Besides cash and coins, it is common to use e-money for easy payment transactions in Japan. Stations and terminals accept e-money, even to pay for food and drinks at supermarkets or vending machines. It’s similar to EZ-Link in Singapore or Octopus Card in Hong Kong. One thing that you must know, there are plenty of types of prepaid cards in Japan. From ICOCA, PiTaPa, TOICA, Kitaca, Suica, Pasmo, and the list goes on. Then, why did I pick out ICOCA while traveling in Japan?

Issued by JR, you will often find ICOCA in the Kansai area, still you can use it all over the Japanese regions. Where to buy it? You can purchase ICOCA at the ticket machine, airport, or JR-West Ticket Office right after you arrive in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, or Kobe. Since I arrived at Kansai Airport (KIX) first, I activated my ICOCA there. Note that ICOCA will automatically deduct 500 yen from your balance as a deposit fee.

To make things clear, let me explain in more details about ICOCA!

Read More: Travel Budget and Itinerary: Trip to Japan

HOW TO BUY

  • You can buy it online on Klook, then exchange the electronic vouchers at the JR-West Ticket Office. Remind that JR-West office only operates from 05.30-23.00. For you who depart after midnight, must wait till the next morning.
  • I purchased it directly from the ticket machine. So, after immigration checkpoint, you have to walk outside the airport and go to the 2F. Just follow the ‘Airport Station’ sign until you find the gates for JR (blue) and Nankai (red) trains. Then, look around for automatic ticket vending machines that have gray, blue, and green colors. Gray for single local train tickets, green for HARUKA and Shinkansen, blue for ICOCA.
icoca
Automatic ticket vending machine (source: Japan Travel Mate).
  1. First, in the right corner, you can pick any language that you understand. For me, I select ‘English’.
  2. Second, click the button that says ‘purchase ICOCA’.
  3. Enter the amount of balance you want. As I wrote in the previous blog, I selected the ¥3,000 button for the first transaction. There are also options for ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000. Just choose as needed. Also, automatic machines in Japan can give you change, so it’s okay if you don’t have any. Just keep your change, it is useful to buy street foods later. 
  4. Put the money in the machine that says ‘Bill’. Make sure the money is neat and not folded.
  5. Wait for a few seconds and the ICOCA card is ready to use.
cara menggunakan icoca
Buy an ICOCA card (source: Westjr.co.jp).

HOW TO ADD BALANCE

  1. First, in the right corner select ‘English’.
  2. Second, click the button that says “Charge/Check History”. As the machine explains, you can check your balance without having to put the money first. Well, not only at ticket machines but you can also check balances at vending machines.
  3. Put the card on the place with an ICOCA symbol (In Tokyo the symbol is ‘SUICA’ or ‘IC Card’). Next, it will provide information, how much balance you have.
  4. There are options of  ¥1,000,  ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and  ¥10,000 to top up. Select one.
  5. Place the money in the machine that says ‘Bill’. Make sure the money is neat and not folded.
  6. Wait for a few seconds and the ICOCA card is ready to use.

HOW TO REFUND

For ICOCA, you can only refund it in the Kansai area. So, if you want to visit other prefectures outside Kansai – for example Tokyo – and have no interest in traveling to Japan in the future, I suggest you immediately refund at Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, or Kobe. You can go to the JR-West Ticket Office at major railway stations and ask the staff to return the money.

One thing you must not worry about, ICOCA can be used all across Japan. I purposely didn’t return my money, because it could still be used in Tokyo. I prefer to spend the remaining balance at 7-11 airport to buy something. LOL.  However, ICOCA cards will expire if unused for 10 years, so you can still use it when you come back to visit Japan. 

HOW TO USE ICOCA

There are many types of trains in Japan: JR (local trains, rapid service, special rapid service), Limited Express (Ltd.), Metro, HARUKA, Nankai, and Shinkansen. For regular JR trains, you can pay with ICOCA. Likewise with Ltd. For the rest, you need a special ticket to pass through the gate.

The same with the bus. City buses usually provide payment using IC Cards, but not with local buses (in Fuji or Nikko for example). You have to prepare for cash or coins.

icoca
Entering the train gate with ICOCA (source: Westjr.co.jp).

Using ICOCA is usually the same steps in each transport. For trains, select the gate then put the card on ICOCA symbol or IC Card. On the bus, stick a card with the IC Card logo next to the coin holder. As for vending machines, you stick the ICOCA next to the coin insert, again there is an IC Card logo.

Well, for minimarkets it is quite different. While 7-11 is on the side of the screen, Lawson is on the front. Anyway, it’s not a crime to ask the cashier if you don’t understand. Even if they can’t speak your language, just show your confused face and say ‘where?’ Hehehe.

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