The Suica English App

Finally! After 2 years of waiting for a full blown English version of the Suica App with all the bells and whistles, JR East has done the smart thing and released the SuicaEng app instead. This simple streamlined English app does one thing: add a virtual Suica card to Apple Pay without a Mobile Suica account or any of the hassle of dealing with the Japanese only Suica App options. It does nothing else but should take care of most immediate inbound needs. The same virtual Suica restrictions of Suica App apply:

  • Only one Suica can be added, if you already have a Suica in Wallet you cannot add another one with SuicaEng, a second virtual Suica requires the full Suica App and free registration of a Mobile Suica account.
  • Once added, Suica is managed in Wallet or Watch app.

The best thing would be adding virtual Suica directly in Wallet without the need for an app, perhaps Apple and JR East will deliver that eventually. Meanwhile anything more complicated than adding virtual Suica: purchasing e-tickets, commuter pass, Green Seat reservations etc., still requires the Japanese only Suica App.

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Suica App Commuter Pass Limitations

A reader asked about Suica commuter passes and limitations. It’s a good question because there are Suica App limitations to be aware of when creating a virtual commuter Suica pass for Apple Pay use.

Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association Map
The Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association project started in 2007 and achieved transit and e-money interoperability in 2013. It continues to evolve and incorporate other transit smartcard systems into a single standard. Wikipedia

Let’s review the limitations of the current Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association standard. The various JP transit cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) are tightly bound to the physical rail network fare area of the card issuer (JR East, JR West, etc.). Transit IC cards are compatible and allow users to travel in any transit IC area with any card, but the system architecture is limited to a single fare area per trip that has to be calculated and paid in same fare area of origin. It does not allow continuous travel between 2 different fare areas (such as Suica and TOICA) on the same trip.

Unfortunately this results in ‘gotcha gaps’ when a user might start a trip from a Suica region station but exit in an area outside the Suica region or an area with no transit IC card coverage at all. Going from Tokyo to Minobu for example: Suica works fine up to JR East operated Kofu but the JR Central operated Minobu line that starts there is outside any transit IC card fare area. Good old paper tickets or cold hard cash only please. If you make the mistake of traveling from Tokyo to Minobu with Suica, the train conductor or a station attendant will issue a paper voucher that you have to use to get Suica reset for transit use when back in a Suica area station. This kind of nonsense should disappear with Super Suica in 2021.

Metropolitan areas like Tokyo (Suica & PASMO) are highly integrated fare areas that operate as one virtual region covering all possible commuter routes that transverse different rail company lines such as JR East, Metro, Seibu, etc. Buses are also part of the mix and covered by Suica or PASMO cards.

Apple Pay Suica supports Suica commuter passes of course but there are limitations when creating them with Suica App:

  • The start point must be a JR East station
  • No bus, Shinkansen commuter pass (FREX), or student commuter pass options are available

Suica FREX Shinkansen commuter passes that cover both Shinkansen and regular lines in the JR East Suica region can be purchased via a web link (virtual), or JR Station (plastic) then loaded into Apple Pay like any Suica card.

Suica bus commuter passes have to be purchased at a bus company window such as Seibu, Tokyo Metro, Odakyu, Tokyu, etc. depending on the bus line. Confirm with the bus company that a Mobile Suica commuter purchase is available for the commute route. Purchase the Mobile Suica commuter pass then show the attendant your iPhone so they can record the Suica ID card number.

Suica commuter students passes are available for university students is the Mobile Suica web site but are complicated by the credit card requirement for using Apple Pay to setup a virtual Suica. Not every university student has a credit card. Mobile Suica support recommends purchasing a plastic Suica commuter pass at a JR East station then transferring it to Apple Pay, but there are some potential glitches. Apple support:

Commuter Suica cards that use romaji names or international phone numbers are not supported.
If you are trying to add a second Suica card to Apple Pay, make sure the name on the second card matches the first name on your My Suica and Commuter Suica card. If you have different names on multiple cards, download and register in the iOS Suica app, and call Suica Support at 050-2016-5005.

For complex Suica commuter route options not covered in Suica App, Mobile Suica support has a web link to apply for a virtual Suica commuter pass.

Apple Pay Suica English Support

JR East has not issued an English version of Suica App yet but at least their Apple Pay Suica support web site now has an English language option in addition to simple and traditional Chinese and Korean. It doesn’t have all of the information of the Japanese site but it covers basic trouble shooting topics that should resolve most cases. There is also a live chat option from the JR East Mobile Suica mascot ‘MOCA-chan’ but is only available in Japanese.

If JR East keeps this up I’ll have to retire my Apple Pay Suica guide.

Apple Pay Suica iOS 12.2 beta 4 (U)

iOS 12.2 beta 4 continues to tweak the Apple Pay Suica UI. Shortcuts from Suica notifications finally work and the main Suica screen now sports a ‘Charge’ (Add Money) button. The UI changes in 12.2 still feel lumpy and inconsistent however: in other system preferences blue indicates an operation or another screen, ever since iOS 12.2 beta 1 Wallet operations are indicated by black with a few blue text leftovers:

UPDATE
A reader asked for some clarification of the updated Apple Pay Suica UI in beta 4. The information display is slightly different for regular and commuter Suica in the details screen. The top row of icons includes a commuter pass renewal shortcut with route details and balance information displayed further down. I think the iOS 12.2 Suica UI will continue to be a moving target, witness the sloppy icon text pushing up the Safari icon and off line with other icons in the commuter Suica screen. Clearly Apple is not sweating the details.

Apple Pay Suica iOS 12.2 beta 3

The iOS 12.2 beta 3 developer release has some UI tweaks for Apple Pay Suica. It is a little less rough than previous beta versions but still has a curiously un-Apple and inelegant UI design feel. From what I have seen so far, iOS 12.2 is a step backwards from the iOS 12.1 design. Other observations: Suica notification shortcuts are still useless and the new notification font design is simply hideous. As usual I do not recommend using beta software, stick with the official releases.