|My Suica card.|
Riding trains in Japan is easy and efficient, thanks to the extensive railway system, and the simplicity of a single swipe to enter the network. Most train users have a rechargeable train card, which can be used on all train lines, so it doesn't matter if you switch from a JR line to the metro to a privately-owned line. In the Greater Tokyo area, the cards are called Pasmo and Suica, and each region in Japan has its own twist. For example, when I lived in Shikoku and Kansai I could use Icoca. They all have cute names and animal mascots, and the best thing is, you can use your card all over Japan. When I travel to Kyoto, I always use my Suica there.
Tourists can also use those cards, as you don't need to be a resident to purchase one. They're so easy to buy from the machine, you can just press the 'English' button and follow the instructions, and charge them with whichever amount (minimum for a Suica is ¥2,000, including the refundable ¥500 deposit). The cards are a great souvenir too after you leave Japan. I highly recommend getting a Suica or Pasmo when traveling around Tokyo, as it avoids the hassle of buying a ticket every single time. Not to mention it's troublesome to insert that paper ticket in the automated gate, and it's easy to lose.
The cards also have a lot more functions than just getting you past the train station gates; you can also GO SHOPPING with them, and this is my absolute favourite part. I actually didn't know you could buy so much with the cards. I knew they were a valid means of payment at any convenience store (think 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, etc), but I had no idea all the shops and cafes inside the JR stations carried this payment mode. For example, you can buy souvenirs inside the station, coffee, bento boxes, and even clothes! The big Uniqlo inside Tokyo station has a card reader, so this could be very dangerous for someone like me. I was also shocked to see you can buy alcohol with your train pass- why not. I'll have to remember for the next time I go broke.
|Kiosks are located on train platforms and in stations|
for a quick snack, newspaper or drink
|Yup, the robot has its own cafe|
I went shopping around the station with my Suica card. The Suica mascot is a penguin, and Tokyo station has a souvenir shop dedicated to the aquatic bird. I picked an insulated tea bottle with the cute mug of the mascot, and a box of strawberry sweets for my boyfriend's family. I also used my Suica to buy a drink from the vending machine- in fact, you can use the card in most vending machines around train stations for a quick refreshment, minus having to fish for change. The vending machine located on the platform was one of those enormous digital futuristic machines, the kind that has a camera and automatically detects your gender and height (and weight, I bet) to recommend a drink for you. They kind of creep me out, but I went for a simple chilled green tea bottle.
|Oven mitt! Too cute for words.|
|Almost went for an iPhone case|
|Blow up penguin|
So, that was my Suica morning at Tokyo station. I forgot to mention how much I love the area around Tokyo station, it's so clean, beautiful and filled with posh boutiques. It's within walking distance of the lush grounds of the Imperial Palace. I wish I could live there!
|Tokyo station is majestic: Tokyo Station Hotel|