The First Shinkansen

I am a sucker for vintage industry promotion films, the kind of thing the third grade home room teacher would show as a treat on a dull Thursday afternoon. The soundtrack was warped, the film was scratched, patched and sometimes got stuck, but it was all fun.

Japanese rail fans love to post vintage photos and I came across this tweet with a fascinating video of the very first Shinkansen test car being pushed by a steam engine to the test site. It’s easy to forget how important the Shinkansen project was to Japan leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Even if you do not understand Japanese you can sense the importance of it all from the film clip: scrubbed technicians in pressed uniforms performing their jobs, testing the infrastructure, analyzing the performance, coaxing that first Shinkansen train to full speed.

It’s hard to believe that the Shinkansen project almost didn’t happen and was built just 18 years after the end of the Pacific War. I wonder how happy the project team felt when the first Shinkansen whooshed by. It must have been a great day. The future arrived at 256 km/h.

My Not Smart Shinkansen Trip with smartEX

Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen EX Quick Guide

I followed all the smartEX registration instructions, honest I did. I logged into EX with my smartEX generated ID and password and purchased my Shinkansen ticket to Nagoya without a hitch. All looked good. At the appointed day and time I went to the Tokyo station Tokaido Shinkansen gate. Everything went to hell.​

​The station attendant placed my iPhone on the reader to diagnose the problem. Despite doing all the right steps my smartEX e-ticket purchase was not linking to my Apple Pay Suica. He then took me to a ticket machine and said, “Enter your smartEX password.” I use Touch ID with EX App and did not know the password, The poor attendant waited while I dug around in Safari passwords to find it. With the password entered he printed out a paper ticket.

The attendant told me that I needed to call smartEX system support to solve the problem. I asked if there was one. He grabbed a smartEX pamphlet but there was no number. He said, “There’s a number listed in the app.” There was not but I said thank you anyway and offered some advice, “I feel sorry for the station attendants if JR Central doesn’t improve smartEX. When the English language version of this drops on October 30, it will be a mess.”

smartEX Weak Points
I used my travel time to dig around in EX App preferences. It was time well spent. smartEX registration can only be done in the browser, but once completed you can edit account information in EX App. The app has a FaceID/Touch ID log in option but there is a separate mandatory security layer for editing smartEX account information:

Generate a onetime password and receive it by email. After entering the onetime password you can edit all your registered information: name, email, credit card, Apple Pay Suica ID:

I re-entered my Apple Pay Suica ID and asked the station attendant in Nagoya to confirm if my smartEX was correct. She placed my iPhone on the reader and confirmed that I was all set now. My return trip was a breeze, smartEX worked fine.

Apple Pay Suica ID Formatting Differnces and Errors
As I said previously smartEX registration is a work in progress and will certainly be a friction point for some inbound Apple Pay Suica users and boils down to the Apple Pay Suica ID number:

  1. Suica App copies the entire 17 character Suica ID (screen shot below)
  2. smartEX only accepts a 15 character ID and automatically formats the pasted ID from Suica App deleting the final 2 characters

Suggestion for Smooth smartEX Experience
Here is a suggestion for a smooth maiden smartEX voyage. The EX App itself cannot verify if everything is in working order with JR East Mobile Suica, but JR Central station attendants at Tokaido Shinkansen ticket gates can verify it for you. Verification requires the following:

  • Successful smartEX registration
  • Successful smartEX login and e-ticket purchase

Tell the Shinkansen gate attendant that you want to verify your smartEX ticket purchase and hand them your iPhone. A quick check on the reader is all that is needed. If all is in order you are assured of a smooth process every time. Have your smartEX ID and password on hand in case something goes wrong. The attendant will need it to print out paper tickets.

UPDATE
The information on this post has been updated to reflect changes in smartEX and Mobile Suica systems. Apple Pay Suica card ID numbers do not change when removed and re-added to Wallet or when migrating Apple Pay Suica to a new device.