I was so very excited to be visiting Japan earlier this year as part of our latest and most recent six-month trip around amazing Asia.
In Japan, we were planning a two-week long four-city sight-seeing adventure, taking in Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Tokyo and Osaka.
Our itinerary in Japan would mean taking trains – including the famously fast bullet trains – as well as ferries and flights to get around the cities and also between the cities so, I’m wondering, should I buy a Suica Card? And, what about a JR Pass?
It seems they are BOTH essential items in the visitor to Japan toolkit. So I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned!
Should I Buy A Suica Card?
We planned to use a Suica Card to not only facilitate ease of travel in Japan but to take advantage of discounted travel rates.
It’s important to know that you MUST buy your Suica Card and your Japanese Rail Cards (JR Cards) online and ahead of your arrival in Japan!
WHAT IS A SUICA CARD
The Suica card is a prepaid electronic and contactless travel card that allows you to move easily around Japanese cities without having to worry about buying individual fare tickets.
To use it you simply touch the Suica Card to the IC Reader.
You can easily keep your card topped up with money at local convenience stores and stations and it is then valid for trains, buses, subways, ferries, storage lockers, and even for buying stuff from vending machines and for shopping in some convenience stores.
HOW TO GET A SUICA CARD
Once we landed in Fukuoka Japan and after completing immigration we went and collected our WELCOME SUICA CARDS at the Klook Collection Centre in the airport arrivals hall.
We had bought our cards online ahead of our arrival in Japan using KLOOK (not an affiliate link) because we were already travelling and Klook allows you to pick up the card from their designated collection points once you get in Japan.
The Suica card is not the only IC prepaid card in Japan as there are several other cards work the same way but from personal experience, I recommend a Suica Card when using public transportation.
TWO IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT SUICA CARDS
You can normally buy a regular Suica Card from machines at train stations once in Japan. But due to a worldwide chip shortage (summer 2023) it has been getting more difficult to buy a regular Suica card on arrival in Japan. However, Welcome Suica cards which are made for tourists and which are only valid for 28 days are still available at the airports.
SUICA CARD EXPIRY
The 28 days validity period of the Welcome Suica Card includes the purchasing date. That means the 28 days start when you purchase your card so when buying ahead of time and online this can be a problem. You should not therefore buy too far in advance of your arrival in Japan and calculate the number of days of your stay to ensure these are covered in those 28 days.
WHY DO I NEED A SUICA CARD IN JAPAN?
If you don’t have a Suica card then you will need to buy a ticket from a ticket machine at the train station every time you change lines. The stations are usually crowded and once you’ve found the right ticket machine (and there are many) and waited in line to buy the fare ticket you need you’ll have probably missed your train.
The Suica card is by far the easiest way to use public transportation. You can use your Suica Card easily while travelling around on buses and trams and ferries and in the many vending machines everywhere in Japan.
You just buy a card, charge it with money, and tap it each time you enter and leave the public transport of your choice. You can see your balance displayed when you tap your card at the exit gate. The fare is calculated and deducted automatically according to the exit destination.
So my BIG TRAVEL TIP for you is to arrange your Suica Card ahead of travel to make travelling around Japan not only easier but more fun and more affordable too.
JR TRAVEL PASSES
The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is meant for tourists who want to use the airport express trains and visit several cities in a short time using Japanese Railways. The JR Pass is a tourist pass only and it is discounted.
You can choose a Standard Pass or a Green Pass (1st Class) for 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days.
So with a 7,14, or 21 day pass, doing several long-distance train trips – including using the Shinkansen Bullet Train – you’ll save a heap of Yen from your very first journey.
The Shinkansen Bullet Train will take you quickly (currently operating at 200 mph but they are getting faster) and comfortably to other regions in Japan. Japanese trains can be divided into five types: local train, rapid train, express train, limited express train and shinkansen.
But if you are only staying in one city or region then the JR Pass will never be worth it.
To help you find out if a Japan Rail Pass is worth it for your itinerary check out the Japan Rail Pass calculator.
PLEASE NOTE: As of October 2023, you cannot buy a JR Pass in Japan anymore. You must order and pay for it online and then with your ‘Exchange Order’ receipt you can collect it on arrival at a designated collection point or have it delivered to a Japanese address. E.G. Hotel.
There’s more information on this at the official JR Pass Website.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SUICA AND JR PASS?
SUICA CARD VS JR PASS
The JR Pass is a pre-paid 7, 14, or 21 day tourist pass that is personal to you and allows you unlimited discounted rides on JR train lines throughout Japan. It is used to move from one Japanese city to another. You can also present it in station ticket offices to choose seats on your long-distance train. You can choose a Green (First Class Pass) or a Standard Pass.
The Suica Card is a IC ‘tappable’ and ‘top up-able’ transportation payment card accepted on buses, subways, trams, trains, ferries, vending machines and lockers and some convenience stores where you can easily top up your Suica Card when your balance gets low. The Welcome Suica card is valid for tourist stays of up to 28 days.
I hope this article has been helpful.
Do check out all my posts on our amazing trip to Japan.
Are you planning a trip to Japan?
To what cities will you be travelling?
Will you be using the Bullet train?
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