Monday, March 19, 2007

"Touch and Go"

...was the promo phrase for JR East's Suica came out a few years ago. Suica the name for the IC ticket card usable for JR trains in Tokyo and around and it spread quickly across the city as it is very convenient because it takes away the time and trouble to stop by at the ticket machine and deal with coins. All you have to do is to charge some money in your card and let it (and you can keep it in your wallet or pass holder not taking the card out) touch a specific part of the gate when you get to the platform and vice versa. All you have to be careful is to make sure you have enough charged money left on the card (you don't even have to bother with this with the JR IC card in Osaka, at least that's what I heard). I'm sure some of you if not all are familiar with the system. I know that some other countries use this IC card system.

Suica is very convenient indeed, but a bit inconvenient in fact because you can only use it for very limited area, meaning only JR lines and a couple of other lines in Tokyo. The train network of Tokyo is a mess - there are way too many lines literally tangling with each other (see
this map for example) though I have to admit this messy network allows you to get to pretty much anywhere within a 15-min-walk from one station or another. Anyway, half or more of the lines of this network are non-JR lines which we usually refer to as "shitetsu" (meaning private railways because JR used to be state-run and the others were and are private sectors) and they had their own shitetsu-interoperating system that were non-interoperable with JR. The card for their system was (and still is) called Pasnet which is a mag card that you have to let through the gates like the other tickets. The part of contacless (Suica) or mag (Pasnet) doesn't matter so much, but having to have two when you wanted to make transfers etc. was kind of troublesome.

Yesterday this new system and card called PASMO started and this allows the smooth interuse of pretty much all if not all the lines plus bus services in Tokyo. You either buy a new PASMO card or can keep your Suica card and get on and off JR and shitetsu and buses without trouble. I was out yesterday and had to take several different kinds of trains so bought myself a brand new PASMO and used it. It's not like it was my first time to experience this "touch and go" but it was kind of fun. As far as I observed yesterday, many people preferred buying normal tickets yesterday at least at the subway ticket machines at Shibuya Station. The news last evening told though that the service seems to have had a good and fairly smooth start. I think it will settle down as part of our normal lives rather soon.

Both Suica and PASMO have optional services most of it having to do with points. You can attach the cards with or to credit cards so that you can make use of the auto-charge allowing you to be free from worrying the remaining amount on the card, and the use of the card as train fare counts as points for your credit card. Then what happens is that several credit card companies promote their services and how benefitial each are comparing themselves to their rivals and so on. The benefits are quite different - you can earn points to use at department stores, or earn mileage on a plane company - and trying to pick the one that best suits your interest becomes a headache, so I only bought a plain only-charge, no-points PASMO.

The downside of it though, if I were to point out, is that it numbs your sense of how much you're spending on your transportation fare. Suica doesn't show the details on how much you've spent on one trip and how much you have left but Pasnet did, so being kind of used to seeing your trip records, the new systems feels a bit blinded. In any case, it did become much more convenient to get around using the train and subway system (which many of the people do to commute). Now their next task is to make is usable nationwide. That'd be really helpful, though I do kind of suspect that for some local areas it's only going to become deficit projects.

Today's Update on Japan Mode:
Tokyo Event March - April... the most exciting one for me personally is the figure skating world championships 2007. I've always liked watching figure skating (especially ice dancing) but because the younger Japanese athletes are doing pretty well the matches are very exciting these past couple of years. Generation change, finally.
Also the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2007 is coming up this weekend.


PASMO (Japanese, English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Korean)
Suica (Japanese, English)

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