Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service Ends March 2020

When you purchase Shinkansen eTickets in Suica App, you’ll see a small notice at the bottom of the menu screen: Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service ends March 2020. Does this mean we’ll have to go back to paper tickets? Not at all.

JR East has been coy about the new cloud based eTicket service they are working on to replace the current Mobile Suica one. Originally the plan was to release a product similar to JR Central’s smartEX in April 2019.

Oops, that didn’t happen and I think we are better off for it. smartEx for all of it’s backend system hocus-pocus, isn’t that smart. The basic system is designed with manually input Transit IC card numbers (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, and all) as the center. The result is a fragile and static system that doesn’t port well. Sign up for the Express Reserve (EX Reserve) service option in Suica App and you too can experience JR Central’s oh so fugly EX system.

I don’t think JR East wants that kind of system. There are probably 2 aims: replacing the old but reliable iMode backend with a modern dynamic one that can comfortably process the full variety of regular train and Shinkansen eTickets while plugging into many different UI front-ends: Suica App, web, other transit company apps, etc. It will be properly internationalized too. The iMode backend has served us very well since 2006 but needs to go, take a look at the eTicket purchase screenshots on the Suica App page and you’ll see.

We’ll get a new eTicket service with a new name in a new version of Suica App, in English and Japanese probably, and lots more. I look forward to seeing what JR East comes up with for the big Tokyo Olympic 2020 rollout.


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Free Mobile Suica for Everybody in 2020

JR East announced the end of the Mobile Suica ¥1030 annual membership fee for all Android devices on February 26 2020. Mobile Suica is free for Apple Pay users. JR East also announced the end of Symbian OS feature phone support with most devices being cut off from Mobile Suica on February 25 2020, and the rest following on December 22 2020 along with some Android devices.

All of the ‘offed’ devices can still use Suica for transit and purchases but are limited to cash recharge which can be done at station kiosks and any convenience store. Users who want to keep their Mobile Suica account will have to migrate to an eligible Apple or Android device.

JR East is also terminating Mobile Suica Shinkansen e-ticket purchases this year and will replace it with a new service similar to JR Central’s Smart EX. Details should be coming soon.

All in all it looks like JR East is clearing the Mobile Suica deck for the 2021 Super Suica launch.

JR East and Apple Quietly Fix a Suica Weakness

One of neat things about Apple Pay Suica is how easy it is to add, delete and migrate Suica cards to different iPhones. iCloud and Mobile Suica keep the Suica card information and balance safe and secure no matter what device it’s on.

There was one weakness however: the Suica card ID number changed every time the card was deleted and re-installed in Wallet. This was a problem for other apps that used the Suica card ID to soft link a service, such as JR Central smartEX. If the Suica card ID changed and the user forgot to manually update the new Suica ID number, the service stopped working. This is exactly what happened to me the first time I used smartEX.

This also applied to Suica Coin lockers which use the Suica card ID to lock and unlock. While it was highly unlikely anybody would delete and re-install an Apple Pay Suica card with their stuff locked away, the possibility was there.

Fortunately Apple and JR East have fixed this weakness. Now when you delete a Suica card from Wallet and re-install it the Suica ID number stays the same. JR East did not advertise the change but I suspect it was put in place the same time Touch and Go Shinkansen launched on April 1. Touch and Go soft links the Apple Pay Suica card ID number when you register.

With the new changes in place manually updating Apple Pay Suica ID numbers is a thing of the past.

UPDATE: the Suica ID number stays the same when deleting, reinstalling and migrating on iPhone but changes when transferring from iPhone to Apple Watch. I have not confirmed if Suica ID changes back to the original ID number or another new ID number when transferring Suica back to iPhone from Apple Watch.

EX App Updated for iPhone X

JR Central updated their EX App to v2.0.8 for Face ID and iPhone X compatibility. Release notes mention other improvements in the UI. EX App is used for Smart EX and EX-Press Reservation Shinkansen e-ticketing service on the Tokai and Sanyo Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka line and works in tandem with Apple Pay Suica.

Updated English language versions should also be available on USA, Australian and Indonesia app stores but is not confirmed.

Suica App EX Reservation

Chi-san finally rides the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Okayama with just Apple Pay Suica on Apple WatchMy smartEX quick review explained the differences between smartEX and EXReservation services and noted:

An interesting point is that JR Central has spent extra time and resources working with JR East to make EX interoperable with Apple Pay Suica and Suica App. This is strange when you consider that neither JR Central’s own transit card TOICA, nor JR West’s ICOCA have a Mobile Suica-like smartphone version ready to deploy on Apple Pay.

EXPress Reservation-Suica App chartI breezed past the October 23 Suica App update that added Apple Pay Suica – EX Reservation interoperability and assumed it was the same EX-IC + Transit IC Card arrangement used by JR Central EX users .

That was a mistake. I should have paid more attention because there were far too many Japanese twitter users celebrating the arrival of Apple Pay Suica – EX Reservation interoperability. Then I stumbled across an excellent post on Another Dimension by Chi.

Chi waited 10 years for the October 23 Apple Pay Suica – EX interoperability startup and his post outlines the long winding road up to his maiden Okayama ~ Tokyo Shinkansen trip with just Apple Pay Suica. Without a EX-IC card. That is what Apple Pay Suica users were all excited about, parity with Android Mobile Suica – EX Reservation interoperability that has been in place for years.

EXPress Reservation with Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica
Register Apple Pay Suica in the Suica App EXPress Reservation menu as your “EX-IC” card

Joining the EX Reservation via Suica App registers Apple Pay Suica as the “EX-IC” card for travel on JR Central and JR West Shinkansen lines with just Apple Pay Suica. This is exactly the same as smartEX but with the much bigger EX Reservation discounts. A single Shinkansen trip with EX Reservation discounts pretty much covers the annual ¥1,080 membership fee.

Suica App Sign Up
The Suica App sign up process is not difficult but requires decent Japanese reading ability, patience and a JR East View Card already registered in Suica App. With that in place and your 4 digit View Card PIN number on hand, tap the Suica App View Express menu, then tap View Express Register.

The View Express Register section will instruct you to enter 3 digits of your PIN number in a random order.

Once View Express Register is successfully completed wait 2 weeks for JR Central to send your View Epresss EX Reservation IC card.

JR Central IC
EX IC Card for View Card

After receiving your View Express IC go to Suica App and tap EXPress Reservation. Every time you tap this menu you are bumped to Safari and have to tap the agree-service connect button near the bottom. After tapping the button you are taken to the mobile EXPress Reservation login site.

Tap the text line just below the orange login banner that reads: “Mobile Suica users accessing EXPress Reservation for the first time touch here.”

This takes you through a quick registration process where you enter an email address and receive a mail with a special smartphone registration link. Tap that then enter your View Card number/expiration date and a password. When completed you receive an EXPress Reservation member ID.

Smarter than smartEX
An interesting and important difference from smartEX is that registration via Suica App automatically enters your Apple Pay Suica ID with the EX system and updating is easy if your Suica ID changes from a re-install, etc. smartEX requires a manual update if the Suica ID changes and is easy to forget.

Once registration is complete use the EX App for JR Central – JR West Shinkansen ticket reservation and purchase. Be sure to login EX App with your Express Reservation member ID and password via the Express Card option.

If you ride JR Central – JR West Shinkansen lines more than 1~2 times a year and have a View Card, EX ticket discounts are worth registration via Suica App EXPress Reservation.