Welcome Suica App Aims to Make Tourist Travel in Japan Easier

Welcome Suica App Aims to Make Tourist Travel in Japan Easier

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Welcome Suica App
Pictures: JR East; Canva
A new app from Japan Railways East set to debut next year will make it easier for tourists to get around before they even leave their homes.

Tourists and locals alike praise the transportation system in Japan for its efficiency and convenience. However, it can be daunting for first-time arrivals to figure out how to get around. Eastern Japan’s largest public transportation company aims to change that. The new Welcome Suica app, due next year, will make it easier to pay for rides and plan trips.

Take a subway right from the airport

Recently, Japan Railways East – which runs subway, bus, and Shinkansen services on Japan’s east coast – has been making changes to its subway card, Suica. Suica is an Integrated Chip (IC) card for travel. Users can use to pay for subway travel, bus travel, Shinkansen rides, and taxi services. It’s also a popular form of cashless payment for goods and services. Millions of convenience stores, shops, and restaurants around Japan accept it.

Last year, JR East stopped issuing anonymous physical IC cards, due reputedly to a chip shortage. However, visitors to Japan can still buy a pretty Welcome Suica card. The Welcome Suica provides all the same benefits of a regular Suica card. It also has a pretty and welcoming design that makes the card a nice souvenir.

Now, JR East says that, in spring of 2025, it’ll release a new Welcome Suica App. The app will be available in the App Store worldwide. That means you can download it and set up everything for your trip to Japan before you board your plane.

What the app can do for you

The app simplifies adding a digital Suica card to your Apple Wallet and loading it with a balance from a credit card in your wallet. Once added, you can pay for subway and bus fare with a simple phone or Apple Watch tap. You’ll also be able to use the app to pay for non-designated seats on the Shinkansen, the rapid bullet train service that connects cities across Japan.

The app will also have a number of other features, including a trip planner so you can see the fastest way to get from point A to point B via JR-owned transit options. In 2026, JR East says it’ll add the option to book reserved seats on Shinkansen lines and pick up the tickets later at a train station counter.

Advertisements

While JR East operates in eastern Japan, you can use the Suica card for transportation throughout the country.

What differs from the current Apple Pay Suica card?

One curious thing about this announcement is that it doesn’t add any additional functionality for iPhone users. Due to hard work from JR and Apple, iPhones have supported Japan’s IC cards – based on the FeliCa technology – since around 2017.

So, what’s new about this app?

The first and most obvious answer is that not everyone knows about IC cards or that you can easily add one to your iPhone. JR doesn’t advertise this heavily in English in any stations I’ve seen. (I had to tell a friend about it when he landed in Japan recently.)

Putting this functionality in an app that’s available before people arrive in Japan is good advertising. It enables visitors to discover it in the App Store so that JR can walk them through how to get around on the subways and Shinkansen in Japan.

Additionally, the additional features mean users can use the app, not just to pay for rides, but to figure out how to navigate Japan’s complex subway system.

The hidden danger of the Welcome Suica App

Shinkansen (bullet train)
Picture: tarousite / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Additionally, unlike a normal Suica card, which can be valid for up to 10 years, Welcome Suica is time-bombed. The physical Welcome Suica only works for 30 days. By contrast, you can use the Welcome Suica App Suica card for up to 180 days. (Maybe not coincidentally, that’s about as long as the period of stay allowed by the new digital nomad visa.)

So, you may wonder: what happens to the money you have on your Welcome Suica App card when the time limit expires? Well, quite simply, you’re out of luck. You’ll lose any remaining balance and have no way of getting it back. That’s a crappy deal, given that Suica and similar IC cards like PASMO and Icoca are such a common form of cashless payment.

In other words, if you expect to visit Japan multiple times in a year (you can spend a total of 180 days here in a year), you’ll want to avoid using the Welcome Suica App. Instead, just add a Suica directly to your Apple Wallet.

Sources

訪日外国人向けのチケッティングサービスの利便性を向上します!~滞在中の移動をシームレス、チケットレスに~. JR East (via PRTimes)

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy