This is post #3 in my five post series about the magic of the “IC Card” (parts 1 and 2 available for your viewing pleasure as well, of course). Although this post series focuses largely on the “Suica” and “PASMO” cards commonly used in East Japan, there are other cards throughout the country!
This post will focus on the use of the IC card for shopping!
I’ll admit it. I rarely use my IC card to shop. There are two reasons.
1) I always have cash.
2) I never have much money on my card because I am always afraid I’m going to drop it.
I DID drop a Suica once in Ikebukuro station. As best I can remember, the card escaped from my purse as I was pulling my phone from the same pocket where the Suica was stored. The Suica came out at the same time as my phone and dropped to the floor. Ikebukuro is a noisy, busy station, so I didn’t noticed until a few minutes later (I think) when I approached the ticket gate and couldn’t find my card. I immediately inquired at the nearest station desk about any very recently found Suica cards, but was out of luck. I swore loudly at the $20 my clumsiness had just cost me.
I’m now more careful with my Suica (it’s kinda like a super fast debit card), but I still only keep around 1000 yen on it at any given time. I’m just sure that when I finally do charge it again I’ll drop the thing and then be out money.
People say “Get a case! Then you can attach it to your bag!”
I have a case. It was a gift from a place where I worked for a couple months on a short term project. I…cannot seriously see myself using this.
Also, getting the card in and out is NOT easy. Perhaps there is a better case out there for me somewhere. I digress. Kind of. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you should get a card case.
So, shopping. Last week I headed to Tokyo station with a charged-up PASMO card with 10,000 yen. It came from a magical land about which I am not permitted to write.
While at Tokyo station, myself and the lovely Vivian (of lost in seoul) were taken to a shop I had never seen before: The “Pengsta” shop.
As I mentioned in post 1 of this series, Suica’s mascot (GOTTA HAVE A MASCOT) is a penguin. Apparently, according to Suica’s wikipedia page, penguins move smoothly through water, much like the smooth way passengers and shoppers use their IC cards.
Come on, JR. You picked a penguin because it’s cute. I’m on to you.
Additionally, the wikipedia also states that “sui sui”, the onomatopoeia which translates roughly to doing something “smoothly” or “swiftly” figured into the naming of the card. This suggests that users can “smoothly” use their card in a number of places.
My experiences were all “smooth” and “swift” and “penguin-like”. I even probably waddled a few times.
Now. Let us begin. Here are some things you can buy.
NOTE: IF YOU LIVE IN AMERICA AND KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO BE RECEIVING A PACKAGE FROM ME, STOP READING NOW AND WAIT UNTIL YOU GET YOUR PACKAGE. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. MOM.
First! A Suica Penguin hotpad. I chose him for his somewhat reserved expression. I look forward to using this hotpad in my kitchen. I’m sure I’ll create some very disturbing penguin-torture dialogue when I have to use it to interact with very hot items.
INSIDE Tokyo station (you have to pass through the ticket gates to enter) is Gransta, a shopping area where you can buy food, souvenirs, flowers, and…beer.
I’d heard of this little standing bar a few times before, but I’m rarely on the east side of the city, so I’d never had the inclination to come and check it out. A few minutes of poking around and I located the place behind some bread/confectionary sellers. They advertise more than 100 different kinds of craft beer! I was thrilled. This little counter is standing only. It’s like the airport bar of train stations. When I walked up and ordered, the woman next to me chatted with me briefly for a few minutes before heading off to catch her train.
With a beer in me, I then set out to pick up a few consumable goodies for some special folk back in the states!
Finally, I also picked up a hunk of rosemary foccacia bread because I am weak.
With that, I scurried out of the Gransta shopping area and off to my subway home.
In addition to using my card at the station shops, I used it at a nearby family mart to pick up some things. The JR East website has a big list of places where you can use your card for shopping and dining both inside stations and outside stations (in Japanese, but you can look at the logos for quick reference). This includes bookstores like Kinokuniya and Book off, Bic Camera, and Yodobashi Camera. I was also informed that the restaurants in Lumine EST (a popular shopping location for young women in Shinjuku) also accepts IC cards.
If you’re ever unsure if a place will take an IC card, just look next to the register for an IC card reader. Alternatively, many places also have a sticker near the register with a Suica/IC card symbol to show that the cards are accepted. Here’s one I spotted at my local supermarket.
One more thing that amazes me is the HOME IC Card reader. I do not have experience with this, but I know it’s possible: if you buy an IC card reader (yes, you can do this), you can use an IC card for internet shopping (with merchants who accept them). Some computers in Japan also come with built in IC Card readers. I often read about expats in Japan who face online-shopping related struggles because credit cards can be difficult to get (that’s a whole other topic). IC Cards COULD be a good solution, provided the online place you’re shopping will accept that form of payment.
I made a pretty big dent in my PASMO balance in Tokyo station, but still had more to spend! I used the rest over the following week for transportation and drinks/snacks here and there. It’s a time saver, for sure. Be sure to take advantage of this handy feature. Shops inside stations will all accept IC cards, so go crazy! If you run out of money…Post #4 will be a quick tutorial on arguably the most important part of being an IC card owner: charging your card.