To understand the good and weak points of smartEX and see if it’s worth using or not, it’s important to look at the whole EX system: smartEX and its older sister service Express Reserve.
smartEX and Express Reserve both operate from the same EX system and provide online reservations and eTicket purchases for JR Central (Tokyo~Osaka) and JR West (Osaka~Fukuoka) that are attached to plastic transit smartcards. Express Reserve is the older of the two. From October 2017 the system was updated so that Apple Pay Suica users can register via Suica App, purchase eTickets in the EX app, and ride JR Central/JR West Shinkansen lines with just Apple Pay Suica. Express Reserve costs ¥1080 a year and is aimed at frequent Shinkansen business travelers offering a variety of discounts.
smartEX is a new sister service that is free but offers limited discounts. smartEX is all about convenience over discounts and is aimed at the occasional traveler. Anybody with Apple Pay Suica, Mobile Suica on Android or regular plastic Japan Transit IC cards (ICOCA, TOICA, etc.) can register them for smartEX Shinkansen travel. You can also use the smartEX just for purchasing regular Shinkansen paper tickets that you pickup at the station.
To register and use smartEX you need 2 things: a Japanese transit card ID number and a credit card. Apple Pay Suica users must have Suica App installed to access their Suica ID.
I highly recommend preparing your Apple Pay Suica ID number before smartEX registration. Copy Suica ID in Suica App then paste it into Memo app. It will be one long 17 character alpha-numeric string starting with “JE”. Put a few spaces between JE and the following 15 character string so that you can easily copy just the last 15 characters without JE.
smartEX Registration in EX
- Register name, birth date, email, password, credit card with credit card verification, and transit card ID. Be careful to copy and paste just the last 15 characters of your Apple Pay Suica ID explained above. A collection of EX App registration screen shots is shown below.
- Login with your password. Unlike the Japanese EX App, Face ID/Touch ID is not supported. However you can download and use EX from the Japanese App Store which offers full support and works in English.
Your credit card verification step experience depends on your credit card bank; it can be jarring jump to a web page within the app. The transit card ID registration step requires selecting first 2 letters in one field, followed by manually entering the remaining 15 characters of the code in a separate field.
Once registration is complete you can access and update your smartEX membership information in smartEX App. I highly recommend verifying your membership information in samrtEX App to make sure everything is correctly registered.
smartEX eTicket Purchase
JR Central smartEX Purchase guide here
In the login screen enter your smartEX password. The main screen is the Reserve a train search screen set for the current time and place.
- Select departure time, station points and tap search
- In select train check seat availability then tap the train that you want to ride
- Select the kind seating: smartEX Reserve, smartEX Non-Reserve. With Reserve you can choose a seat from the Select seat screen. You can also change the car you want to sit in.
- In the confirm your purchase screen tap Purchase
Be careful because once you tap Purchase eTicket purchase is instant. You can change a reservation for free but a refund costs ¥300.
JR Central smartEX Boarding guide here
Once you have Apple Pay Suica registered and have purchased a Shinkansen ticket in smartEX all you do is enter the station gate and the Shinkansen ticket gate with Apple Pay Suica. The Shinkansen ticket gate will issue a ‘Seat Information’ receipt’, take the receipt and board your Shinkansen. At the destination ticket gate use Apple Pay Suica for exiting the Shinkansen gate and the regular train gate.
Be sure to hang onto the Seat Information Receipt as it may be valid for other transit from your destination station.
smartEx Weak Points
As the comparison chart explains, smartEX is not about cheap Shinkansen eTickets. Discounts are small, almost full price although smartEX offers slightly better discounts with round trip ticket purchases and advance ticket purchases. If you want the best discounts, buy paper Shinkansen tickets at any discount ticket shop. Other weak points:
- No Apple Pay In-App support in EX app.
- No Touch ID/Face ID support. For some reason the English smartEX App version removes the Touch ID/Face ID support of the Japanese EX App.
- No transit IC card number validation.
The current smartEX registration system has no way to validate Apple Pay Suica ID numbers or any plastic transit card. The only way to find out if everything works is the first time you use smartEX and Apple Pay Suica at the Shinkansen ticket gate. If the number is incorrect your trip ends there, like mine did.