Suica is the only transit card in the world on mobile that covers both high-speed rail and regular transit. Apple Pay Suica can be used for eTicket Shinkansen travel on all Shinkansen lines and ticketless travel in designated regions on JR East Shinkansen lines. However, Shinkansen eTickets are often more about convenience over price: paper tickets usually have better on the spot discounts unless you dig deeper into the system and sign up for services in advance.
There are big changes on the horizon. JR East announced that the current Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket service will end March 30, 2020. It will be replaced with a completely new eTicket system and a new, likely multilingual, version of Suica App. JR Central/JR West are sure to be making changes at the same time. And this is just the run-up to the huge changes coming with Super Suica in April 2021.
Shinkansen eTicketing is a evolutionary mix of 2 different ticketing systems built by the separate JR company groups that operate the Shinkansen lines:
- JR East created and uses Mobile Suica cloud eTickets downloaded to Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica and Osaifu Keitai for travel on Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Hokkaido, Joestsu, Hokuriku Shinkansen.
- JR Central/JR West created and use the EX system (smartEx and Express Reserve) that links a online purchased eTicket to a preregistered plastic transit smartcard for travel on Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Sanyo (Osaka~Hakata) Shinkansen. It is not a download eTicketing service for mobile devices because JR Central/JR West don’t have a Mobile Suica cloud-like transit card system. In this case Apple Pay Suica is just another linked transit card number, EX doesn’t know or care if it’s a plastic card or not.
JR East also offers ticketless Shinkansen travel for any Touch and Go service registered Apple Pay Suica or plastic transit IC card. Just like EX, the Touch and Go system doesn’t know or care if it’s a real card or not.
Changes in 2020
Nothing has been announced but here are some expected changes coming in April 2020.
- New JR East eTicket system covering both Shinkansen and regular express trains for both Mobile Suica (Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica, Osaifu Keitai) and registered plastic transit cards of all colors (ICOCA, PASMO, etc.). In some ways it will resemble EX with a new JR East banded eTicket app and matching online site, but it will also be Mobile Suica savvy.
- New Suica App that will be highly integrated the new e-Ticket service and finally multi-lingual. I hope that EX service will be integrated into the new Suica App as well, but this might a feature that will have to wait until Super Suica in April 2021.
JR East has said that they hope to expand the ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen travel region, but I suspect this is another feature that will have to wait for Super Suica when the current ¥20,000 Suica SF balance limit will likely be raised, or even doubled.
In any event, Shinkansen eTicket services will greatly improve in 2020 and beyond. It will be fun.