Suica or Pasmo: what’s the difference?

By on August 30, 2010

How do more than 14 million people get around Tokyo each and every day? Well, most commute by bus, train, and subway, or some combination thereof.  But what are our payment options when using these methods of transport?


In the past and still today, you could mosey up to the fare machines, count your change or insert a bill, and pay individually for each ride taken.  Or, you could circumvent this process by opting for either a Suica or Passnet card, depending on whether you ride the public JR lines (Suica) or the private Tokyo subways (Passnet). So how does the Suica differ from the Pasmo?


The Penguin:  A Rose by any Other Name

Whether you believe that the acronym SUICA stands for Super Urban Intelligent Card, or the combined meaning of "sui sui" meaning "smooth" and the abbreviation for "card", "ka" (intended to emphasize its ease of use compared to traditional train tickets), or perhaps that it may even be a pun on the Japanese word for "watermelon" (suika), the Suica card has been used in and around Tokyo for some years now.


Launched in November of 2001 as a reusable train fare card, commuters need only recharge their Suica card when its balance falls below a certain amount (¥130 to ¥160, the minimum fare for most JR East rides).Purchasing is simple: just present yourself at one of the many locations where it is sold, pay the refundable deposit of ¥500 for the card itself, plus an additional ¥1,500 for your first bit of use,  and you have officially joined the ranks of the Suica masses.


Using it is equally simple:  just swipe it over the scanner at each turnstile through which you pass and the calculated fare for your trip gets automatically deducted from the balance embedded on the card’s integrated circuit.  Topping it up is just as easy and can be done automatically at any fare machine, or manually by the attendants at the gates.


Multi-tasking and shelf life

Suica cards come in several varieties and can literally last you a lifetime -or longer- as they only become invalidated if they are not used for ten years.


Suica cards differ primarily in the broadness of their use.  The basic model merely lets you forego buying individual train tickets, while the commuter pass enables you unlimited travel between selected destinations, but can also double as a prepaid charge card or electronic money at various businesses across the city.  Finally, there are also Suica-issued credit cards that can be used at shops and services that do not readily support Suica’s pre-paid models. 


Another Suica advantage is that not only can it be used in the Kanto region, but it is also accepted at JR East stations near Sendai and Niigata, in the Kinki region on JR West as well as being interchangeable with JR West’s ICOCA card in the Kansai region.


The Pink Robot 

Deriving its name partly from the Passnet system from which it evolved (Pass) and an abbreviated form of the English word "More" (Mo), Pasmo shares the same RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology found in Suica cards, while offering a variety of similar, and also some unique features.


Pasmo, like Suica, initially costs (a refundable) ¥500, and is a reusable and rechargeable train/subway fare card that can also be used to purchase items at shops and for services that subscribe to its system.  However, Pasmo offers its users a wider variety of card models: those registered in your name, the popular commuter model (both of which can be reissued if lost or stolen), an open pass and a children’s card, all of which can be topped up similarly to Suica cards, or automatically, depending on the type of card and service purchased.


The Tale of the Tape

Both cards facilitate your commute through Tokyo’s complex train and subway systems by way of convenience and technology.  Both cards easily fit into your wallet, can be used in a variety of different ways and, for all intents and purposes, are two peas in very similar pods.


So what’s a confused commuter to do when burdened by such an important choice?  Embrace the cuddly penguin or accept the friendly robot?  Go Green or Think Pink?


Well, I suspect that those of you who already have your Suica cards will be hard-pressed to change, but if you are tempted, then knowing that you can get a full refund for your Pasmo card may make the experiment less bothersome. Those of you who are avid collectors may buy them both, hoping that someday in the future you will be able to put your children through university based on the value of these collector’s items.


For more information on either Suica or Pasmo, please visit or

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