Welcome to Japan! Hopefully I can help you live your life in Japan with more convenience. As you travel Japan and start spending money, there are a number of cards you can use to make your life easier. We would like to introduce some of these cards for you below:
1. Transportation: Pasmo/Suica, etc.
Normally when you take the train or subway, you buy the ticket to the destination in advance. Consequently if you have to transfer to another line or route, you may have to purchase another ticket or may be asked to pay the difference in fares upon arrival at the final destination. The train system is complicated in Japan, especially in Tokyo.
Purchasing a ticket is inconvenient for rush hours and/or hopping on a train that comes immediately as you arrive at the station.
To solve this issue, we recommend you hold a chargeable card. This card is purchased at the vending machine of any train station. The name is different in accordance with the company who provides it. Pasmo and Suica are the most popular cards, but any card can be used at most of the train stations in Japan.
When you purchase the card, you are initially required to pay the deposit of 500 yen. That is, when you charge 1,000 yen initially for getting the card, you can use up to 500 yen. You can charge from 1,000 yen up to 10,000 yen at a time.
When you go through the ticket gate at the station with a card, you merely have to touch the card to the sensor at the gate through which you enter. Then, when you reach the destination, you touch the card to the sensor of your exit gate. You will see how much is used for your trip on the screen by the sensor when you exit.
When you need to change lines, you similarly just touch the card to the sensors on the ticket gate to transfer, and continue to your next train. In this way you can quickly transfer trains. If the stored value reaches zero, the ticket gate will not allow you to pass through. In this case, you need to go to the adjustment machine. You can choose whether to pay the shortage amount or recharge some larger amount to the card.
For more information:
When you live in Japan, you will find a plethora of convenience stores along the streets. The major three stores are Seven-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart. Each store has their own card but the service of each card is slightly different.
Seven Eleven: Nanaco card
This card has the charge function. If you do not like to keep coins as change in your wallet, it is a good idea to get this card. You can obtain the card at any Seven Eleven store. Seven Eleven belongs to Seven & I Holdings, and the Seven & I shopping center Ito Yokado also accepts the card. When you purchase anything with the card, you are eligible to get points, e.g. 100 Yen = 1 point. You can use the points toward purchases at the stores. Keep in mind that you can combine the stored monetary value and points, e.g. when you purchase merchandise worth 112 Yen, and the remaining cash value is only 100 Yen and the remaining points are 30, you can pay as a combination of 100 Yen and 12 points.
Lawson: Ponta card
This card does NOT have the charge function, but you are eligible to earn points when purchasing items at the stores. You can use the points toward any purchases at the stores. You can also get and use the points from member locations such as the restaurant Kentucky Fried Chicken , the gas station Showa Shell, the rent-a-car Olix, etc.
Family Mart: Famima T card.
This card is originally from the rental CD/DVD store, Tsutaya. They use the T-card, and Family Mart shares the points system with them. The T-card has members ranging from the gas station ENEOS, the family restaurant GUSTO, etc. The great thing is that the points are usable among the members. This card also has the charge function.
There are some other convenience stores which provide such point cards. It is up to you whether to start using the card or not. However, if you use the store frequently, it is beneficial to have the card for getting points and saving money. You can also claim such point cards at certain chain food stores, electricity stores, daily necessity stores, etc. My recommendation is to choose one store per category and collect the points. This way you can get large points sooner, and earn more savings.
Each card also has an email and/or webpage service. You can get information about discounts, limited-time sales, etc.
Anyway, my recommendation is to get one each of Nanaco, Ponta and T-card at a minimum, because these convenience stores are found all over Japan. You may find any of them within walking distance from your apartment, school, train station, etc..
Hope you can save a ton and enjoy your life in Japan by using these cards!