Insider Tips for Using Digital Money in Japan on Your Family Holiday

Planning a family holiday to Japan? Get ready to embrace the convenience of digital money! With the rise of cashless payments and innovative solutions like SUICA and Passmo cards, managing your expenses and navigating Japan's bustling cities has never been easier. Here are some insider tips to help you make the most of digital money during your family adventure in Japan:

Embracing Cashless Convenience

1. SUICA and Passmo Cards: Consider getting one of these cards for each family member. These rechargeable smart cards allow you to tap and go on trains, buses, and even at convenience stores, eliminating the need for paper tickets and exact change. Plus, with the recent introduction of in-app functionality, managing and topping up your cards is more convenient than ever. You can buy the regular SUICA card from the automated ticket machines and you can change the language to navigate the purchase process. Or just visit a JR ticket office to buy yours.

2. Download Mobile Apps: Many Japanese businesses, including restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions, now accept mobile payments via apps like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and LINE Pay. Download these apps and link your credit card or digital wallet for seamless transactions on the go. If you own an Apple Watch from Series 3 or later, have another option for a SUICA card: the Apple Wallet. You’ll need to have an eligible payment card in your Wallet, since your journeys will be fuelled by Apple Pay. The process is intuitive and straightforward, but you can follow the instructions from Apple if you get stuck. Not all payment cards will work, but credit card is much more likely to be accepted than debit.

TOP TIP - The JR ticket office in the airports are usually swamped with long lines so save your sanity and use a machine or visit one of the larger offices in all the major JR stations.

Navigating Transportation

3. Tap In and Out: When using SUICA or Passmo cards for transportation, remember to tap your card on the designated reader when entering and exiting train stations or buses. This ensures that the correct fare is deducted from your card, and you won't be charged extra.

4. Seamless Nationwide Usage: Unlike traditional paper tickets, SUICA and Passmo cards are not region-specific. While they are commonly associated with Tokyo, you can use them throughout Japan, including other major cities like Osaka and Kyoto. This means that if you already have a SUICA or Passmo card from one city, you can seamlessly use it in Tokyo and beyond without the need to change cards or transfer balances. Enjoy the convenience of a single smart card for all your transportation needs across Japan, making it easier to explore multiple cities during your family holiday.

  • Nagoya area: manaca and TOICA cards

  • Kansai region (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, etc.): PiTaPa and ICOCA cards

  • Hiroshima area: ICOCA card

  • Fukuoka area: SUGOCA card

Basically, most anywhere with an IC card reader at the ticket gate will accept a Suica card.

One key restriction is that you can’t use it to ride from area to area, unless you buy a shinkansen ticket with it (easier said than done – we recommend QR Code shinkansen tickets). If you are riding from Nagoya to Kyoto for example, you need to end your Suica ride at the edge of one area and restart at the next.

Another limit is that some special trains require an extra “limited express” fare, which is not covered by the Suica card. As well as the shinkansen, this includes the Keisei Skyliner to Narita Airport, and Haruka Express to Kansai International Airport. Buy your ticket for these kinds of trains separately. Ordering online often grants a discount.

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Exploring Dining Options

5. Contactless Payments: Many restaurants and cafes in Japan now offer contactless payment options, allowing you to settle your bill with a simple tap of your smartphone or smart card. Look for the contactless payment symbol displayed at the cashier, and enjoy the convenience of going cashless.

6. Splitting Bills: When dining out with your family, consider using digital money to split the bill evenly among family members. This eliminates the hassle of calculating individual shares and ensures a smooth dining experience for everyone.

Enjoying Shopping and Attractions

7. Cashless Attractions: From theme parks to museums, many tourist attractions in Japan now accept digital payments for ticket purchases and souvenir shopping. Skip the lines and use your SUICA, Passmo, or mobile payment app to enjoy seamless transactions wherever you go.

8. Budget Tracking: Keep track of your family's spending by monitoring your digital money transactions through the SUICA or Passmo app, or directly from your mobile banking app. Set a budget for each day or activity to ensure you stay within your financial limits while enjoying all that Japan has to offer.

Travelling with Children?

9. Family-Friendly Travel with Children: For families traveling with children, SUICA and Passmo cards offer additional benefits to make transportation easier and more affordable. There is a children's versions of these smart cards, specifically designed for young travelers between the ages of 6 and 12. To purchase these cards, you do have to buy from a JR ticket office and show proof of age. But this extra step is well worth it.

10. Reduced Fares for Children: Children between the ages of 6 and 12 can enjoy discounted fares when using SUICA or Passmo cards, paying half the fare of an adult ticket. This not only helps families save money on transportation expenses but also simplifies the process of managing fares for children during your travels. You’ll notice that when a child’s ticket is used - an extra chime is played at the gates. This is to alert the staff so don’t try to sneak through on a child’s ticket or you will have to ask some fairly uncomfortable questions.

11. Free Travel for Young Children: Families with children under the age of 5 can take advantage of Japan's family-friendly transportation policies, as young children travel for free on all public transport, including trains, buses, and trams. This means that families can explore Japan's cities and attractions without worrying about additional fares for their little ones, making it easier to plan and budget for family outings. Children just walk through the gates in front of their parents.

Which transit card to choose?

12. Regular SUICA vs. Tourist SUICA Card: While both the regular SUICA card and the special tourist version offer convenient cashless payment options for transportation and shopping, there are a few key differences to consider. The regular SUICA card is primarily designed for residents and frequent travelers, allowing for easy top-ups and long-term use. On the other hand, the tourist SUICA card is specifically tailored to the needs of visitors to Japan, offering additional benefits such as discounts on transportation and exclusive deals at participating stores and attractions. Additionally, the tourist SUICA card often comes preloaded with a set amount of credit, making it a hassle-free option for travelers who prefer to have everything arranged in advance. Whether you opt for the regular SUICA card or the tourist version, both offer the convenience and flexibility needed to navigate Japan's bustling cities with ease. Choose the card that best suits your travel needs and enjoy a seamless cashless experience during your family holiday in Japan.

13. Returning or Keeping Your SUICA Card: As your family holiday in Japan comes to an end, you have two options for managing your SUICA card. If you've opted for the regular SUICA card, you can choose to keep it for future trips to Japan. Unlike the tourist version, the regular SUICA card does not expire, and any remaining credit is held valid for many years. Simply store your card safely until your next visit, and you'll be ready to go as soon as you arrive in Japan again. Or if you do return this, you will receive your 500 yen deposit back. Many major train stations in Japan have designated ticket refund machines where you can return your card and receive a refund for any remaining credit, minus a small processing fee.

Alternatively, if you've purchased the tourist SUICA card, it's important to note that this card will expire after 30 days from the first use, and any remaining credit will be forfeited. To avoid losing unused funds, consider spending any remaining balance at a convenience store at the airport to buy snacks or any last minute souvenirs. The card is also a souvenir in itself.

Supply chain issues

14. Supply Chain Challenges: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions caused a shortage of SUICA and Passmo cards, impacting availability for travelers. New cards are now only available to locals with a commuter pass. Tourists, however, can get the red Welcome Suica, which lasts for 28 days. Since you can order a Welcome Suica online, it’s the most reliable option for many. Pickup is only at Haneda Airport though.

Paying it forward

15. Paying It Forward with Tokyo Family Stays: As part of our commitment to fostering a sense of community and sustainability, Tokyo Family Stays encourages guests to pay it forward by returning their SUICA cards at the end of their stay. Inside each house book, you'll find a prepaid envelope specifically designed for returning SUICA cards. By sending back your SUICA card, you not only contribute to reducing waste but also have the opportunity to share any unused credit with future guests. Upon receiving returned SUICA cards, we will verify and share the remaining credit and the card itself with another family staying with us, ensuring that they can make the most of their Tokyo experience. Through this simple act of kindness, you can leave a positive impact and help create memorable experiences for fellow travelers while staying at Tokyo Family Stays.

Final Thoughts

With the widespread adoption of digital money and the convenience of SUICA, Passmo cards, and mobile payment apps, navigating Japan with your family has never been more effortless. Embrace the cashless culture, streamline your transactions, and enjoy a stress-free holiday filled with unforgettable experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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