A transportation rail pass is indispensable for getting around major cities in Japan. However, two of the country’s most-used passes are now harder to get due to an IC chip shortage. What does this mean for tourists?
Chip shortage == no unregistered cards
Japan Railways East (JR East), which produces the Suica rail card, and the PASMO Corporation, which produces the PASMO rail card, say they will limit the sale of both cards due to a global shortage in integrated circuit (IC) chips. (Both cards use the Felica IC chip, a standard developed by Sony.)
The change impacts only what JR East and PASMO call “nameless cards”. These are cards you can buy at automated vending machines at the airport and rail stations that spit out a card with no identifying information. Residents of Japan can still secure cards with their names printed on them.
This change went into effect three days ago on June 8th Japan time. It impacts all areas with the exception of Aomori, Iwate, and Akita Prefectures. (NHK says this is because Suica service just recently started in all three locations.)
Iwate Prefecture is home to Morioka, which is becoming a hot new travel destination for both domestic and international tourists alike.
What does this mean for tourists?
So what does this mean for tourists? After all, the Suica and PASMO cards aren’t just an easy means to get around town. They’re also two of the country’s primary forms of contactless payments, accepted at most convenience stores, restaurants, and shops.
Fortunately, inbound tourists can still secure the “Welcome Suica” pass, an anonymous card specifically meant for tourists. Twitter user @NihonMedi came across a sign in English recently informing tourists of this change. The language was a little confusing, as it differentiated between the “Suica” and the registered “Suica Pass” – a distinction likely to go over most people’s heads.
The Welcome Suica is meant only as a short-term pass and only works for 28 days. If you intend to stay in Japan longer, be prepared to cycle through passes.
Another option is simply to add a virtual Suica or PASMO to your phone. Apple has simple instructions for this on their Web site for iPhone. If you’re an Android user, check out this quick post from Japan Living Guide.
If you currently have a Suica pass from a previous trip, it’s still good. You can also add your physical card to your phone if you’re worried about losing it.
How long will this shortage last? According to JPMorgan, the global semiconductor chip shortage is all but over. However, because demand remains high for certain chip types, shortages could linger throughout 2023 and even into 2024.
In other words, if you’ve already got an anonymous Suica or PASMO card that you plan to use for a future trip, hold onto it for dear life. Or, you know, just use your smartphone like a normal person not over age 60.
What to read next
SuicaやPASMO 無記名カード 8日から当面販売中止 半導体不足で. NHK News
How Long Will the IC Chip Shortage Last? JPMorgan