Android 10 devices: the Osaifu Keitai supported devices list is limited to modern Android 10 devices that support multiple transit cards (Suica + PASMO + ICOCA) with only one card set as the default ‘Express Transit’ card.
WESTERaccount required: this new point system was put in place just for Mobile ICOCA and a registered account is required for Mobile ICOCA. Similar to JRE POINT, users earn points from transit use, recharge and purchases at participating stores. WESTER POINT to Mobile ICOCA recharge is built in and self contained, more streamlined than JRE POINT app to Suica app recharge. J-WEST credit cards earn the most WESTER POINT for recharge and commute plan purchase.
Users can register 3-D Secure 2.0 credit cards for recharge in the Mobile ICOCA app but ‘some foreign issue cards’ are not supported (looking at you foreign issue VISA)
No wearables (Garmin, Fitbit, etc.) yet, Apple Watch will be first hopefully followed by WearOS devices later
No auto-charge support…a pain, stick with plastic if you want this feature.
Mobile Commute Plans: most regular and university student commute plans are supported including JR West + Osaka Metro/Hankyu/Keihan/Nankai/Hanshin routes, but other commute plan types/routes are not. These include, FREX Shinkansen plans, HS/JHS student plans (launching on Mobile Suica and PASMO March 18), disability discount commute plans, bus and trolley routes, and routes that include the JR West Tsuruga~Ishikawa Hokuriku line that will transfer from JR West to third sector ownership in 2024. Stand alone ICOCA commuter passes for Hankyu, Keihan, Osaka Metro routes that do not include JR West lines are not supported.
Suica and PASMO together account for roughly 80% of all Japanese transit card issue, ICOCA added in makes that 90%. In other words, 90% of the issued transit card market has mobile service. It will be very interesting to see how the Mobile ICOCA migration works out. I’ll update this post with details as they become available.
Mobile Ticket Basics The JR East online train ticket reservation system comes in 2 flavors: multi-lingual JR East Train Reservation for inbound visitors, and Japanese Eki-Net for domestic users. Both of these differently branded services share the same basic system, internet domain name and similar account registration process. However the accounts are not compatible as ticket menus, discounts and related services are different. Japanese Eki-Net is a sprawling travel service portal that covers everything from train tickets to package tours and car rentals, far too large to cover here. This guide is limited to setting up and using eTicket and Ticketless services of the Eki-Net Japanese web site and app, and using them with Apple Pay Suica which gives you the best value with JRE POINT integration.
To understand how and when to use Eki-Net, it helps to know the basic categories of JR East mobile ticketing:
Regular Train Lines
Suica (Transit IC cards) pays the station to station distance based fare using the Stored Fare balance of the card (SF).
Eki-Net Ticketless: Limited Express reserve seat mobile tickets (Narita Express, Azusa, Kaiji, Odoriko, etc.) used in combination with Suica to pay fare.
Eki-Net eTicket: a Shinkansen mobile ticket that bundles Shinkansen distance fare + Limited Express seat reservation in one eTicket attached to a Suica or Transit IC card. Eki-Net eTickets do not use the Suica SF balance but attaching an eTicket to Apple Pay Suica for example, makes for extremely convenient and seamless local train to Shinkansen connections with just iPhone or Apple Watch.
Eki-Net Tokudane discounts One of the nice things about Eki-Net is that it offers the same discount rates to all Eki-Net users unlike the 2 tiered EX service which has smartEX with tiny discounts and EX-Press Reserve with large discounts.
Eki-Net discount eTicket and Ticketless are called ‘Tokudane’ and are reserve seat only. Tokudane eTickets are also limited in number for each each train and can disappear quickly. The general rule of thumb is, the bigger the discount, the faster they disappear. Tokudane Tickeless are limited to reserve seat capacity of the train and are easy to get at the last minute.
Eki-Net • JRE POINT Integration Eki-Net is highly integrated with the JR East JRE POINT system and just like any ‘mileage club’ out there, ticket purchases come with JRE POINT rewards that can be turned around and used for ticket purchases and Green Car seat upgrades. Basic point rewards are earned with any Eki-Net registered credit card purchase. JR East VIEW CARD purchases earn extra JRE POINT rewards.
Eki-Net Registration Registering and managing an Eki-Net account can only be done via the web site.
The Eki-Net registration YouTube video has a quick visual explanation of the steps:
Steps 3~5 (0:33~0:53) enter email address to receive the registration URL. Step 6 (1:07) register name, address, phone number, account ID and password. Step 7 (1:29) register a credit card. Foreign issue credit cards can be registered if 3-D Secure compliant. Step 8 (1:50) register Mobile Suica or plastic card ID numbers (up to 6). Step 9 (2:17) sign up or decline Eki-Net promo emails, confirm info and tap register (2:48).
Eki-Net Ticket Purchases You can either use the Eki-Net website or Eki-Net app to search trains and purchase eTicket and Ticketless train tickets. You can bypass manual login with Eki-Net app that supports Face ID / Touch ID login, download Eki-Net from the Japanese App Store.
It’s helpful to know to know a few basics.
You can purchase Eki-Net tickets up to one month in advance.
You can apply to purchase Eki-Net tickets up to month plus one week in advance but there is no guarantee the application will be successful. You will be notified by email the day tickets are available for purchase and application result (success/fail). If successful you have a limited purchase window to complete the purchase.
Step 1~2 (0:37) enter station points, date, departure time, number of people and tap search. Step 3 (0:51) select the train. Step 4~5 (1:05) select the seat type: eTicket non-reserve, Tokudane discount (reserve), Green Car, JRE POINT Green Car upgrade, etc., then select having a seat assigned or select via the seat map. Step 6 (1:49) select your credit card, enter security code and purchase you eTicket. Step 7 (2:27) link eTicket with Apple Pay Suica or other registered IC Transit cards.
Here are screenshots of the steps using Eki-Net iOS app.
Using eTickets Apple Pay Wallet and Suica App do not have any of your mobile ticket information and you do not need to launch an app to use eTickets or Ticketless. Just get on your train.
The only notification you will receive is a reminder email from Eki-Net before departure. You can confirm your mobile ticket in Eki-net app or website but you do not use them for transit or validation. Your eTicket is linked to Apple Pay Suica, all you do is tap the Shinkansen transit gate and go through, seen here using Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch.
Using Ticketless Once you have your Ticketless seat reservation, simply get on assigned train car and take your assigned seat. Conductors already have your seat information and do not check or validate your seat assignment.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new transit gate alarm sound going around. It sounds like this:
Yeah, that sound. I hear it more and more these days but what does it mean? We already have the bing-bong alert sound when there’s a transit IC card error or low fare, in which case the gate says, “insufficient fare”. Unlike those alert sounds however this new one is not a new alert for transit users…it’s an alarm sound for station staff, There was also the mystery surrounding the new alarm name: rainbow. Why do they call it the rainbow alarm?
It took some digging to find the answer: 「キセル防止」”fare evasion prevention“. The Japanese word for fare evasion “kiseru” has an interesting but murky history dating from the early pre-war Showa era. And the rainbow connection? All the lights on the transit gate flash. So when station staff hear the head turning rainbow alarm they can easily see which transit gate caught somebody attempting fare evasion.
A distinctive alarm sound for fare evasion has advantages. A few years back I was inside Shinjuku station walking directly behind a gaijin gal who exited JR Shinjuku without a ticket or Suica, completely ignoring the standard bing-bong alert without breaking stride. She then entered Odakyu Shinjuku without ticket, again completely ignoring the bing-bong alert without breaking stride, walking on to the train with attitude. Two fare evasions in a row. With the rainbow alarm, and ubiquitous station video surveillance, that kind of stunt will be much harder to pull off, especially for ‘gomi gaijin’ playing dumb to break rules and get their way.
This morning on the train the salaryman sitting next smelled like last nights sake bottle, 2 high school boys sitting across were admiring and fondling each others nice expensive haircuts, the construction workers were reading novels instead of smartphones…while everybody else slept, played smartphones games and so on…a regular morning commute.
One of the things I’ve always admired about Japanese culture is the respect of borders and private lives of other people. This is easy to see on my daily commute as people go about their business without paying attention to others. When a friend from America visited with her family in 2019, she remarked how quiet Japanese were on trains. Now I don’t mind people talking on trains, but the big loud voices of talking American that carries into the next car always amuses me.
The respect of borders also plays out in how people don’t take much interest in the quirky habits of others. If a married man likes to cosplay in a frilly school girls uniform and walk around Shinjuku, what’s the big deal? ‘It’s that person’s life, they have the right to live how they want.’ American love to say that too but I don’t see them putting into action. If they did we would’t see the endless so called “cultural wars”.
That’s the interesting thing. Japanese respect each others borders, but Americans who profess freedom violently violate other peoples borders, in the name of freedom. How borderless is that?
Many people assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here and think Japan is a small island country. Map views are deceptive: you can only appreciate how much bigger Japan is in real life when driving it.
Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. That is to say Apple does not bother with stand alone mapping of other classifications (villages, towns, etc.), and has never mapped an entire prefecture in one concentrated sweep: they start with select large cities and districts then gradually add less populated cities and districts over several mapping seasons.
Yamanashi Prefecture was to be the first prefecture Apple would map in one season (February~November 2023). However, the entire Apple Maps Image Collection 2023 schedule for Japan was pulled just as it was due to start on February 1. Backpack image collection was re-added on March 22, so far no van image collection is scheduled for Japan in 2023, though this may change.
To explain the situation, I have come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully explains the complicated situation with easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not.
Mostly Mapped Prefectures I say ‘mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). There are plenty of publicly used local community maintained ‘private roads‘ in urban areas that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant Look Around and AR Walking Direction dead spots in areas after Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks have ‘completely covered’ them, and this has major implications for creating Apple proprietary ‘New Maps’.
Partially Mapped Prefectures Major metropolis areas that include good sized parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Aichi, Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area regions like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
Selectively Mapped Prefectures Capital cites in select prefectures: Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Ehime, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto.
In short Apple Maps Japan continues its gradual measured expansion which means no proprietary New Maps, Detailed City Experiences or 3D landmarks, etc., are coming in 2023, 2024 or even 2025. Those features cannot happen until Apple image collection vans map all of Japan, including private roads as Google does. I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (WWDC23 maybe?) but for regular maps Japan is stuck with the mediocre GeoTechnologies cartography…and will be for some time to come. Apple Maps in Japan has been, and will remain, the all bets off outliner for redesigned maps and associated features.
Look Around #1 August 2020: Greater Tokyo, Greater Osaka, Greater Nagoya Look Around #2 January 2021: Fukuoka City, Hiroshima City, Nara (Greater Osaka), Takamatsu City Look Around #3 May 2021: Sendai City, Kanazawa City Look Around #4 May 2022: Sapporo City, Niigata City, Shizuoka City, Akashi City
2022 mapping season: the basis for Look Around #5 expansion in 2023
The original Apple Maps image collection Japan schedule for 2023 posted in January then pulled. As of 2023-03-22, only backpack image collection has been reposted.
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