and most other urban train networks in Japan include some JR lines and some services provided by private railways. This can make fares and ticketing a little complicated. But an IC card covers everything: just swipe in and out at the ticket barriers. So IC card is definitely worth considering, for the added convenience if you intend doing much travel within major cities.
Typically they come with an amount of credit already loaded (Yen 2,000 or 2,500) and can be topped up at ticket machines (English available).
Please note that you are only able to get a refund on unused credit and/or the 500 yen deposit on the card at a major JR station in the area where you bought it. Please be sure to consider this when topping up your card. Also note that they cannot be used for inter-city travel between one card’s area and another, or on the Bullet train.
For all inter-city rail travel including the Bullet train (Shinkansen), you should buy the Japan Rail Pass before departing for Japan.