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CHARGE! (IC card series #4)

Hello again, it’s time for Post #4 of my five post series about IC cards! If you missed them, Parts 1, 2, and 3 are all available for your viewing pleasure. Today’s post will be short and sweet, much like charging an IC card. This is something you have to do periodically if you expect to continue using your card and enjoying your “sui sui” life.

Whenever you make a purchase or use your card for transportation, you can check the balance on the card. If you’re shopping, you’ll see the card balance at the bottom of your receipt beneath the prices of the items you’ve purchased.

If you’re using your card for transportation, you can check the balance on the panel on the subway/train turnstiles as you enter and exit the platform area.

If you just want to check your card without using it, you can just stick it in any ticket vending machine and wait a few seconds. Depending on the machine, you may be asked if you want to “charge” your card (say yes), or you may just be automatically taken to the “charge” screen. On the screen, below where all the “charge” options are, you’ll see your current card balance.

If, in any of these cases, your balance is starting to get a little low, congratulations! You have to charge your card.

If you’re paying attention, I’ve already told you two thirds of the things you need to do to accomplish this task.

1) Stick card in ticket vending machine at any station. The slot you want to put your card in should be on the left. It is often marked with an IC card logo, as below. You only need to be at a JR station when you BUY your card. You can charge the cards at just about any ticket vending machine at any station anywhere. Just look for a “PASMO” or “SUICA” symbol on the machine (or your local IC card logo).

A ticket vending machine in Tokyo

2) If you are not taken there automatically upon inserting your card, push the “charge” button (use the English function if you like, but this button is usually the big button on the top of the screen that says チャージ)

3) Choose how much you’d like to charge your card with. You’ll have a number of options on the screen.

4) Put your money in the vending machine.

(4.5) Print a receipt if you want to.

5) Take your card. Continue to frolic throughout the country.

That’s all there is to it.

The only times I have encountered problems are due to technical difficulties. I had an old Suica that was getting rather worn out. When I inserted the card into the machine and initiated the charge, the machine wouldn’t spit it back out. A staff guy opened up the little door behind the vending machine within a few minutes to let me know things were being taken care of and I’d have my card back soon. They used a highly technologically advanced process in an attempt to repair the damage to my card (scotch tape).

The other time I ran into a problem was simply because the machine was out of change. I used a 5,000 yen note to charge my card with 1000 yen or so, but the machine was out of 1000 yen bills. Again, staff guys suddenly appeared to fix me right up. Should this happen to you, chances are you can just nod and smile and you’ll be good to go within a couple minutes.

A few more interesting little notes about charging your card: there is a limit. 20,000 yen (around $200) is the maximum amount you can charge an IC card with at any given time. I suppose this is to prevent serious headaches should people (like me) drop their cards and need a refund.

Another good thing to keep in mind is that the balance on the card is good for up to 10 years. That means if you’re planning on traveling to and from the country multiple times a year, or know you’ll be visiting a lot in the future, you can pick up your card once and use it long term.

If you know you won’t be back, or simply don’t want your card anymore, you can turn your card in with the station staff. There is a 210 yen charge for doing this. You pay a 500 yen deposit when you initially purchase your IC card,so if there’s no balance on the thing, you’ll pay the 210 yen fee from this 500 yen deposit, I believe. If there’s any balance left on the card after this, you’ll get it back in cash.

To my understanding, it is also possible to link a Suica card with a Japanese credit card, but I do not have personal experience with this system. It seems pretty handy; never having to stop to recharge your card, always having money at the ready wherever you go, a bit like a touch-debit card. I imagine most tourists will not be carrying a Japanese credit card, so it seems unlikely this service will be available to visitors. Long term residents, however, might have more luck with this. You’ll have to explore that one on your own.

Okay! That means the next post on the topic is my last post in the series! I hope you read it and learn from a mistake I made on my first day in the country. It wasn’t such a huge mistake in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly stuck with me. Maybe it’ll stick with you too as a good thing NOT to do.


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