Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Suica Adventure


A few days ago, I went on a little adventure involving a train pass, Tokyo station and lots of penguin-themed merchandise: not a bad day for me. As many of you probably already know, I'm a bit of a train 'nerd'. I love learning more about the Japanese train system and its history, and I'm fascinated with the Shinkansen (in fact, I believe I listed the Shinkansen as a reason for moving to Japan…). Even though I'm not the kind of otaku who stands by the tracks to take photos of arriving trains or the type who participates in weekly clubs (oh yes, they exist), I am definitely enthusiastic about the subject.

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

Robot paraphernalia 

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.

Penguin everything

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


Christine said...

Wow that's very convenient to have a pass that can let you shop as well. Wish we have a similar system here in North America. We are so behind.

Vivian said...

Yes, Canada needs to catch up, I remember that… I guess people don't use public transportation as much, but still! I always did. Shopping with the train pass is so dangerous… in a good way :))

Mairefosho said...

I always felt super special and exotic using my Suica card down in Hiroshima when everyone else was rocking the Icoca! And I never knew you could use it in the stores at the station (haha probably a good thing)! I wonder how long the credit takes to expire coz it's still in my wallet now with a few yenny on it just waiting for the day I return to Japan!

Vivian said...

mairefosho- the credit is good forever it seems!! you can def use it when you come back, which i hope you do soon! hope all is well xx

Malice said...

I love the suica penguin! Its so cute! Tokyo station is awesome! I love the character st underneath! I agree with you about the shinkansen as it is so cool! I took so many photos of them when I was in Japan the first time especially when they were connected and looked like kissing snakes. So adorable!

エメリ said...

I really miss my adventures in Tokyo! The trains took me everywhere in no time! As I live in a small town in the forrest in Sweden now, I have to wait for the bus 1 hour if I am unlucky :'(

Andy Omae said...

I totally took too many pictures and videos of Shinkansens arriving and leaving. And too many from inside, but I did get some great photos of Mt. Fuji. Lucky to have 2 clear days to do so. I've promised myself not to take too many pictures when I go back to Japan next month! Not of the shinkansen anyways. :)

Vivian said...

Andy: I can understand that, I'm kind of obsessed with trains too ;)

leslie nikole said...

squeeeaaallll! you followed me on instagram and i'm absolutely in LOVE with your blog! i'm supposed to be going to seoul and tokyo this summer, so i'm definitely using your blog for pointers!

Andy Omae said...

I caught myself taking pictures of Shinkansen again...Wednesday to Okayama, and again coming back to Shinagawa from a short trip to Atami today.

And I'm going to assume I'll be doing the same on the trip to Nagoya tomorrow.


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