Paying for goods and services in Japan is incredibly convenient, thanks to the country’s advanced payment infrastructure. In this post, we will provide you with information about Suica, a frequently used payment option. Suica is a type of contactless smart card that you can use to make payments at various establishments, such as shops and restaurants, as well as for transportation expenses such as train fares, subways, buses, and even some taxis.
Suica is an electronic payment system developed by the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) in Japan in 2001. It was first introduced in Tokyo and quickly gained popularity among commuters and tourists due to its ease of use and versatility. The name “Suica” comes from the combination of the words “super” and “urban intelligent card.” [1,2]
The development of Suica was a response to the growing demand for a more efficient and convenient way to pay for transportation in Japan, where most people rely on public transport to commute to work and school.
The technology behind the Suica card is based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). RFID uses radio waves to communicate between a reader and a tag attached to or embedded in an object. The tag contains an integrated circuit (IC) that stores information and an antenna that receives and transmits data to the reader. When the tag is within the range of the reader, the reader sends a signal that activates the tag, which then sends back its stored information. It operates at a 13.56 MHz frequency band at a speed of 212 kbps or 424 kbps. Furthermore, the reader and tag complete the transaction process (including secure encryption) within 0.1 seconds.
The figure below briefly shows the principle of this technology. This concept is similar to using a key card for access to a building or hotel room.
A microchip embedded in the Suica card stores a unique ID number and data on the card’s balance, which updates when the card pays for transportation or other purchases. This card is rechargeable, and we can add funds to the card at ticket machines at train stations, convenience stores, and other locations.
Today, many retailers accept Suica, making it a popular payment method for daily transactions in Japan. Additionally, other transportation companies have developed their electronic payment systems, such as Pasmo in Tokyo and Icoca in Osaka, but Suica remains widely accepted throughout Japan.
Besides using the hard Suica card, we can now add it to Apple Wallet on your iPhone, Apple Watch, or Android phone. With the help of the NFC (Near Field Communication) antenna commonly installed in smartphones, which is also based on RFID technology, we can use our smartphone or smartwatch to tap and pay for train or bus fare and make purchases at participating stores that accept Suica. It can be easily recharged through the Suica app, at ticket machines at train stations, or in convenience stores.
 Akio Shiibashi, Japan Railway and Transport Review No. 50, Sep. 2008