Japanese Arcade Smart Cards 101

What are all those card readers for on Japanese arcade cabinets? Here’s a quick guide.

The Japanese for “smart card” is “IC card” – straight from the English. (“IC” for integrated circuit.)

Until 2019, the IC card landscape was a confusing turf war of brand building between the big players. Here’s what you would typically have in your pocket:

Sega Aime (“I me”)

Bandai Namco Bana Passport


Taito NESiCA (NESYS intelligent card – NESYS being Taito’s Network System for online arcade gaming)

All these cards did the same basic stuff like saving characters, stats, items, records, card decks, etc. The ass pain was that they only did it with each company’s own games. So that’s 4 card spaces gone from your wallet.

(What about the game companies that don’t have their own IC card? They picked one. Here is Square Enix’s Figureheads asking for a Taito NESiCA.)

On top of the game stuff, you could also pay with these cards. Behind the scenes were “denshi money” (electronic money) systems. For years this was dominated by Konami’s PASELI (Pay Smart Enjoy Life) with its parsley-inspired branding. Last year, Sega came out with AimePay.

Denshi money has been big in Japan for 2 decades. Japan Rail introduced their Suica contactless payment system for train travel in 2001. That’s now still accepted at stations, on buses, in taxis, at convenience stores, in restaurants… all over the place. People still use the cards, but you can just get a Suica app for your phone now.

(Side note: Apple Watch can do Suica payments, so lots of commuters use that to get through the barriers. Thing is, the barriers all have their readers on the right because most people are righthanded. But most of those northpaws wear their watches on the left, so all twist awkwardly to the wrong side of the gate in the name of compromised convenience. Haha! Revenge of the lefties! Now we all know how it feels!)

So anyway, the games companies have jumped on that with their own money services onto which they latch their IC cards.

BUT… here’s the revolution: as of now, Taito having finally caved and joined the others, you can use a universal smart card for all your arcade gaming. “Amusement IC” is the hot new thing, representing the reluctant concession of Big Gaming to the convenience of its customer base.

(It is compatible with both PASELI and AimePay – no idea how they work that one out…)

So maybe this crusty old NESiCA won’t be around for too much longer. We’ll see.

Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people