There are a lot of things that make Japan an amazing destination for travelers—rich heritage and culture, unfailingly polite people, mouth-watering food.
Here’s another: public transportation in the country is a breeze for both locals and tourists alike. A wide selection of smart cards and passes has made traveling easier, smoother, and more economical all throughout Japan. If you’re exploring the country for at least a few days, these cards and passes are a must-have.
The ICOCA card is one of these smart cards, but is it the right one for you? Keep reading to find out more about this Kansai region essential.
What Is The ICOCA Card?
The ICOCA card is a prepaid electronic card that allows travelers to hop on trains on the JR West rail network in the Kansai region. With this contactless smart card, passengers don’t need to fall in line and purchase a ticket every time they need to ride the railway. Instead, simply swipe the card (or their wallet containing the card) over the card reader, enter the gate, and get on the train.
Unlike unlimited passes that let you enjoy as many rides as you want for a fixed price, the ICOCA Card still requires you to pay for every ride, although it occasionally offers great discounts. It is essentially a stored-value card, which means that you load the card with money and spend the funds on the card throughout your travels in the country.
The ICOCA Card and other IC cards are extra handy, since they’re not limited to just trains and buses. It can also be used to pay for goods at a growing number of shops, lockers, convenience stores, and vending machines.
Additionally, while the ICOCA Card is issued by JR West in Kansai, it can be used wherever IC cards are accepted in Japan. Keep an eye out for shops with IC or ICOCA signs or marks.
How To Buy ICOCA Cards
The ICOCA card is available for purchase through vending machines at any JR West train station. It typically costs 2000 yen, which includes 1500 yen of stored value on the card and a 500 yen deposit that will be given back to the passenger when the card is returned at any JR West station.
Of course, the most convenient way for travelers to acquire an ICOCA Card is to purchase them online. If you get it via KKday, you can enjoy the convenient pick-up of your card at the Kansai International Airport or downtown Osaka.
Is It Different From Other Smart Cards?
There are many different cards and passes in Japan, so it can be confusing to first-time visitors if they should get the ICOCA Card or another card or pass.
Other cards associated with the Kansai region are the Osaka Amazing Pass and Kansai Thru Pass, both of which appeal to travelers with different itineraries. Osaka Amazing Pass is perfect for tourists who are sightseeing in Osaka as it offers unlimited rides on buses and trains in the city as well as free access to many top attractions. Meanwhile, Kansai Thru Pass gives travelers unlimited bus and train rides in multiple cities in Kansai for two or three non-consecutive days.
The ICOCA Card is the best choice for travelers who are mostly exploring the Kansai region and want total ease of payment throughout their journey, not just with transportation but with other purchases.
The Kansai region consists of many of the country’s top attractions with cities including Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, among others. However, since the ICOCA Card can also be used outside of the region, it’s a worthwhile purchase even if you are leaving the region. However, it’s best if you start and end your journey there in order to return the card and get your deposit back before leaving Japan.
If you’re sticking to Tokyo, another IC card may be more convenient, such as the SUICA or PASMO.
Keep In Mind…
The ICOCA card can be used in many places all over Japan, but it cannot be used to travel out of the JR West region and into another region. For instance, the card cannot be used on a train going from Osaka to Tokyo, since it will take you from the JR West area to the JR East area. However, once you get to Tokyo, you’ll be able to use the card freely.
Furthermore, the 500 yen deposit from the ICOCA Card can only be collected by returning the card at a JR West station. Thus, if you’re traveling out of the Kansai region and not returning, you might not be able to get your deposit back.
*Featured image via KKday Supplier and Fotolia