Suica and Pasmo have become an ubiquitous part of life and travel in Japan, but you can’t get a new card for either.

When arriving in Japan, ordinarily one of the first things you’d want to do is to get yourself a Suica card. As of today, though, that’s not an option, as sales of the rechargeable e-money card, issued by East Japan Railway (JR East), have been suspended.

Suica has become an extremely convenient and near-ubiquitous part of daily life in Japan. Originally only used for buying tickets for JR lines, Suica cards can now be used on a variety of train and subway lines operated by other companies as well, and they’re also a way to quickly and easily pay for all sorts of things, from vending machine drinks to Uniqlo T-shirts to restaurant bills. Suica, and the similar alternative card Pasmo, are especially handy if you’re new to traveling in Japan. Since all you have to do is tap the card on a pad to pay, there’s no need to hold up the line behind you at the ticket machine or cashier as you try to count out coins in a currency you might not be accustomed to using yet.

▼ “Is the gold coin with the hole in it 5 yen or 50?” is something everyone asks themselves a couple times on their first trip to Japan.

Suica/Pasmo cards are also handy because they save you the hassle of having to calculate your train fare before you get on the train. Instead of looking up at a map of Tokyo’s massive rail network and trying to find the name of the station you’re headed to (which might be written in Japanese kanji only), you just tap your card as you enter the gates, tap it again when you exit at your destination, and the fare is calculated automatically. They’re also a godsend if you’re traveling with family or friends, since it saves your group the trouble and time of everyone having to stop at the machine and buy tickets before every train/subway ride.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, JR East and Pasmo Co. have simultaneously announced that they are suspending sales of Suica and Pasmo cards as of August 2. The companies had already suspended sales of “unregistered” Suica and Pasmo cards in June, but the extended suspension now includes registered cards (for which the purchaser provides their name, date of birth, and phone number).

▼ The Pasmo robot mascot bowing in apology in the suspension’s announcement tweet

A few ways do remain to get your hands on a new Suica or Pasmo card. In the case of Suica, the for-foreign tourists Welcome Suica cards, which are only usable for 28 days after purchase, are still available, but JR East has placed new restrictions on where they can be bought, and in what quantities. A limit of one card purchase per person isn’t likely to cause many headaches, but as of August 2 the Welcome Suica can only be purchased at  Narita and Haneda Airports (specifically at the JR East Travel Service Centers at Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station, Narita Airport Terminal 2·3 Station, and Tokyo Monorail Haneda Airport Line Haneda Airport Terminal 3 Station plus the Welcome Suica vending machines at Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station, Narita Airport Terminal 2·3 Station, Tokyo Monorail Haneda Airport Line Haneda Airport Terminal 2 Station, and Haneda Airport Terminal 3 Station). JR East also says that its forecast for continued production/sale of Welcome Suica cards is “unclear.”

Pasmo’s similar valid-for-foreign-tourists-for-28-days Pasmo Passport cards also currently remain available at Narita, Haneda, and major rail stations in the Tokyo area.

Physical Suica/Pasmo cards may also still be purchased as part of a monthly commuter rail pass. Those cards can also be charged with e-money and used to make purchases, but the break-even point on the cost of the commuter pass is usually around 15 round-trip fares between two stations within a month, making them not a viable choice for most tourists.

Mobile versions of Suica and Pasmo remain available, but may or may not be compatible with overseas phone models and payment methods.

Neither JR East nor Pasmo Co. has made any public comments about when normal physical Suica/Pasmo card sales will resume.

Source: JR East, Pasmo Co. via IT Media
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