Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 11 - Part I - Learning How to Pay for the Tokyo Subway

What do you do when you barely speak the language, can’t read it to save your life, and the fares are obscure and ever changing depending on distance, time of day, and which rail line you used to get from point A to point B?

You get a reloadable transit card.  Charge it up, and let the computers figure out what you owe – like everyone who lives there does.  And these are good in trains, busses and some taxis.  

The subways... look like subways.
However the machines only take cash… and we were very low.  It was at the end of this day that we realized the only way to go was to just use the cash machine at Denny’s.  It didn’t care we were foreigners.  Every other cash machine we tried (in the subway stations, at banks… and the museum store we went to didn’t even have an ATM, who’s ever heard of that in the US?) required you to have an account in a bank IN Japan.  We didn’t.  So, we had to find a machine that only needed the reassurance of VISA.

Fun Fact: Most Japanese carry huge amounts of cash on them at all times.  Just weeks after we visited Japan, this fact was borne out by the huge number of home safes, full of cash, that washed up as debris from the tsunami that ravished the east coast of Japan after the magnitude 9+ earthquake that hit Japan March 11, 2011.  Paying with plastic has not really caught on.  The transit cards are beginning to work like debit cards – especially with the vending machines, but in general, Japan remains a cash society.

We finally got SUICA cards for all of us (getting a kid transit card was the hardest – they only give them to you if a kid is actually there – and make sure it matches the kid’s ID.) These are the nationwide transit/debit cards.  There are also city only cards, but being travellers we went for the wider option.  Phew, we could now pay without complication.  It was time to go exploring.  The Tokyo National Museum and the surrounding park seemed like a great place to start.  

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